Brands are beginning to wake up to something that consumers have always known: a brand is the sum of our experiences with it. In the early days of branding, what a brand said about itself was the biggest factor in how people felt about it. Today, how a brand behaves, how its products perform and how we feel when we interact with the company behind the brand – these are the biggest drivers of brand health. It’s no coincidence that the rise of customer experience as the primary brand imperative has coincided with the rise of another major discipline: content marketing.
The content marketing spirit
Done properly, content marketing is the perfect example of the new customer experience ethos. The principles of great content marketing are the principles of great customer experience:
- Put customers at the centre
- Work hard at understanding their needs
- Create content (experiences) that serve those needs
- Listen to the responses
- Adjust accordingly
That’s how the brands with the best customer experiences behave – and that’s how the best content marketers create useful, compelling content.
These days, “putting customers at the centre” sounds almost too obvious to even mention. But if most companies actually look at their customer experiences – and the processes behind them – with fresh eyes, they’d see just how company-centric they really are.
The same is true of content marketing. Many practitioners are actually producing old-school ‘brochure-ware’ in the guise of content that serves the prospect or customer. It takes a fresh look and a clean start to actually put the customer and their information needs first, ahead of the company agenda.
Content as experience
Of course, content marketing doesn’t just reflect customer experience management – content is in itself a customer experience.
The question is: what kind of experience do you want to create in your content?
- Content that actually serves the consumer’s needs and interests or content that pushes the company agenda?
- Content that’s easy to experience – clear, simple, well-written and maybe even entertaining or dense, bland content that assumes (and depends on) a highly motivated reader?
- Content that people want to share and that they’ll thank you for or content that feels like marketing?
In short, thinking about content as an experience is a great way to keep your content marketing on track.
The role of content in the experience mix
Of course, content is only one of many, many kinds of customer experience – including the website, the sales process, customer service, in-store and actual experience with the product.
Content marketers are starting to consider where content can play a role throughout the customer experience cycle – and the answer if often ‘everywhere’.
For instance, content can work at the very top of the funnel, bringing new people into the prospect universe. But it can also be hugely useful in getting existing customers to use your products and services better – or to buy new things.
Content can also work to support the people on the front line of customer experience. Sales people can use content to open doors, keep relationships alive or revive ‘dead’ prospects. And customer service people can use content to help customers solve problems.
All these are ways that content can add value throughout the customer experience.
Driving the experience drivers
Given its audience-first approach, it’s not surprising that content has moved to the centre of the new digital marketing ecosystem.
Social media – a major new forum for customer experiences – has come to depend on content as the thing a brand can bring to the conversation.
Search engine optimisation has become a content marketing discipline as SEO experts realise that what Google wants to see is relevant content.
Email marketing depends on content too. Emails that offer a useful piece of content tend to out-perform those that push product.
The same is true of banner ads and retargeting: ads that offer relevant content can see double or triple the click-through rates of product-led ads.
And marketing automation, the latest juggernaut to hit B2B, entirely depends on a well-structured content program to nurture prospects until they’re sales-ready.
All these customer experiences – or prospect experiences – have come to depend on content.
The content-free experience
There are brands that profess to be all about the customer experience but are still sceptical about content marketing.
I always wonder how that can work – what a ‘content-free’ customer experience can possibly be like.
If content marketing is simply using your company’s experience and expertise to help your customers do their jobs (or enjoy their lives), what brand would not want to do that?
Clearly, if you care about your customer experience, you care about content.
- Make your content marketing strategy start with the audience, not with your products and your agenda. What do your audiences need to know?
- Think about using content throughout the customer experience – not just at the top of the funnel.
- Expose your content to your customer-facing people – make sure your sales and customer service teams know about new pieces and how they might use them.
- Make sure content is driving your social, SEO and lead nurturing strategies – trying to do these things without content is marketing with a serious handicap.
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