The stats show overwhelmingly that inbound marketing methodology and content marketing are working. They are working better, and better as time goes by. Very few people are successful with just blogging and using Hubspot or other marketing software.  Something more is needed to drive the success of the campaign. Too many businesses look at content marketing on a micro level of daily activities and are missing the big picture, strategy. It’s really easy to stay busy with social media and blogging, but if the strategy isn’t in place driving the purpose of those activities, you won’t achieve the results you are after.

Several years back a client of ours who owns a surf shop retail chain was working off limited budget and limited resources and wanted to run a successful marketing campaign. We see this type of client time and time again with similar limitations or who are executing content marketing but feeling like they are not having success. Let’s take a look at our surf shop client who created a simple yet highly effective content marketing piece to see how easy content marketing can be when you have the right elements.

Case Study – Surf Shop’s Wetsuit Buyers Guide

The client, South Coast Surf Shops, does a large amount of their business selling wetsuits. Raleigh Leslie, our Co-Founder and friend of the owners at South Coast, worked with them to create one simple content offering, a Free Spring Wetsuit Buyers Guide. This buyers guide is a simple PDF that does a side-by-side comparison of several popular spring wetsuits, with the purpose of educating the customers about the product differences between their large selection of spring wetsuits.

The marketing plan to promote this PDF buyers guide was simple; create the PDF, design a CTA(call-to-action) graphic for the homepage and sidebar, and a create a landing page for the PDF download with a simple follow-up email. From this basic funnel the surf shop gained roughly 350 leads(new contacts on the wetsuit buyers list) from the website and saw a substantial increase in their spring wetsuit sales both online and in-store, resulting in their best season ever for wetsuit sales.

Content Offer Sequence

  • Homepage Call-to-Action


    CTA placed above the fold on right side of page. Eye tracking heat map studies have shown that, in most cases, above the above fold right side placement is the best converting or clicked.

  • Blog sidebar Call-to-Action


    Individual blog posts are often an entry point for new visitors or potential leads or sales. Placing CTA’s on the sidebar will ensure they are prompted to take action on a content offer.

  • Landing page to download a PDF


    This landing page does not follow all the best practices but still converts because of the targeted content offer.

  • Free PDF – The ‘South Coast Spring Wetsuit Buyers Guide’


    The main purpose of the PDF document is to educate and provide comparison for the potential customer to help with their buying decision and ultimately lead them to point of sale.

  • Simple Follow-up Confirmation Email with PDF link


    The confirmation email should deliver the premium content offer to the customer’s inbox. This is another opportunity to add more value and ask them to take the next step in their buyers journey. Here we give them a discount of 10% too.

Imperfect Action Still Works

With content marketing you just need to know: What are the prospects urgent needs? The above examples are not following best practices as close as they could be(or even close if you asked our COO Raleigh) for successful content marketing, but the results show there was still an increase in leads and sales. In addition, this content was created as ‘evergreen‘ so minor updates each seasons is all it takes to keep generating more contacts and sales.

What the Campaign Did Well

Content Answered Customers Urgent Needs

  1. How much to spend?
  2. Which wetsuits are a good fit for me?
  3. Which brands are the best for my needs?

Problems the Content Solved for Customers

  1. Gave more information so they were more educated coming into the store.
  2. Determined price point they should spend based on their usage.
  3. Understand the differences between brands and styles.

Why the Buyers Guide Content Offering Works

Content plays well to South Coast Surf Shops customer’s buyers journey. Wetsuits are a product that there are a lot of questions about. New surfers don’t want to walk into the store and seem too novice so they do a lot of research online. The Spring Wetsuit Buyers Guide was a phenomenal tool in answering customers questions and growing a wetsuit buyers list.  In addition, the in store customers where pre-self educated making the in-store sales associates job easier to close a sale.

Business-to-Consumer can be a more challenging space because you have a shorter sales cycle, lower price point and the ROI is harder to reach. Even in this space the most simple yet well thought out content strategy should have a big effect.

3 Things Your Content Marketing Can’t Live Without

Content that solves your customers problems and nurtures them towards a point of sale, is the foundation of inbound marketing.  How do you run your content marketing campaign to ensure that you are creating maximum opportunities to do this for your customer, just like the surf shop did?  Let’s look at the 3 things your content marketing campaign can’t live without.

  1. The Right Tool

    marketing automation techniques graph

    Chart showing how an automation tool will allow you to successful track and execute these techniques other marketers are already doing.

    The right marketing automation tool is essential to your content marketing campaigns. Software automation tools are going to allow you to deliver customized content to your prospects and provide a lead nurturing campaign that happens automatically. Your salesman who never sleeps.

    For South Coast Surf Shops, they started the campaign without using much marketing automation because at the time they didn’t need it and were on a budget. Today there are easily available tools to make marketing automation easy to incorporate into your campaign.

    The tools might be free to try like iContact which have features like Autoresponders or simple follow up e-mails and the automation will allow you to nurture the lead with a few more emails hopefully getting them to a point of sale. Our agency, PageLadder, uses Hubspot because it’s the right tool for the advanced tactics we use with most our inbound clients. Simply put, find the tool that fits the job and use it.

    Why is marketing automation important?
    According to DemandGen Report,

    Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads.

    personalized-campaigns-marketing-automationRelative to where that person is in the buying process, the right tool will allow you to feed them customized information that’s useful and helpful, and not salesy or pushy.

    Marketing automation tools will allow you to customize the content based on their specific buyers journey which are often their behaviors, and their experiences with your website.

  2. The Right Content Marketing Plan

    You need an actual strategy to deploy the content marketing campaign so that the content is compelling, and useful to the prospect. Here at PageLadder we follow what we consider our “special sauce” of mirroring the sales process.

    Some of the ways that we mirror the sales process are through:

    • Marrying your marketing with your sales process
    • Match content to answer actual questions that your sales teams are receiving
    • Nurture your leads through buying decision by feeding them the right information at the right time

    If the content mirror is done the right way it can be a super, super useful sales assist tool. More and more people are self digesting content online and making a buying decision before they even talk with someone from your company.

    Make Customers Comfortable with a Buying Decision
    Knowing your sales process really well is important. During the spring season the surf shop had 350 downloads with no promotion all because they were in-tune with their consultative sales process and mirrored that through their marketing.

    South Coast Surf Shops knew that a large portion of their customers would feel too novice in a “core” retail surf shop to ask all the questions they needed to feel comfortable buying. Their premium content piece, the buyers guide they offered free in exchange for your e-mail,  served the customer’s need for information and ultimately lead to the major spike with the in-store sales because the sales staff could more easily guide them to final point of sale.

    Create the Right Map for Your Sales Funnel
    You should have a map for your online sales funnel structured so that you can optimize the entire journey based on your buyer personas. This will result in more people getting to a point of sale over a longer period of time.

    • Short Sales Cycle= Simple Funnel
    • Long Sales Cycle= More Comprehensive Funnel

    Short Sales Cycle: South Coast Surf Shop is a B2C business with a relatively short sales cycle. Meaning, the customer’s buyers journey is about 1-2 weeks until a point of sales.

    Long Sales Cycle: B2B businesses generally have a longer sales cycle and run more complex campaigns. Some of our clients have sales cycles that are 6 months or more and consequently need more targeted content offers that create more opportunities to educate their customers and keep drawing them down the sales funnel.

    A more complex funnel for a longer sales cycle could look something like this:


    Example of PageLadder’s complete content marketing strategy.

    The Importance of the Right Map for Your Sales Funnel
    If your plan is too complex you are going to confuse your customers and not give them the direct line down the funnel that you want. In contrast, if you have a long sales cycle and your funnel isn’t built out enough, your customers will get hungry for information and you will lose them as well.

    If you are doing content marketing but not seeing as much success as you anticipated, most likely your execution might be flawed. Combining your marketing automation along with a strategy that maps yours buyers journey will lead to an increase in lead quality and lead quantity.

  3. The Right Talent

    The right talent is essential because even if you have the right plan and the right tool, without someone to move it along and keep it on track your efforts could easily be wasted. Your talent will be able to listen to your customers both directly and through the data ensuring that your leads are nurtured and there are no bottlenecks in the sales funnel.

    The right talent could be an agency, inbound professional or in-house member of your team. Time is money so you need to find a way to leverage your time. This is where an agency proves value. Agencies will have systems and processes in place to effectively execute your campaign, create compelling content and analyze the data to improve performance.

    Having the right talent is simply identifying who can best cover these essential areas.

    A few of the areas where the right talent is important are:

    1. Extracting the content information from the Subject Matter Expert.
    2. Working the in’s and out’s of the campaign such as; emailing the database and adding the CTA to the homepage.
    3. Looking at the data to track performance and improve any bottlenecks.

    Rather than trying to write the specialized knowledge themselves, South Coast Surf Shop went to the sales reps who are the Subject Matter Experts and got the necessary information to put together the buyers guide. The talent is there to leverage time and not painstakingly write each content piece themselves but facilitate the extraction of information from the expert and find a means to get that written and edited.

    In most cases they are taking the Subject Matter Experts’s information and passing it along to a writer rather than trying to write each piece of content themselves. Their role isn’t to be the expert but to extract that information from the Subject Matter Expert and use it to make an outstanding piece of content that answer the customer’s questions.

    The surf shop campaign did this mostly right with the resources they had. And mostly right beats nothing at all when it comes to inbound because it will give you the data you need to improve. Now that they have the data there is an opportunity for expansion on their ROI by improving the funnel to make it more efficient or unplug bottlenecks.

    Expansion of the surf shop’s existing campaign might include:
    • Drip feed sequences to nurture the wetsuit buyers list
    • Improvements to the Call-to-Action graphics and placement
    • Improving the content of the actual wetsuit guide premium content offer.

    Complex Funnels – The right talent is crucial when you have a long sales cycle and a more robust campaign. With a longer and more complex cycle there are more points of failure/success so the talent is increasingly more important in ensuring there are no bottlenecks and all the important data is being collected and is accurate. Addressing those bottlenecks and/or inefficiencies is crucial to ensure that the customers are moving down the pipeline.

The Bottom Line:

There are many ways to improve your content marketing campaign but if you feel that you are struggling, look at your Plan, Tool and Talent first and determine if one of those might be to blame. A lot of people will find that they have one or two of these dialed-in but are missing the other key element. You might be just three feet from the gold without even realizing it.

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Robb Bailey

Co-Founder & CEO at PageLadder, Inc.
Robb enjoys growing a mean mustache every Movember and putting hot sauce on anything edible. You'll find him doing Content Marketing at his Inbound Marketing Agency in San Diego.
1 reply
  1. Mary Green
    Mary Green says:

    Great post, Robb. I like how simple the PDF example works for small businesses like the surf shop. I think it can be so difficult for companies like this to see what seems so clear to others, like us, who practice inbound marketing everyday. Getting started is the first step, glad your client saw success with this.


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