I am often asked which content formats to use in which stages of the buying process. B2B marketers often arrive at this question during the creation of buyer personas and content flows. In a perfect world, there would be some magic formula for content format based on this work. However, I advise marketers to consider that content format is not a buyer persona question, it's a circumstance question.
Now, arguably, certain content works better in certain formats. Longer form content is more suited to a white paper, eBook, or Webinar format. Shorter content to a blog post, Facebook post or, obviously, a Tweet.
But that skews the question. That's not a function of persona, but of the content itself.
From a persona perspective, let's say I'm representative of a target segment. Well, I happen to love videos, but I'm time constrained. Therefore, I'm more likely to go for text-based content because I can scan, get what I need, and move on. Am I now a different persona because I downloaded the whitepaper rather than watched the video?
No, I'm not. I'm still the same person operating in response to my circumstances.
Circumstances are often the cause of content format preferences. For example:
- Driving a long commute? Listen to a podcast.
- Eating lunch at your desk and curious about what's new with X? View a webinar.
- Need to really understand the latest research on a subject? Download a white paper.
- Want a quick "how-to" lesson? Watch a video.
- Only have an hour to catch up on what's new today? Scan blog posts from your feed.
I can think of a ton of variations. But none of them make me a different persona. Remember that a persona is representative of a target segment of your market with similar characteristics that is trying to solve a problem that your product or solution addresses.
Buying stages offer another angle on format, but it's a bit more fuzzy. It often depends on the question or query that brings the persona to search for content.
- Is the question easier to answer? Shorter content.
- Is the question more complex? Longer content, or a series approach.
- Is the question a late-stage validation question? Bring on the customer stories.
Perhaps you noticed that in this instance the format is in regards to length and type, not really format as marketers traditionally mean it. There are still many ways to determine which format you'll use. For example, one way is which channel you'll use to distribute the content.
Considering buying stages will also play into how well your personas know your company and how credible they think your content is. The better they know you and the higher esteem they equate to your content, the longer you'll be able to hold their attention. And attention is currency these days.
But perceptions vary. Someone who is early stage but has a referral to your content from a trusted colleague, for example, may be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and dive into a white paper. Others who have no reason to believe your content will really be helpful will remain skeptical and may only choose a blog post to give you the opportunity to earn their attention.
I think B2B marketers often work from a deficit because we've been slower to lose the product and company focus in favor of the buyer's perspective. We have to prove our content is better and more valuable from the word "Go."
This being said, in my opinion, all of these circumstances indicate that companies need to enable prospects to choose the format they prefer, regardless of the topic they're interested in pursuing.
Format should obviously match the channel. But the formats you choose should also be evidenced in response to all the topics/questions your personas would be interested in learning more about and answering across their buying process.
If your persona is interested in Topic A — then create a variety of formats for Topic A. You can have a white paper, a blog post series, a few videos, etc., all about topic A. Then, regarless of their circumstances, your personas will have access to the format that meets their needs in regards to obtaining that information.
I also acknowledge that creating a quantity of quality content is many marketers #1 challenge. I'd suggest you make your best guess and monitor response and engagement. If a topic shows a lot of interest, try creating more content about it in different formats and see if you can gain more attention from a wider variety of prospects.
All personas are not created equally. And content format is not one-size-fits-all-personas—no matter how much we'd all like it to be.
Yesterday, Joe Pulizzi wrote a blog post, "Finding Your Content Marketing Hedgehog," that discusses how to blend content, format, and expertise for best results. It's great food for thought if you're pondering how format fits in with your content marketing strategy.