Content Mapping to Fix your Stone Age Messaging

There are two types of marketers; those who work in the Stone Age, and those who leverage customer data.

One sends generic, send-to-all spam - “publish it and they will come”.

The other sends 1:1 personalized, automated messages at scale.

At your startup, there’s another team solving a very similar problem - your product team. Product focuses on building a 1:1 personalized experience too. As marketers and content creators, we stand to learn a lot from product teams.

If we take a definition of “product”

A product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need.

It’s actually quite similar to what we might consider content…

Content is anything that can be published to a market that might satisfy a want or need.

Mindset change: Content = product.

What can we content marketers learn from product managers?

Firstly, successful startups are obsessed with finding product-market fit. The market isn’t the first to change. Sure, new markets form, grow, decline, and die. But the most agile element is your product. That’s what changes first. Takeaway: Content needs to be dynamic and adaptive.

Second, successful startups building personal, scalable, automated products. They relentlessly focus on understanding the user story, guiding them towards valuable goals, and removing friction from the process. This maximizes engagement and minimizes the need for human interference through support tickets and so on. Takeaway: Content needs to automatically map to each user’s goals (personalization).

Third, successful startups build for long-lasting behavior. Optimizing for engagement is NOT optional. Without usage, there is no value received by the user. Without value, there is no business. Takeaway: Content needs to build for long-lasting behavior.

If product managers didn’t aspire to those three things, it would be the downfall of the business.

Why are content managers excused? We do we try to make up for Stone Age tactics with a deluge of content? That’s just like product managers shipping a deluge of features to try and find product-market fit #fail.

So why do we do it?

Maybe… because it’s really really easy to just hit publish on a post, to send generic send-to-all-spam messages, and to craft generalized user stories around “personas”.

… and because it’s a nightmare to try and do something far more advanced and personal with your existing tools

… and you don’t have an army of engineers at your fingertips.

… and you’re not really sure how to bring it all together anyway.

Full disclosure: Personalized content management is a pain-in-the-ass.

Alas, marketers are only human.

As soon as they valiantly progress beyond Stone Age messaging and generic send-to-all spam to sending relevant, engaging, 1:1 personalized content, they run into a whole new hellhole.

“Our personalized content is a nightmare to manage and maintain!”

“Our personalized content takes tons more effort to create!”

“Our personalized content isn’t even working!”

Previously, we’ve discussed the hard parts of personalization, and how to assemble it together with your teams.

  1. Build an effective segmentation strategy
  2. Creating dynamic content (beyond “Hi {firstname}!”)
  3. Integrating your customer data together

But there’s still a cacophony of chaos with the content management itself. We’re going to address that in this guide.

Advanced growth teams are like product teams - they move fast but with order and structure (can you tell our CEO is a German? Wunderbar!). For personalized content management, teams solve this with content mapping.

Hull - Content Mapping - Before%2FAfter Personalization

What is content mapping?

Many content strategists who talk about content mapping only consider website content mapping - the site’s architecture and how content fits together, the navigation needed, and so on. But this is just a tiny slither of the wider “content map” your company is publishing.

Content extends far beyond a website, and websites (although large) usually have the least dynamic, personalized content and messaging (although writing this in 2017, I expect this will be outdated by next year). Content is BIGGER than a website.

Content mapping is defining how you align the right message with the right person at the right time in the right place.

Content mapping is an essential part of your managing personalization because there is so much more complexity and variation to messages. If you’re executing a personalization strategy, you need a content management framework able to keep up with what you’re doing.

The golden rule of personalization: segmentation first, dynamic content second. WHO you’re messaging comes before WHAT message you send.

With your content mapping, the same principle follows. You shouldn’t be creating content without first having a clear understanding of who the content is for. So, the content map has three parts:

  1. Understand your ideal customer profile
  2. Understand your customer lifecycle
  3. Create a segmentation plan
  4. Map your content

Here’s how they come together…

Start with a deep understanding of your customers.

Personalization is NOT “Hi {firstname}!”

This is something we keep coming back to at Hull.

In a world of abundant data, where we can craft personalized messages at scale, why do we stop at “Hi {firstname}!”?

Sure - yelling your name across the room may get your attention, but it won’t drive lasting engagement. A deep personalization strategy will enable you to send far more meaningful, relevant messages that increase engagement and conversions at scale.

From our previous posts in our personalization series, you’ve learned about the importance of segmentation and why WHO you’re messaging comes before WHAT your message says.

Really understanding your customer personas ideal customer profile, and having an ongoing process for defining that.

But a personalization depends on both elements - you cannot expect to drive higher engagement by sending the same (or very similar) messages to your different segments.

Next map your content to your customer journey

One of the most important axis for mapping out your content is to tie it to your customer journey.

How does a person or company progress from finding you, becoming a lead, customer, and ultimately growing their account - and how does your content map up to that?

As we’ve discussed before, lifecycle marketing is the fourth key to startup growth marketing. This is a huge lever to growth.

It’s also one of the easiest, more natural ways to create a differentiated message:

  • Send different emails to customers and non-customers
  • Include different blog calls-to-action for customers and non-customers
  • Don’t send ads with signup special offers to existing customers
  • Only send onboarding live messages to new signups

It’s also easier to manage segmentation along the customer journey. Lifecycle Stage and analogous traits are common across most messaging tools.

What are the key stages and the key actions or “jumps” between stages which you have to incentivize with your message?

But there’s a whole lot more to segmenting your message than simply the lifecycle stage.

Segmentation strategy is core to your content mapping.

Remember, the golden rule of personalization. Segmentation first, dynamic content second. WHO we’re targeting matters more than WHAT message we’re sending.

You need to create a segmentation strategy for your business - this will outline what segments you need to create that will drive the most lift in engagement and conversions.

But, each segment needs a different message.

One generic send-to-all message = 1x the work

Three targeted segments + a generic send-to-all message for all remaining contacts = 4x the work

This can quickly scale out of hand. Suddenly, you have 4x the work researching, writing, and implementing segmented messages.

To prevent this getting out of hand, we have a few tips from our segmentation guide:

  • Don’t build a segmentation plan with less
  • Start with a segmentation plan by one dimension (e.g. job title) and add more dimensions later (e.g. job title + company size)
  • Add messaging incrementally, not all at once. Be lean and iterate.
  • Focus on one area of the customer lifecycle at once.
  • Use a content map!

It helps to think of your lifecycle stages and customer segments on two different axis…

Hull - Content Mapping - Lifecycle + Segmentation example grid

Now, you have a grid to fill in - a content mapping template.

Each empty box is a question - what is the right message for this particular customer segment at this part of the lifecycle.

Hull - Content Mapping - Lifecycle + Segmentation example

But the grid alone doesn’t help us send a personalized message.

Head-smacking tip: Send different messages to different segments

This sounds obvious.

Except, in reality, this is what huge swathes of content marketers are missing - sending a different message.

Different for the sake of being different isn’t helpful - that’s is just throwing mud at the wall. And if you’re copy-pasting large swathes of text into your segmented, separate messages, then what the hell is the point of segmenting in the first place?

If we can send different messages to different people, then what should we learn about each of these groups of people to make sure our message really resonates?

The trap marketers fall into with personalized content is simply not caring about each individual message.

The usual fire-and-forget approach which you (sort of) get away with firing off generic, send-to-all, Stone Age content does not cut it here. With personalized messages and personalized strategy, the objective is to increase engagement and conversions across ALL your segments.

You need to fill in the gaps in the grid.

The most important thing you’ve got to learn, absorb, and implement is you’re supposed to be sending a totally different message.

Yes, the call-to-action may be the same…

Yes, the outcome may be the same…

Yes, there may be lots of things in common with other messages you’re sending…

But they’re still different messages.

Hull - Content Mapping - Different Messages

The hack for crafting truly effective personalized messages

Technology removes us from face-to-face in-person interactions. To be personal, we have to think personally. You need to (for use of a better metaphor) step back into that intimate, in-person, conversational space.

Imagine, you’ve got an audience of just the one segment you’re crafting a message for.

And that they’re right in front of you.

And you’re expected to give a talk to them.

In my experience, one of the most powerful methods for focusing, processing, consolidating your messaging and content ideas is to present it on stage to an audience you care about.

You’ve heard that age old advice - read what you’ve written first. Well, by presenting a talk, not only do you have to read (and rehearse) what you’ve written. You need to review it, internalize it, and perform it.

I’m not suggesting becoming a TED speaker (though understanding how they structure and package their ideas and content certainly helps), but outside of the skill of presentation, the actual content, flow, and story to be presented on stage takes considerable thought.

There is no greater test for a piece of content than its authors’ laser-focused, stage-fright-ridden critique.

The goal of this exercise is to focus your content on the specific “hook” that matters to this particular segment and audience.

With this, you should pull your hooks into your personas document ideal customer profile (ICP) process.

As we’ve discussed, the ideal customer profile is a process - not a one-off task - and we use the data that informs our ideal customer profile to guide our segmentation.

Together, these help us target our content and messaging for every segment across the customer lifecycle.

How do you convince an engineer and a sales person to start using your product, or a VP Sales and a Sales Operations manager to subscribe to your blog? What’s the “hook”?

Hull - Content Mapping - Lifecycle + Segmentation + Hook Example

Content mapping template for personalized content management

Drawing it all together, the Hull content mapping template includes:

  1. Ideal customer profile
  2. Lifecycle stages
  3. Segmentation plan
  4. Hooks (per segment)

The template forms a grid to fill in. Each box is effectively a question - what does this group of people care about most to motivate them to take action here?

For instance, sending an onboarding email by job title. After conducting your research, you may find an engineer may care far more about documentation and implementation, whereas a VP Sales may care most about how they nvite their whole team in and get them setup.

(Grab the content mapping template, and more to help guide your personalization strategy from our full 5-part Personalization Framework here).

Mapping your content in your messaging tools

Your content map shouldn’t be theoretical. It should be actionable.

Your content map is a tool to make it easier to research, write, and manage your personalized content.

For some assets, your content personalization will be largely led by navigation and user-lead exploration - like your website. There are great guides to information architecture which address these static forms of content in detail. But this isn’t the right way to structure content from your messaging tools.

For messaging tools (where you’re proactively sending a message), you should apply your content mapping in far greater detail. WHO is sent WHAT matters more than the hierarchy and interlinking of content (compared to a website).

Messaging tools need you to define templates, segments, and workflows to define WHO is sent WHAT. Some messaging tools are more restrictive than others:

  • Some tools only allow for word replacement within one content template
  • Some tools allow for entire content blocks to be replaced
  • Some tools allow for totally flexible words, sentences, paragraphs and blocks
  • Some tools allow all this with advanced, up-to-date segments
  • Some tools allow all this with automated workflows

For implementing your content map within your messaging tools, read more in our our dynamic content guide.

How to implement content mapping at your business

Content mapping brings order to the inevitable chaos from all the combinations and variations of personalized content. It works by mapping WHO is sent WHAT message.

Start by defining your customer lifecycle stages, and each of the key jumps between each of these stages. These define your micro-conversions which you need to create messaging to motivate people to take action.

Next, define your segmentation plan. How are you going to divide your audience to send a precisely targeted, highly relevant message?

Now that you’ve got your grid of lifecycle stages and segments, you need to craft different messages and hooks for different audiences. Without this, your content map is merely a set of borders with nothing in-between. Use our grab-and-go template to speed up your process.

With that, you need to setup your content map within each of your messaging tools to implement your full personalization strategy.

Ed Fry

Prev 'Ed of Growth at Hull, working on all things content, acquisition & conversion. Conference speaker, flight hacker, prev. employee #1 at (acq. HubSpot). Now at Behind The Growth

If you've questions or ideas, I'd love to geek out together on Twitter or LinkedIn. 👇