Back in April, I wrote a post about Docs as Marketing. The thesis of that post was simple: “the thing about docs is that they’re fundamentally different from marketing in that they’re written for users, not buyers. They don’t presume to know what you’re most interested in or try to sell you something you may or may not need. They just help explain what a product can do.”
Since then I have had lots of conversations about the idea and wanted to build on the concept a bit more, plus help put it in the context of a broader content marketing strategy. Because I love 2x2s, I’ll offer one up as a way to think about your content strategy:
The Y-axis goes from generic to specific. By generic, I don’t mean that it’s not good, just that it’s not specific to your business. The X-axis on the other hand goes from strategy to tactics. Harvard Business Review is a great example of high-quality “generic” strategy content, while David Allen’s Getting Things Done is a classic example of “generic” tactics.
Above the X-axis is where things start to get most interesting for most software businesses. “Specific” strategy content is the realm of most content marketing these days. I would consider our writing around The Five Forces to be an example of this. We are interested in how software sales is changing and offering up strategic thoughts on how to harness that change. We hope prospects and customers will read this, connect with our vision, and ultimately buy into our product. Good thought leadership content is insightful, and, critically, unique to your company or view. Without that last bit, it’s not particularly interesting.
That leaves the top-right “specific” tactics box. This is one of the most important and under-utilized types of content available to a B2B business. Docs are a perfect example of this type of content: they are hyper-specific to your product and written in the most tactical and user-centric way possible. They exist to help your users take advantage of what your product can offer. That’s not the only type of content that exists in that bucket, however. Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a few fascinating examples of “specific” tactical content this is worth highlighting.
More Tactical Case Studies
Most companies treat case studies as check-the-box content. It’s not so much what the case study says, as that it exists. That’s fine, and much of the time the existence is the most important thing, but it also sets the bar pretty low. I was recently sent a “customer story” from Close and was blown away by how specific and tactical it was.
Rather than talking generally about the business effect Customer.io saw from using Close, the story digs into incredible detail into how, exactly, Customer.io is moving data in and out of Close. While not every customer would probably be willing to share this much, it’s a refreshing change from the more generic case study format to which we’ve become accustomed. Here’s a paragraph, chosen nearly at random, to help illustrate what I mean:
For example, one AE started using Typeform to fill out prospect information after doing a product demo, then built a zap that sends it to Customer.io, and a webhook that sends that to Close CRM as a note. But when Custom Activities in Close was released, Alex helped simplify this same process for the sales team by transferring the AE’s Typeform questions into a Custom Activity in Close that can be used by all the AEs.
The reality is that any piece of software requires teams and other technology to align around it and by acknowledging that and going into depth on just how Customer.io is making that happen, Close moves this story squarely into the upper-right of the already upper-right “specific” tactics quadrant.
Privacy & Security as Marketing
Another great example of this I recently ran across was the way Dovetail handles its privacy and security pages. If you’ve ever sold software you’ll know that questions around security and privacy can often slow a deal to a crawl. So rather than waiting for that to happen, Dovetail designed a very impressive privacy and security center that turns a liability into an asset.
What’s more, and this goes back to some of the points I made in my Docs as Marketing piece, understanding what security and privacy content prospects and customers are interacting with can help answer critical discovery questions that can streamline a sales process.
Balancing Your Content
In the end, it’s not really about one type of content or the other, but rather about finding the right balance. Thought leadership content is a great complement to docs and other “specific” tactical content. While as a general rule the former is better at lead generation and the latter at pushing deals to close, they can actually both play the other role as well. Even generic content can have a place in the mix as you pull your head out of your specific industry and problem space and talk more generally about how the world works. But with all that said, the place I think marketing teams have the biggest opportunity is in that top-right “specific” tactical box. For too long docs and even case studies have been considered second-class citizens to the stuff that is more focused on generating demand. But in the new world of PLG, where prospects are actually in your product before they buy, having a strong menu of “specific” tactical content is critical to conversion and growth.
PS - A small plug for our Growth Design Inspiration gallery. We were keeping a collection of examples like the ones above and realized that it might be useful for others to see and be inspired by. Now when we find a new example of growth design we think is worth sharing with the team, we also post it to our public gallery.
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