Most content marketing strategies focus disproportionately on the top of the funnel, and it’s easy to see why. The situation is self-perpetuating, too, with content marketing blogs (more or less) exclusively covering concepts like audience building, lead generation and brand awareness, as opposed to how content can serve bottom-of-the-funnel goals like customer retention.
Much of this can be chalked up to content’s important role in “sales enablement.”
For example, Ascend2’s digital marketing strategy survey for 2019 found that top content marketing priorities for respondents included mostly top-of-funnel goals like increasing leads, sales, and website traffic, with customer engagement coming in third.
But given what we know about the ROI of acquisition compared to retention, we should be allocating much more of our resources and attention towards retention-focused content strategies for the highest impact content. Publishing content is just a way of communicating with multiple people at a time, so a good content strategy looks at where that communication is needed most.
And more often than not, the most valuable efforts revolve around retaining your current customers and providing a return-worthy experience. From the start of customer onboarding through every stage of retention and renewal, content can and should help you achieve your sales and retention goals. Since there are so many different areas and types of content that can help you improve retention, I turned to experts in each field for their thoughts.
Here’s what they had to say.
Why the Top-of-the-funnel Focus?
First of all, let’s ask a few expert marketers why retention is so overlooked in content marketing in the first place. Other departments have moved to focus on it more, what’s holding content back?
William Harris, Facebook Ads Expert, Elumynt:
Many marketers overlook retention objectives in their content strategies as they are incentivized, in some way, to acquire more qualified leads and more customers – but the incentives are often “missing” from keeping churn low. Marketers, being human, will follow the incentive.
Shanelle Mullin, Conversion Rate Optimization Specialist, Shopify:
The three multipliers that facilitate content marketing growth in eCommerce are: number of leads multiplied by purchase frequency multiplied by average order value (AOV). Everything else is noise. Here’s the problem. Content marketing desperately needs this formula, because most people aren’t thinking about money at all, or many are only considering the number of leads multiplier – the least important of the three. Retention is too often overlooked. Start by improving purchase frequency (of leads) and AOV (of leads) first. Then move to the number of leads. Why send more people into a leaky funnel? It’s all wasted if you haven’t invested in retention.
Justin Tsang, Director of Customer Marketing, Unbounce:
With the recent emergence of growth marketing, we’re seeing marketers intelligently investing in customer and retention efforts. Bottom-of-the-funnel content such as workshops, walk-throughs, and feature adoption webinars are being built into the content strategy, and customer marketing is no longer the sole domain of customer success teams. The marketing ecosystem is evolving to emphasize retention across all channels, driven by the emergence of the growth marketing discipline, which stresses growth that’s agnostic of channel and area of the funnel.
Lilach Bullock, Digital Marketing Specialist:
Marketers are usually under a lot of pressure to deliver numbers that can easily be measured and tied to ROI. The big issue is when the focus is on delivering any numbers with little attention given to their quality (are they the right target audience? are they taking any other action? will they come back?), and that, I think, is a pretty common problem.
Idealistic marketing and product teams tend to assume all customers know their products inside and out. But unless you take the time to tell customers about different uses and features, you can’t guarantee they’ve found the answers for themselves.
All too often, customers don’t know half the things your product can do because of poor product-related communication. Much of this can be addressed during the onboarding process, which we’ll get back to in a bit.
For example, content marketers are often scared to mention their products in their content, for fear of coming off “too sales-y.” But context and tone are key. Look at how CoSchedule weaves mentioning specific product features into their long-form educational content.
They’re not talking about pricing or even including a direct call-to-action – just a link to learn more. But by explaining the product and its relevance to the topic—all framed by the benefits of using this specific functionality—they can educate and interest in a reader-friendly manner.
By doing this regularly, you’re tying things back to your product without pushing or selling it outside of your dedicated updates and campaigns. Speaking of dedicated campaigns, it’s not enough to write a quick feature rollout announcement email or blog post and assume your whole customer base knows about your latest offering. You need to create multiple pieces of valuable content around any updates if they’re going to sink into your customers’ consciousness.
Here’s what some of our panelists had to say about announcements and updates.
Johnathan Dane, CEO and Founder, Klientboost:
Creating content surrounding a product update that successfully engages customers is challenging. This is because most product updates are about features and not benefits. Marketers can overcome this hurdle by emphasizing “what’s in it for me?” and “why should I care?”.
Ross Simmonds, Digital Strategist, Foundation Marketing:
Organizations struggle with the idea of boasting about how great their product is and lean towards the humble side of things. The best brands recognize the fact that each product update should be treated like a product launch. Announce it the same way you would if you were creating a new solution, for a new market, in a new industry – be aggressive.
To create better product updates for your business, focus on creating series of content assets for your different product announcements, using multiple benefits-driven content items instead of simply announcing the features as a one-off.
In addition to updating existing customers about new products and features, another sore point for most content strategies is communicating with new customers about existing products. Could your new customer onboarding experience use an upgrade from content?
Someone’s first interactions with you after paying you money and becoming a customer shouldn’t feel cold, impersonal, and transactional. But more often than not, companies keep the default copy in their confirmation and receipt emails, doing nothing to shape the customer experience in its earliest stage.
Instead of just offering a simple thank you page and confirmation email, a bit more of an explanation can vastly improve your customers’ chances of success and your chance of improving retention. It’s always important to tell a prospect or user what to do next with a clear call-to-action, and that’s as true with transactional emails as marketing ones.
For example, instead of simply sending receipt information for a new purchase, include links to related content or products to browse until their product ships. This way you’re guiding your customer to something helpful, an intentional next step, instead of leaving them to figure it out for themselves.
The content doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, all of our experts advocated for simplicity here.
Shane Barker, Brand and Influencer Consultant:
Create onboarding content that is beneficial for your customers by stepping into their shoes. Think about the possible challenges they might face as a new user of your product. Explain things in layman’s terms, instead of expecting them to be experts. One key reason why customers leave a brand is because they don’t understand its product. If you get your onboarding content right, you can easily solve the customer retention problem.
Sid Bharath, SAAS Marketing Consultant:
The big mistake marketers make is they assume people actually read their onboarding email sequences. Companies tend to drip out their onboarding content over a few days, which turns customers off as reflected in metrics by open rates slowly decreasing. Faster is better here. You want your sign-up process to get people to take “aha” actions immediately. Then invite them to an onboarding webinar with an in-app message, use in-app cues to get them to take the next steps, track product usage, and create outreach sequences for those who don’t register within the first few days.
Zac Johnson, CEO, Blogging.org:
For onboarding, just like any other purpose, you want to create content that provides value, has actionable tips, and is illustrated with visuals that walk the user through the process. Gone are the days when people are willing to sit down and simply read through a 1,000+ block of text on a site.
Customers don’t care about your onboarding info as much as you might think, so you need to make it compelling and easy to digest. Show users how to get to their aha actions as quickly as possible using simple content, visuals, and engaging content such as in-app cues or video tutorials.
Tutorials and How-tos
It’s never too early in the onboarding process to start product education, but those teachings also shouldn’t be relegated to the onboarding process alone. You never stop helping your customers succeed, and content is how you deliver this help, every step of the way.
As discussed above, too many companies are scared to mention their products at all in their content marketing. There’s a misconception that any mention of your products and services is sales-y, when in actuality, there’s a difference between promoting your product and simply helping people to get the most out of it.
By mentioning your product where it’s truly relevant and helpful isn’t “pushing” your product – it’s enhancing the product’s value. This not only provides more context around your product to interested prospects, but also helps your current customers see what they can do with the product they’ve already paid you for.
A company that does this excellently is Zapier. They have a trove of content directly about their product and what you can do with it. And in addition to that, they always make sure to note in other content where their product can help.
See how they reference it inside their articles that review other apps.
It doesn’t feel pushy or promotional, they just make sure to mention where and when their product can help the reader.
Here are a few additional things to keep in mind.
Pam Neely, Content Creator:
Short how-to videos (three minutes or less) seem to do well, especially if they have a text version with screenshots to go along with the video. Shorter content is preferable to meet deadlines or solve a problem fast. This is why really good customer support staff are so valuable – they can still beat content (in any form) if you need a fast solution.
Elise Dopson, Freelance B2B Writer:
The foundation for all “how-to”-style content stems from the reasons why your customers are leaving. Does a competitor offer more features? A better price? A simpler-to-use dashboard? Whatever the answer is, build how-to docs around them. The latter is the most simple – give customers a product demonstration in your onboarding process. The competitor stuff is trickier, but not impossible. For example, if a competitor offers more features than you, create an in-depth guide to using all the features you’ve got. You could also include why you only focus on a handful, and whether your customers actually need the extra features.
Roy Povarchik, CEO and Founder, Stardom.io:
For a product “how-to,” a video and short bullet points text will work best. You want to make people feel familiarized and emotionally attached to your product as fast as possible. Having a great “human” (not coached) narrator present, while keeping the user’s goals in mind, is a great way to do that.
Once again, you want to keep content simple and to-the-point here. Customers are trying to solve a specific problem, and the sooner your content can help people feel empowered to do that, the better it performs its job. Visuals and video are excellent assets here as well.
Finally, your current customers want to see content that showcases other customers. Whether that’s in the form of case studies, interviews, success stories, or guest content is up to you, but it’s important to share the marketing spotlight with real customers.
This gives the customers in your audience someone to relate to within your content.
Your own team’s expertise can be helpful for how-to and other educational content, but marketing is emotional, and your content should tap into that too.
Tom Hunt, Founder, Internet MBA Blog:
User journeys are far more effective in telling a success story than metrics. Humans are addicted to stories, it has been identified as our earliest form of communication. There is nothing more powerful for a customer than reading a story of someone similar to them achieving their desired end result.
Gilles De Clerck, Founder & Growth Strategist, ABLAZE Growth Studio:
When considering a product, stories should provide people with a clear and tangible portrayal of how the product is used on a day-to-day basis and how it creates value. The reader must be able to imagine themselves using the product easily, as if they know the product already before they ever used it. Here, success metrics are mostly important to draw them into the story – for example, it would be good to mention it in the title, so as to make it more clickable. As the reader becomes a customer and is more subject to retention-aimed content, metrics become more important to convey the feeling that if they were to leave the product, they would really be missing out.
Success stories are more flexible than other types of content. You have tons of room to experiment with what will work for your customers.
As you can see above, sometimes metrics-driven, results-focused case studies will provide the facts customers need to justify sticking around. Other times, an emotional narrative will build the connection needed to stay.
Build Your Retention Library
While the retention process for a customer never ends, each type of retention content has its own day in the sun. Tutorials and onboarding content help a new customer get started, while updates and stories keep customers engaged and around. Start building your library now to serve and retain customers with it sooner.