In an on-demand B2B universe, content marketing becomes information, useful experiences that are useful to the marketer too. It’s measurable, delivered however the information seeker prefers, from 140-character tweets with answers to the most popular questions asked by customers to triggered emails, catalogs, whitepapers, and more.
For content to really develop relationships, however, marketers must go beyond thinking of it as copy on a Web page or in an app.
They need to embrace three central ideas:
- Information can be persuasive. The age of persuasion has not entirely yielded to the age of information, but marketers need to strike the right balance between the two.
- Relevancy is key to performance. Content must address topics that your audience has a genuine interest in, and it must provide a reason for people to continue interacting with you.
- Strategic content needs planning. By designing contained, linked content experiences that go past the app, Web page, or search call to action, marketers can piece together a picture of the customer narrative by measuring the audience’s interaction with the content.
The Digital Customer Narrative
The digital customer narrative is a complete story of a customer’s interactions with brand or corporate properties online and how they unfold: where they originate, what digital properties they engage in, what content they engage in, and what they do and when. By observing customer behavior around content in dozens of programs at an agency, here are some of the things we have learned:
- Different customers want different ways of engaging. They want anything from actual brand relationships to opting in to receive coupons or promotions. And, in most cases, an offer of useful content outperforms PR messages and cute but nonstrategic ad campaigns. (In other words, how’s that Old Spice campaign generating results today?)
- Some customers are super fans who will engage in your community or with your content daily; others will read one article a year from a tweet or an email. Are you creating experiences for that breadth of desired engagement across your customer and audience base?
- The more valuable the content or the experience, the more a customer is willing to provide more information. As long as the experiences are managed and triggered by their actions, customers will provide information that lets you customize information or entertainment intended for them, which can lead to deeper overall engagement. Not valuable: self-serving whitepapers or catalogs. Valuable: objective information driven by customer needs, such as what other customers are buying or what questions they are asking, road maps, selection guides, and similar tools. That valuable information should not necessarily be delivered as one contained experience, but as a sequence of experiences, engagement with which you can measure like a funnel or buying landscape.
- Paid and earned media are the outer edge of awareness. Social media content is—like search, advertising, and public relations—just the starting point of engaging an audience and drawing them into a relationship. Owned media is highly trusted. The most meaningful interactions between a brand and a customer happen on venues like websites, communities, events, conference calls, and webinars. Email may be the most powerful medium for members of your audience, but how they prefer to receive content is critical to understanding how to deliver it to them.
- Customers want meaningful direct interaction with companies and brands. They want the ability to turn up or turn down the strength of those relationships depending on whether they are researching, seeking customer support or information, or looking to buy a new product.
- The customer narrative is far from just digital. Integrated programs that start with a television or out-of-home ad, or a press release or an event, and draw people into online experiences via content and engagement opportunities, will become the standard. They will include real metrics around what that engagement results in both short term (conversions) and long term (the extended customer narrative that those initial conversions result in).
- Marketers can start by understanding their customers’ digital narratives via research that uncovers the digital habits and the content needs of specific types of audiences.
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