January 23, 2013
Case Study

Content Marketing: Targeted persona strategy lifts sales leads 124%

SUMMARY: You need to understand the difference between "great" content and "meh" content to win in content marketing. More importantly, you need to understand what "great" means to your audience.

In this article, see how one B2B firm tailored content to segments of its audience, and increased leads 124% after launch. You'll also learn how they dug deeper to target personas and earn great results.
by Adam Sutton, Senior Reporter

Content quality is in the eye of the beholder. You have to understand the audience before you can "wow" it with great blog posts, whitepapers and webinars.

The marketing team at Skytap, a self-service provider of cloud automation solutions, understands this well.

"In the last 12 to 18 months, we have put a lot of focus and energy toward understanding who our buyers and personas are in any given deal, and then catering our content to those groups," says Nate Odell, Director of Marketing, Skytap.

Skytap launched a content marketing strategy in May 2012 to generate and convert more leads. The team saw great year-over-year results:
  • 210% increase in North American site traffic

  • 55% increase in organic search traffic

  • 97% increase in leads from online marketing

  • 124% increase in leads from all channels (online as well as offline events and programs)

  • 73% increase in opportunities from online marketing

"If we didn’t have content, I don’t believe that we would have had as much success as we did in 2012," Odell says. "Content marketing is just so crucial."

The foundation of the team’s strategy is a deep understanding of its prospects and buyers. Here’s how the team set that foundation and improved upon it:

Step #1. Set basic audience segments

Skytap’s customers are typically middle- and enterprise-level companies who use cloud computing to accomplish at least one of the following:
  1. Test software throughout its development

  2. Provide virtual software training

  3. Provide software demonstrations

These "use-cases," as Odell calls them, give Skytap a natural way to segment its content marketing strategy.

Step #2. Research the segments

Skytap wanted to target its content to key players within these groups to give it more impact. The team collected research from many sources, including:
  • CRM and lead-tracking data

  • Search and other behavioral data

  • Information from sales reps

  • Conversations with existing customers

The company takes a "hands-on" approach to customer engagement, and that information contributed to the team’s research.

"Whether you are in sales, or marketing, product management or product development, and whether you are a managing director or a VP, you are expected to engage with customers at some level," Odell says.

Step #3. Dig deeper in each segment

In its research, the team wanted to identify the typical roles involved in a sales deal for each of Skytap’s three use-cases. This includes people who:
  • Recognize the need for a solution

  • Give final approval for the purchase

  • Procure the solution

  • Use the solution

The business titles typically involved in the deals were important pieces of information. For example, this could be a senior software engineer who is asked to evaluate a solution as part of the sales process.

"It’s really important for us to find patterns around the titles we see in deals in each use-case so we can know with probably 90-95% accuracy that if we approach these folks in other organizations who are similar, we are going to have a much higher rate of success selling into these organizations," says Odell

Create a profile

The team examines the common characteristics of the people in these roles to create a full persona. This includes gathering information about each persona:
  • Product of interest (use-case)

  • How they found relevant information

  • What they searched for online

  • Relevant pain points

  • Obstacles that prevent the person from moving forward

Start with important roles

Creating this many personas is a big task. The team continues its work today, and Odell is careful not to let the project spiral out of control.

"Instead of saying, ‘Let’s just go understand everybody,’ we need to be very methodical and say, ‘Let’s go understand the particular use-cases and all the individuals we typically see in those deals and really understand what they’re looking for.’"

Step #4. Plan targeted content

Since targeted marketing typically earns a better response than generic marketing, Skytap strives to target particular use-cases and personas in its content. Odell mentions the company’s email newsletter as an example.

"It would be really easy for us to do a general newsletter that had everything from development and testing, to virtual training and software demos, but that’s not very targeted. You’re going to lose readers based on their level of interest."

Here are a few examples of how the company targets its content:
  • The case studies and testimonials on its website feature satisfied customers for each of the company’s three use-cases.

  • Visitors to the company’s blog can view posts by categories, such as "virtual training," "development and testing" or "product development."

  • Blog posts speak to specific roles, such as one titled "Sales Engineers: Own Your Time and Leverage the Cloud."

  • Website copy can also speak to specific roles. Here’s an example from a services page:

    "Developers, test engineers and QA managers are faced with a dilemma: How do you get access to a scalable, ready-to-go cloud development and testing environment quickly, easily, and securely?"

Step #5. Establish a content review process

Skytap publishes a steady stream of high-quality content. Since its audience is highly specialized, and the topics are very granular, the company has a rigorous review process to ensure the material meets a high bar.

The company hired a managing editor to keep this process on track. That person is tasked with continuing Skytap’s targeted content strategy, as well as these two tasks:

1. Maintain volume

Every member of the marketing team is tasked with creating content for Skytap’s strategy. Other subject matter experts throughout the organization contribute, as well. The editor’s job is to make sure this content arrives on time. Even Odell contributes.

"I drive 100% of the case studies. Between myself and the managing editor, we will split the number of whitepapers we author. … Our events manager will write up summaries of events."

2. Maintain quality

The managing editor also provides the final stamp of approval on all content before its published, Odell says.

"We are not in the business of creating meaningless content garbage."

Thorough review

Establishing a repeatable process for editing content is important to maintaining its quality. Skytap’s review "is pretty intensive," Odell says, and includes several executive managers and subject matter experts.

Here’s a quick summary:
  1. A piece of content is created

  2. Reviewed by relevant, internal experts

  3. Reviewed by executives

  4. Reviewed by a project manager

  5. Reviewed by managing editor

  6. Published as part of a campaign

During each review, the piece may be edited and go through several drafts.

Creative Samples

  1. Case studies

  2. Testimonials

  3. Blog post categories

  4. Blog post

  5. Website copy



Related Resources

Content Marketing: A process for evaluating content channels

Content Marketing: 5 questions to ask subject matter experts to get the ball rolling

Content Marketing: Misstakes arr Bad

Content Marketing: 7 tips for content repurposing

Content Marketing: 3 tips for how to get started

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