Content Distribution Channel: a path or route used to deliver content marketing messages to a clearly defined buyer’s persona. The channel can be as short as a direct exchange between the organization and the customer or can involve the use of content distribution platforms like social media sites or search engines.
Once you’ve thoroughly defined your buyer’s persona(s), it’s time to decide and document which content distribution channels you’ll use to deliver your marketing messages. These should be channels where you can reach the audience defined by your buyer’s persona. The common assumption is that you should be doing “a little bit of everything.” This is a quick way to bust your marketing budget without producing many results.
You want to pick the content distribution channels which will make the biggest impact in helping you achieve your content marketing goal. In my experience, this is where a good content marketing agency has the most room to drastically increase your content marketing ROI while reducing your marketing costs. You’ll see what I mean as we unpack these three simple rules for choosing your channels. First, let’s define the basic types of content distribution channels…
Types of Content Distribution Channels
- Paid: content distribution channels where you pay to have your content published.
- Earned: content distribution channels where you earn (through networking and publicity) the right to publish your content.
- Owned: content distribution channels where you own and control the means of distribution (your website, email list, direct mail newsletter, etc).
These content distribution channels can be digital or offline. The important point is that you pick channels where you can reach the audience defined by your buyer’s persona(s) and where you have the greatest opportunity to achieve your content marketing goal(s). The following three rules will help you do that.
Content Distribution Channel Rule #1: Content Equity
The PRIMARY goal of a content marketing strategy is to use Paid channels and Earned channels to increase the strength and sustainability of your Owned channels.
Any content you publish on paid or earned platforms should be used to drive visibility to your website, your email newsletters, your direct mail catalogs, and other owned channels. Remember, owned channels are content distribution channels where you control the means AND distribution of your marketing content. Owned channels also allow you to track your content marketing KPIs, which we’ll talk about later.
This is how you build the “Content Equity” discussed in the introduction of this article. Remember, Content Equity is how you create a brand that can withstand economic hardship and the impact of disruptive changes in marketing platforms or technologies (i.e., email and SMS marketing regulations, AI-based search engine updates, social media shadowbans).
The one exception to this rule is if the channel has national or global credibility with your target audience. If you’re selling beauty products, it might be smart to pay (once) for a full-page advertorial in Allure magazine. If you’re a business consultant, it might be worth the money or effort to get one of your articles published in Success magazine or on their website. The question is whether adding “as seen in Success Magazine” or “as seen in GQ Magazine” to your content will increase the perceived credibility of your brand enough to boost your long term results.
So the first rule and the PRIMARY goal of a good content marketing strategy is to use Paid channels and Earned channels to increase the strength and sustainability of your Owned channels. Any paid or earned content distribution channel that makes it hard for you to do this is probably not worth your money or effort.
Content Distribution Channel Rule #2: Audience Relevance
Content marketing isn’t about being popular. It’s about reaching the audience defined by your buyer’s persona(s) in a way that helps you achieve your content marketing goal(s). Well-meaning, yet naive marketing enthusiasts often say things like…
- “You need to be on Facebook.”
- “Pinterest is big now. You need to be on Pinterest.”
- “If you’re not marketing on YouTube, you’re missing out.”
Some will even quote statistics, saying….
“Four million people use ____, so if you’re not marketing there, you’re missing out on a LOT of prospective customers.”
Statements like this are based on the outdated idea that marketing is about getting your ads in front of as many eyeballs as possible. This is a quick way to burn through your marketing budget with little or no results.
A recent Survey from Rakuten Marketing found that marketers estimate to have wasted 26 percent of their budget on the wrong strategies and channels. According to a 2016 Study from Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings, about 48% of all online ad budgets were wasted because they were not reaching the right audience. A capable content marketing firm will never advise you to market somewhere just because it’s cheap, popular, or new.
The most important question is whether a content distribution channel gives you targeted access to the audience defined in your buyer’s persona. The second question is whether you can use that content distribution channel to strengthen one (or more) of your owned channels. If it does, put it on your shortlist. If not, leave it off. Never mind how popular it is or how many of your competitors are marketing there.
So, the second rule of choosing your content distribution channels is to go only where your target audience is and where you have the best opportunity to strengthen your owned channels. Let your competitors burn up their budget playing the numbers game.
Content Distribution Channel Rule #3: Perceived Credibility
Where you publish your content has a tremendous impact on how credible you appear to your audience. Most marketers would agree that advertising on a spam site makes your brand look less credible. This third and final rule simply asks you to consider the credibility differences between all your content distribution channels, and shortlist your most credible content distribution channels, like this…
All other things being equal, I’m sure you’d feel better about hiring a lawyer you met at a fundraiser dinner than one you met at a roadside bar. I’m also sure you’d prefer that your daughter meet her future husband in an Art Museum or at Church as opposed to a night club.
The same principle applies when choosing your content distribution channels. Where you show up has a tremendous impact on how credible you appear to your audience. That’s why our second rule is to choose content distribution channels where you’ll appear credible simply for publishing there.
In my experience, this means including offline content distribution channels, like direct mail. If you think I’m crazy for suggesting this, just keep reading.
Over the years, I’ve had to work hard to convince higher-end service providers (business consultants, counselors) to use direct mail for reaching out to new clients. Some have even laughed at me, claiming that email is “cheaper” or that they can “reach more people that way.”
In my experience, this is a shortsighted way to evaluate or compare content distribution channels. The real question isn’t how cheap or popular a channel is, the question is response rates and Return on Investment (ROI). Here are five recent statistics that prove Direct Mail is a valuable content distribution channel, especially for reaching out to your existing customers…
My personal experience has also been that Direct Mail gives you a higher perception of value and sophistication that email simply can’t give you. Sure, it might not make sense to send Direct Mail content to people who have never bought from you. But I’m talking about using it to market to the higher tier customers who have already bought from you at least once.
Think about the loads of cold emails you get every day from people trying to sell you things. Compare this to the amount of well designed, well crafted, high-quality articles or newsletters you get in the mail. By showing up in your customer’s mailbox two or three times a year, you put your brand in a league of its own.
This is not an attempt to sell you on using Direct Mail. My point is that you should pick a content distribution channel, not based on how cheap or popular it is, but on how relevant it is to your audience, and how credible you will appear for distributing your content there.
So, once you’ve listed the content distribution channels which are relevant to your target audience and ideal for building Content Equity, your final job is to narrow your list to the most credible channels. Let’s look at an example before we move on to the next step of your content marketing strategy…
Sample Content Distribution Channel Shortlist
Applying the above three rules should give you a shortlist of highly relevant, credible content distribution channels, like this…
This may seem like a small list, but remember, our goal is relevance and credibility. Not volume. Start with a list of channels where you have the highest probability of reaching your ideal customers and measuring and improving your KPIs. You can always expand to other channels once you’ve built up momentum.
While we’re talking about content distribution channels, let me explain why I consider Social Media pages and Social Media accounts to be earned channels and not owned channels.
Your Social Media pages are owned by the Social Media company that hosts those pages. This could change at some point in the future, in which case I’ll update this article. However, as long as Social Media websites have the legal right to shadowban, suspend, or even delete your accounts, it’s a risk to treat your Social Media accounts and pages as owned content distribution channels.
In 2014, a client in the self-help niche hired me and my team to create a training course to promote to his Facebook fans. At the time, he had hundreds of thousands of fans and several years of posts and responses built up. Once created, the training course started pulling in thousands of dollars a month in sales. Knowing this was not a sustainable model, I urged my client to start focusing on Content Equity by building a list and publishing content on the website we built for him. He ignored me, and I eventually quit him to pursue other projects.
At the end of 2016, I emailed him to see how his business was going. He hadn’t taken my advice, and his page had been suspended over one of Facebook’s now-infamous “community standard violations.” With no email or direct mail list and no content equity, his sales had flatlined and he was no longer able to pay his monthly bills. The last time I talked to him (in 2018), he was working customer service for a measly $30k a year and trying to rebuild his business in his spare time.
This is, of course, an extreme example. But it proves an important point about the difference between earned content distribution channels and owned content distribution channels. As I said before, the PRIMARY goal of a content marketing agency should be to help you use Paid channels and Earned channels to increase the strength and sustainability of your Owned channels. This is when hiring a content marketing agency becomes a smart long-term investment.
So, while planning and documenting your content marketing strategy, remember that an owned channel is a channel where you control the content, audience access, and means of distribution. Once you’ve defined and documented your most relevant and credible content distribution channels, it’s time to decide the type of content you’ll be publishing.
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The Buyer's Journey And Awareness-Based Marketing
How do you take someone from being a reader, viewer, or listener of your content, to being a loyal customer? In popular content marketing circles, this process is called the “buyer’s journey.” While the term buyer’s journey was coined by HubSpot, the concept of awareness-based marketing did not originate with them.
I first read about awareness-based marketing in an obscure direct copywriting book most modern marketers have never read or even heard about. I’ve been developing my own version of the buyer’s journey since the early 2000s when I first started writing and testing sales copy. While I think HubSpot's three-stage model is much better than nothing, I believe you’ll find the five-stage VQ Success Buyer's Journey (below) more thorough, scientific, and practical.
What is Awareness-Based Marketing?
It would be nice if our prospective customers woke up in the morning saying…
“It’s a great day to spend money! I’m going to pay top dollar for Seth Czerepak’s Marketing Course today! I know Seth’s competitor has a course that’s only a fraction of the price. But Seth’s course is worth the extra money, and much more! Now, where’s my credit card?!”
Obviously, this isn't how people go from being strangers to our brand to being loyal customers. In the real world, prospects will be in one of four stages of awareness when they see your marketing messages.
These stages are based on your prospect’s knowledge, assumptions, and/or expectations about one or more of the following four things…
Let's take two examples, one B2C example and one B2B example. Starting with the B2C example, let's assume you sell a natural supplement that helps active men between 40 and 55 to overcome reactionary arthritis. The stages of your buyer's journey will be based on your prospect’s knowledge, assumptions, and/or expectations about one or more of the following four things…
For example, your prospect might have minor pain in their joints but shrug it off as something that will eventually go away. These prospects will ignore any content attempting to educate them about why prescription or OTC drugs won't fix their reactionary arthritis. They aren’t looking for solutions or even researching the problem because they’re unaware of how personal, critical, and urgent the problem is. The VQ Success model considers this Stage #1 of the VQ Success Buyer’s Journey. We call it the “Indifferent” stage. HubSpot doesn’t include this stage in their model. You’ll realize why this is a big deal soon.
You'll also have prospects who know that they have the first signs of reactionary arthritis and who know how personal, critical, and urgent it is. These prospects are highly likely to be searching for solutions to the problem. So, they’ll be receptive to educational content about how prescription or OTC drugs will fail to fix their reactionary arthritis. The VQ Success model considers this Stage #2 of the buyer’s journey, which we call the “Curious” stage. HubSpot’s three-stage model considers this the first stage. You’ll see soon why this is an important distinction.
You'll also have prospects who are aware of the risks of using prescription or OTC drugs to treat reactionary arthritis and are shopping for the best natural supplement. These prospects won't be interested in educational content about how serious reactionary arthritis is or why prescription or OTC drugs are an inadequate solution. They've already passed those stages of awareness.
They will, however, be highly receptive to messages about why your brand is the most relevant, superior, and unique natural supplement for men their age who want to prevent or rid themselves of reactionary arthritis. The VQ Success System considers this Stage #3 of the Buyer’s Journey, or the “Comparing” stage.
HubSpot’s three-stage model considers this the second stage. Most marketing messages (online and offline) only target prospects who are in this stage. This is because most marketers either don’t know about awareness-based marketing or are too busy to build a multi-stage strategy around it.
This is why online marketing seems so competitive for most marketers. Once you break out of this crowd, you'll be amazed at the difference it makes in your response rates and your ROI. It’s impossible for me to overstate how significant that last statement is. By defining your buyer’s persona and applying the five stages of the VQ Success buyer’s journey, you’ll connect with your prospects two stages before your competitors even have a chance.
You’ll realize how powerful this is once you start using it. By the time your prospects reach Stage #4 they’ll be much more likely to choose you over a competitor and to be happy about paying a higher price for what they see as a superior product or service. Stage #4 of the VQ Success Buyer’s Journey is the “Negotiation” stage. Stage #4 Prospects have decided to buy from you. They just need a little more assurance to overcome their procrastination. In HubSpot’s model, this is the third and final stage of the buyer’s journey.
After this, the VQ Success Buyer’s Journey has one more stage, which we call the “Committed” stage. Committed prospects are no longer prospects. They’re customers, and your content marketing strategy should include content for increasing the satisfaction, loyalty, and lifetime value of your customers.
Moving on to the B2B example, let's assume you sell staff recruiting services to software development startups. The stages of your buyer's journey will be based on your prospect’s knowledge, assumptions, and/or expectations about one or more of the following four things…
Stage #1 (Indifferent) Prospects either won’t be aware of how costly their high employee turnover rate is, or they’ll shrug it off as just something startups go through. Your job is to get content in front of them that educates them about how devastating this problem will be if they don’t address it soon.
Stage #2 (Curious) Prospects will be aware of how costly their employee turnover rate is. However, they might be trying to build an in-house recruiting team to solve the problem or researching some other alternative. Your job is to get content in front of them that educates them about the hidden risks of trying to handle this in-house.
Stage #3 (Comparing) Prospects will be actively searching for a professional recruiter to hire. Your job will be to get content in front of them that positions you as the most relevant, superior, and unique recruiter they can hire.
Stage #4 (Negotiating) Prospects have decided to hire you as a recruiter, but they haven’t actually written you a check, signed the contract, or paid the first invoice. In my experience, the earlier you connect with them in the buyer’s journey, the more likely they’ll be to take this final step.
They’ll also be more likely to pay premium prices, to respect you as an authority, and to write you a positive endorsement and recommend you to others. Finally, you’ll have prospects who have become your clients, and who you’ll continue to reach out to using your newsletter or some other Stage #5 content type.
Once you know how to communicate with your prospects during EACH of these stages, AND to lead them from one to the other, you’ll have x-ray vision into how to create high-converting content marketing messages. I’m talking about blogs, explainer videos, classified ads, podcasts, and any other content-based marketing you can imagine. Best of all, you’ll actually have fun with it. So, let’s summarize the Five Stages of the VQ Success buyer’s journey before we talk about applying them in your content marketing strategy…
Awareness Stage #1: Indifferent
Indifferent Prospects need your product. However, they’re unaware of one of the following two things…
Because of this lack of awareness, Stage #1 Prospects will be indifferent about any messages about how to solve their problem. They won't be interested in hearing about the type of product or service you sell, and they definitely won't be interested in hearing anything about your unique brand of the product. Here are some examples of Stage #1 Prospects...
Awareness Stage #2: Curious
Curious Prospects know they have a problem. They also understand how personal, critical, and urgent their problem is. However, this doesn't mean they're looking for a product or service like yours yet. Instead, they're researching options for either...
Since Stage #2 prospects are in the information gathering stage, here are some examples of who they are and what keywords they might be typing into search engines…
Notice how Stage #2 Prospects aren't (yet) focused on a specific type of product or service. This is because Stage #2 Prospects are curious about solutions to their problem and want to keep their options open. This means that if you put a “buy now for a limited time offer” or a “here’s why we’re better than our competitors” message in front of them, they either won’t “get it” because they’re not yet sold on the concept of your product or service, or they’ll dismiss it as just another advertisement.
Sadly, this is how most marketers try to reach ALL their prospects, so they miss out on connecting with Stage #2 Prospects, and most of the time their competitor beats them to it. But, Stage #2 Prospects ARE looking for ways to solve their problem. This leaves a wide-open hole for smart content marketers to swoop in and start building a relationship with them before anyone else even gets a chance.
Awareness Stage #3: Comparing
Comparing Prospects are 99% finished researching their problem and the array of solutions for solving it. They’ve settled on a general TYPE of solution and they’re making comparisons between specific brands or service providers.
These prospects are good and bad for the exact same reason. They’re educated about the TYPE of product or service you sell. While may seem good, it also makes them prone to price shopping and other annoyances that I talk about in my other writings on this topic. Your job is to reach these prospects with messages that sell them on…
Stage #3 Prospects are good and bad for the exact same reason. They’re educated about the TYPE of product or service you sell. This makes them prone to price shopping and other annoyances that I talk about in my other writings on this topic. Here are a few examples of Stage #3 Prospects...
Awareness Stage #4: Negotiating
Negotiating Prospects have done their research and have decided to buy from you. They simply haven’t taken the final step by putting money into your hand to get the product or service delivered. In other words, they’re negotiating with you or themselves, or someone else (a spouse or business partner) about how and when to make the purchase. Your job at this stage is to market to them using messages that...
Here are some examples of Stage #4 Prospects...
As you can see, there’s a chance you’ll no longer be on someone’s shortlist once they’ve become a Stage #4 Prospect. But even if you are, it’s important to realize that the deal STILL isn’t closed. You could still lose them to a competitor. Likewise, if your competitor fails to make the right offer to a Stage #4 Prospect, you could still have a shot at earning their business.
Awareness Stage #5: Committed
A lot of marketers completely ignore Stage #5 of the content marketing process. They assume that marketing ends once the prospect becomes a customer. This is a shame, because Stage #5 is by far the most profitable stage of the Buyer's Journey Stage #5 is where your prospects have become customers, and you’re now marketing to them for one, or more, of the following reasons…
This is exactly where we want to get all our prospects. Once the customer is sold on the offer though, the sale still isn’t over. Next, comes the most widely neglected marketing strategy in the world. I call this “Customer Service Marketing.” I talk more about this in other articles and in my books. But before we move on, let me expose a dirty little secret for selling to Stage #4 and #5 prospects:
“The best time to sell a Stage #4 Prospect is BEFORE they become one.”
This is the most profitable principle of content marketing. You need to distribute messages that engage your prospects at the earliest stage possible AND which guide them to Stage #4 with YOU as the ONLY name on their shortlist.
Best case scenario, you want to grab them at Stage #1 or #2 and use angle selling to pull them through to Stage #4. Once you start doing this, you’ll discover just how much money you can make by building a marketing machine that consistently gets ALL FOUR PROSPECT types lined up, credit cards in hand, begging you to close them.
Of course, this can be harder than it sounds. It demands that you choose your media channels and your audience wisely. Most importantly, it demands that you know exactly how to write advertising messages that are irresistible to your prospect at EVERY stage. Now that we’ve had a solid tour of the five stages of awareness in The VQ Success Selling System, let’s talk about which contents you'll be using to reach them…