- What is the content marketing lifecycle?
- From the funnel to the lifecycle
- The power of content marketing
- Stages of the content marketing lifecycle
Defining the content marketing lifecycle
The content marketing lifecycle is a fluid model of aligning relevant and timely content assets to phases of the buyer’s journey and personas of customers you want to reach.
What is the content marketing lifecycle?
Digital technology opens up infinite possibilities for people to experience products and services in radically creative ways. But for marketers, there’s a catch. This “right-here, right-now” world with so many channels and a targeted message for every customer? It’s chaos.
Whether you’re in a B2B or B2C industry, the new buyer’s journey is unpredictable and incredibly complex, a series of loops that seem to start and stop on a whim. You cannot simply add prospects into the top of a funnel and know that so many customers will emerge from the bottom. (Not that it was ever quite that easy!) Marketing in this digital-first environment requires a fundamental change in mindset, and a new approach to content.
As always, great content plays a critical role in moving customers along the path from awareness of your brand to purchase of a product, but it’s only effective if you map it thoughtfully to the now-fluid phases of the buying cycle and the personas of customers you want to reach. We call this process the content marketing lifecycle.
From the funnel to the lifecycle
If you’ve been in marketing or sales for some time, you probably learned a linear version of the sales process. It began with awareness, the first time a prospect comes in contact with your brand; then moved to interest, as that prospect starts researching your solutions. Next along the path: preference or desire — when an interested prospect starts comparing your solution to others. Finally, you would arrive at the action phase, often a purchase – and the end of the story, for the moment.
This process was shown as a funnel, with many people or companies in the awareness phase (top of funnel) and fewer in the purchase phase (bottom of funnel). Sometimes the visual included loyalty (such as the funnel above) to represent the hope of repeat business. If you provided relevant content for each of these steps, your prospect likely would be inclined to buy, and maybe even become a loyal customer.
What happened to this straightforward model? The internet.
Digital devices, social media channels, and e-commerce emerged. And then work and life patterns changed and made the funnel obsolete. We live in an omnichannel world now. Well-informed buyers, ever-shifting consumer behaviors, and impossibly high expectations are the norm. As marketers, we have to evolve our thinking from the image of a sales funnel to one of a fluid customer marketing lifecycle.
This means some prospects will engage and decide to buy in an instant, if we present the right offer at just the right time. The majority, however, will take a step forward, then suddenly circle back to reconsider their decisions. You may not know exactly why. Third-party reviews, online communities, competitive offers, keyword searches, and social media channels all influence the exact course of the journey.
The marketing lifecycle accounts for these new possibilities with loops that represent awareness, interest & intent, conversion, and (most importantly) loyalty. Connecting pathways can go in any direction, giving marketers a holistic view of the customer journey, no matter how complex it becomes.
Sample content types for lifecycle marketing: ● Awareness: value-focused content to establish trust
● Interest & Intent: ebooks, success stories
● Decision: reviews, demos, testimonials
● Loyalty: email newsletters, product updates, surveys
The power of content marketing
In this new landscape of infinite loops, micro-moments, and everything on demand, content matters more than ever — and how you deliver it determines success. Relevant information can draw people into the cycle, if it reaches them, but there’s always a risk of getting lost in the crowd. That’s why personalization and timing are everything.
Effective content marketing balances creativity with execution. You can start by crafting relevant messages and experiences to engage the audience. But don’t forget to set up efficient ways of producing, distributing, and maintaining an enormous library of assets, or you will drown in the operations of the endeavor. It helps to think of content as a continuous process, something that’s always in motion, rather than a static thing.
Stages of the content marketing lifecycle
Naturally, the content marketing lifecycle mirrors that looping flow of the new customer journey, with the addition of some upfront strategy work. Your exact steps may differ somewhat, but they should always involve planning, execution, and assessing performance.
Here is how we think of the content marketing lifecycle at Sitecore:
- Set content marketing goals: Before launching into a full-scale content program, take the time to articulate your goals. What do you hope to achieve, and how will you measure the progress?
- Plan the content strategy: Don’t start creating assets just yet. First, you need to outline a strategy that addresses the key phases of the buying cycle, aligns messages to audiences, defines the mix of form factors, channels, and publishing frequency, and identifies resources for delivering on the plan. Take note of industry trends and competitor initiatives, so you can be sure to differentiate.
- Develop amazing content: Now let your designers, writers, and editors exercise their creative powers to shape memorable experiences for each segment of your target audience. It’s time to make the branded content, product explainers, educational materials, social media posts, and more — everything you’ve included in the overall content plan.
- Curate and distribute assets: Once the final assets are available, activate your plan for how, when, and where they will appear. Establish a well-defined and repeatable process, so you can easily make adjustments as you see what's working or not.
- Engage with the audience: As people begin to consume your content, you’ll want to monitor the interactions. Make a point of responding to comments quickly and route inquiries through the organization. Follow-up with related information or questions, if appropriate. Nurturing leads moment-to-moment can help to move a prospect one step further along the journey, just when you least expect it.
- Analyze results: The best content marketers periodically evaluate their efforts against the goals they set out to achieve, and adjust the plan accordingly.
- Maintain content assets: Before going back to the drawing board, think about ways you might repurpose existing content with slight variations across channels and personas. As time passes, you may need to update key facts in published content or retire some assets all together. This step becomes even more important as your content matures, so that you get the greatest possible benefit out of every single asset you produce.
It’s likely obvious but still worth pointing out since old ways of thinking die hard: this 1–7 list isn’t strictly linear. You can, and likely should, be starting on steps 3 and even 4 while still finishing step 2. And steps 5 and 6 will lead back to steps 3 and 4.
Done well, this holistic approach to content can help organizations overcome the challenges of brand consistency, campaign management, collaboration, and scalable customer engagement.
When you approach content marketing as a continuous process, without a start and finish, you’ll see a greater impact, longer lifespan, and quantifiable results that make a significant difference to the business.