Jewel Marketing
Taiwan Content Marketing

Awareness Content: Stop Flailing In The Dark

By Jason Patterson

Founder of Jewel Content Marketing Agency
Ask a B2B marketer what the goals of content marketing should be, and awareness usually makes the list. And while this is not wrong, it's not the best choice of words either. Because there are different kinds of awareness.

There are brand awareness and marketing awareness, with the latter having two sub-types when it comes to content. And their differences aren't academic. They matter very much in terms of marketing goals and spend, or at least they should.

Marketing Awareness Content Is Your TOFU Appetizer

Marketing awareness is the top level of the content marketing funnel (with consideration and lead-gen under it) where you talk about problems and/or issues your customers face, or questions they have.

Typically these are problems, issues, or questions answered or solved by something you sell, though they don't always have to be. Sometimes they might be problems and issues where advice in the content is itself the solution. Or the content might be advice, market intelligence, or discourse of a more general nature intended to prevent a problem from happening.

But however you look at it, what's important to remember is that pure marketing awareness doesn't mention something you sell, or ask for contact info, because when it does, it also becomes consideration or lead-gen, respectively.

Marketing Awareness Content Has Two Flavors

For the purposes of this article, let's assume a B2B product lifecycle of five years, and a buyer's journey of one year. So customers spend one year out of every five actively interested in (and seeking content for) whatever you sell, and those other four years not actively interested.

And your awareness strategy cannot simply be, "Let's make 'kickstart the buyer's journey' content and promote it constantly so we're ready whenever the prospect is." The reason why is simple; 90% of these journeys end with a vendor chosen that the buyer already knew before the journey began.

This means you can't simply focus on creating awareness content for the buyer's journey, you also need awareness content for the time between journeys. In fact, you probably need quite a bit of it, since most marketing content has a 12-to-18-month shelf-life before it starts falling out of date. And we'll circle back to how much of one flavor versus the other you might need in a minute.

1. Buyer Awareness Content

This is marketing awareness content with two jobs: make your prospect aware of what problem a product solves, and get that prospect moving down the funnel, either to consideration or lead-gen. At this point you might ask, "But prospects read a lot of content before choosing a vendor, right? Is it realistic to expect every buyer awareness piece to stimulate progress?"

Well, different stats use different methods to count content pieces. An often-cited number of pieces consumed on the buyer's journey is thirteen. However, only eight of those pieces are vendor-generated. And that's spread across all the vendors in the running, not just the winner.

Assuming the final decision comes down to three vendors, that's only two or three pieces per vendor, or approximately one piece per stage of the content marketing funnel. So your buyer's journey content must be thorough and convincing, with each piece a coherent argument, persuasive enough to get prospects to the next stage of the funnel, preferably with minimal hassle.

Buyer awareness content can either link to a nice consideration piece about what you sell, or you can go for the lead right then and there. The correct choice will be context dependent. But either way, if you have a prospect looking to score, make it easy for them.

2. Industry Awareness Content

This is marketing awareness content meant for consumption between buyer journeys, not on them, with the goal typically being to demonstrate expertise in your customer's industry and/or your own, often through education or thought leadership, though some brands try to get prospects "in their orbit" by positioning themselves as industry news sources. And this is possible, especially in industries doing something really bleeding edge, or that otherwise lack trade media.

But for most businesses, this is probably not a realistic goal, especially considering the resources you need to play this game. You need fast knowledgeable writers, fast approvals, and a content expert supervising the writers who understands marketing so the writers actually help you and don't hurt you with what they write. And having all these things in a content operation is rare.

Probably a more realistic goal is to convince people to subscribe to your blog or newsletter (still not particularly easy because nobody wants spam) or follow you on social media (a somewhat easier goal). But even so, getting people to do either still isn't that easy. Because it's harder to elicit an action from a non-committal audience (reading for enrichment/enjoyment) than an audience reading for purpose (i.e., on the buyer's journey).

So you really need your A-game here. You need great content that's both informative and enjoyable. Content-farmed, SEO-fomulated, AI-generated blandness simply won't do. If such content is short enough, audiences will read through it, but they'll forget it just as quickly, and won't subscribe or follow you. To win subscribers and followers for your brand, you must inspire them to take action.

And if you're wondering how many pieces of industry awareness content you need relative to buyer awareness, I can't answer that here. Everybody's needs are a little different. But you definitely need more of the former than the latter.

If you lack guideposts for how much more, I'd say three industry awareness pieces for every piece of buyer awareness is the bare minimum, though four (or more) would be better. If it's under three, your blog and social content will seem salesy (usually a turnoff in B2B).

And since you need more industry awareness than buyer awareness, you can think of industry awareness as the top half of the marketing awareness stage of the funnel, and buyer awareness as the bottom half, if you wish, though the journey through awareness won't always be a straight line down.

Someone might consume your industry awareness content for years, while also consuming an occasional piece of buyer awareness content along the way without following it down because they're not buying at that point.

But then the buyer's journey starts, and that person goes to your website, searches for a certain keyword, and winds up on a product page (which usually qualifies as consideration content), without a piece of buyer awareness content sending them there (at least not directly). Did they consume a buyer awareness piece for that product a few months or a year ago? Maybe, but this may be hard to determine, so be ready.

Brand Awareness Content

This is content talking about you and your brand, and pure brand awareness doesn't even talk about the problems you solve, or the solutions you sell. Typically this is CSR or HR content, though it might also be those inspirational human-interest stories that news organizations sell for brands to slap their logo on them.

And before you ask, brand awareness does not simply sit above marketing awareness in the funnel, at least not in B2B. There are two reasons why we know this. One, pure brand awareness content in B2B is largely seen by people who already know you. Anthem videos go out to your social media followers. CSR content is created to make you more palatable as a vendor or employer.

In fact, when businesses set out to create brand awareness amongst those who don't already know you, they rarely use content at all (in the conventional sense). Instead, they advertise. They sponsor events. They cultivate analyst relations. Things of this nature.

And two, if brand awareness really did simply sit above marketing awareness, the benefits of strong brand awareness would largely be confined to the top of the funnel, and matter less on the way down. But do you really think this is the case? Nah, me neither. It makes a big difference at every stage, including the purchasing decision, as indicated by that "90% of vendors" stat mentioned earlier.

Why? Lots of reasons. But the short version is that brand reduces perceived risk, and B2B buyers often have a hard time differentiating products and their vendors, and when that happens, they go with who they already know.

Thus, a strong B2B brand is not simply a funnel filler, it's also a funnel enhancer and conversion aid, enhancing effectiveness at every stage. How exactly does brand and brand awareness interact with the marketing funnel? I don't know. And I'm not sure anyone else does either. But brand awareness is not just another stage of the funnel. It's something more.

What Type Of Awareness Content Do You Need?

If you're a content marketer being told to create more awareness, you should probably be more focused on marketing awareness than brand awareness content. And the reason why is because brand awareness content is a middling tactic at best for creating brand awareness.

There are several reasons why, but two main ones. First, as previously stated, B2B brand-level content tends to get consumed after the audience already knows you. And second, and there's no gentle way of saying this, but B2B brand-level content tends to suck. Stocky formulaic videos. CSR content that feels like homework. Employee stories that strain belief.

In my opinion, you're better off trying to educate prospects and improve your SEO through content. There are better ways to build your brand, especially since sales are the single biggest contributor to a strong brand, and marketing, not anthem videos, paves the way for that.

How To Ramp-Up Awareness Fast Through Content

There are two primary ways to ramp-up marketing awareness fast through content. One is recruit industry experts (including influencers) to write blogs and create other content for you under their names, and have them promote it to their followers, while you use some budget promoting it to yours (having their name on the content is rarely enough to make a big dent with your followers organically).

However, such efforts work better if your brand and website already have strong domain authority in whatever these experts will be writing and talking about, because if you don't, the awareness benefits to your brand might not be what you hoped for. And two, write a piece of long-form mothership content (a whitepaper or e-book) and create a campaign for it.

And preferably you're doing both ramp-up methods, as having both the flashy aerial attack of a whitepaper campaign, with colorful figures & infographics, and the steady ground game of a good blog elevates your chances of winning.

If you're doing a fast blog ramp-up, the volume of content that suddenly gets created can overwhelm your personnel responsible for quality control (and for making sure the messaging says what you want it to say and otherwise aligns with what prospects will read later in the consideration stage).

So, it might be a good idea to pay an outside content expert to spend a few hours reading the content, assessing it, and asking questions for the authors to answer, or suggesting areas of the blog that could be improved or expanded on (some SME bloggers write on autopilot when left to their own devices). You can really raise the quality of the final product this way with only a little extra spending.

And if you're doing a whitepaper, it also pays to have a little follow-up content (maybe 2-3 blogs or other articles) written on the same general industry/topic available at launch, so that people see your commitment to that area and are persuaded to follow or subscribe.

Think about how many whitepapers you've read where you didn't read anything else from the authors ever again, or never otherwise engaged with them. It's that follow-up content that can make the real difference between entering your funnel and just passing by.

And One Other Thing

While I may think you can never have too much awareness, despite what I've just told you, I also think not every brand needs to focus on creating industry awareness (or even brand awareness) through content. If you're in a close-knit industry with a few vendors and a small and limited number of buyers (i.e., you're in ABM territory), industry awareness content might not be the best use of your resources.

I'm not saying don't do it. In fact, if you're an industry leader, you probably should, because you need to be controlling your industry discourse. But if you're not a top-tier brand, focusing more on buyer awareness will probably get you more bang for your buck, because everyone knows your name already, and you'll have a hard time being heard amidst the big fish anyway.

So, that's it for awareness. For more on the other stages of the content marketing funnel (consideration and lead-gen), follow the links.

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