Your help content is the most valuable thing you have to offer your customers, outside of the product itself. But many organizations devalue this content, seeing it only as a cost or a bare necessity. I’d like to argue for a different view of help content using the iceberg theory, popularized by the early 20th century writer Ernest Hemingway.
The Iceberg Theory
The shortest “novel” in the world is often (incorrectly) attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The “novel” reads like this.
For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.
Though it is only six words, the story suggests far more. The excitement of a pregnancy giving way to the grief felt by the mother and the father, the burial, having to explain—or not explain—the loss. The scope of the story is only limited by the imagination of the reader.
Whether Hemingway actually came up with this story is irrelevant. It is characteristic of his sparse style, though. To help explain his writing style, Hemingway offered up a metaphor. When writing, the words on the page represent the tip of an iceberg—what is visible above the waterline. The other 90% of the iceberg—the part beneath the surface—is never seen directly by the reader; rather; that 90% is what has shaped and informed the visible 10%. This idea is what allows for such an emotional, expansive story in six words.
Thanks for indulging in me validating my English degree. You’re probably wondering what this has to do with anything.
Applying the Iceberg Theory to Help Content
The iceberg theory provides us a way to think about the relationship between the knowledge your company has and revenue generation. The infographic below shows us how to go from support agent and customer knowledge to marketing.
The tip of the iceberg represents the marketing side of revenue generation. It includes the touch points and channels that help drive customers into the sales funnel. Where people get messed up is thinking that the part of the iceberg submerged below the water—the part that constitutes “support”—and the exposed part are separate. One is pre-sale, the other post-sale.
But both pre-sale and post-sale customers need the valuable content that begins at tribal knowledge—the information your employees and customers have. This is the basis for the valuable content that helps drive sales and promote post-sale customer success.
As we move up the iceberg, from tribal knowledge, it’s a matter of continual improvement and optimization. You rake the tribal knowledge and formalize it into “content.” From there, you improve the organization to ensure it makes sense and provides customers learning pathways through the content. For many companies, getting to this point is a huge success, since curating, formalizing, and organizing can be time consuming and difficult with many content management solutions or knowledge bases.
Once you’ve mastered these, you can use analytics to understand user behavior and article traffic. This allows you to improve your content, with the intent to provide more value to your customers. With valuable content in hand, then we can begin to see the surface—the elements that make up our revenue generating initiatives.
The Tip of The Iceberg and Improving Your Search Experience
The visible 10% for this iceberg is composed of engagement (the channels and strategies we use to connect to our customers), search engine optimization (since Google is quite often how customers “surface” information about our companies), and generating revenue (because if you can engage customers and drive them to your website, you’re going to grow your business). These three things comprise the majority of a “content marketing initiative.”
A quick Google search tells us that the purpose of content marketing is to provide value to the customers, rather than to entertain, like traditional advertisements (though, if they were all as good as this one from Volkswagen…oh never mind).
When we think of the B2B “content” that is providing value to our customers, we think of things like blogs (ahem), white papers, and case studies. But there’s a huge part missing.
Traditional content marketing is great for trying to improve the organic search results of the keywords relating to your brand. But when customers already know your brand, traditional content marketing is less helpful. We call these “organic branded searches,” the searches your prospective customers and current customers are making from Google in order to surface your help content.
Driving Revenue through Help Content
Your help content is the information that helps you close sales by providing authoritative documentation to validate their requirements and concerns. Traditionally, this information was locked away in silos, left solely to support. But customers are smart and savvy these days, and they turn to Google to research before and during engagement. According to Advanced Web Ranking, over 80% of searches are informational, while 10% are transactional (read: sales based).
If you aren’t mastering the rest of the iceberg (what’s submerged), then you’re missing out on this huge opportunity to a) drive your sales process forward with customers, and 2) provide a stellar self-service experience. Seriously, huge. Not only can you keep your customers successful, but you can streamline prospective customers on the path to success.
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