“Content is King, but Context is the Kingdom” – Gary Vaynerchuk
Content marketing has always been a mixed bag of art and science. We see the evidence of artistry across the breadth of our digital and analog landscape in masterful storytelling, catchy jingles and unbelievable visual creatives. One can almost hear the collective thumb scroll of memes, videos and other digital objects d’art on social media channels. Overconsumption issues aside, we glean daily inspiration for new products, services, hobbies, professional pursuits, and travel destinations from the content we consume. We also absorb a healthy amount of brand awareness along our journey through a seemingly mystical form of psychological osmosis.
So where is the science in all of this? Well, behind the scenes companies are amassing armies of data-driven marketers with limited paid-media budgets and aggressive goals to monetize their content. Everything is being measured, monitored and analyzed to optimize media spend across strategic communication channels. Whether you are trying to milk the hundreds of influencer blog posts your brand ambassadors wrote, or get the most out of your expert product review videos, it’s critical that you get your content science right so that you get everything you can out of it.
The first thing we have to let go of is the notion that customers move in a strictly linear fashion along the customer engagement cycle. It’s just not realistic. We aren’t robots and we don’t simply move from brand awareness, to consideration to purchase, to loyalty like in the days of yore. We buy things while walking down the street without barely a second’s thought. Retailers lure us into showrooms with sophisticated geotargeting techniques as we drive by without any premeditation in mind. We have simply become more opportunistic and impulsive. Our purchases aren’t always as thoughtful as they used to be, but that is a power we reserve and can deploy under any situation at will. If I want to agonize about a purchase, I will literally never run out of content I can consume about every product, destination or service known to man. On the other hand, if I walk by a shirt that I like in a shopping mall, I am 60 seconds away from finding it half-price on one of many a C2C marketplaces and then making my purchase on my iPhone while walking out the door and sipping on an iced caramel latte.
There has never in human history been a more complex ecosystem of options and elements affecting the buyer journey that retailers need to be aware of. Technology has exploded in the martech space to support this, but what you really need are long-lasting, guiding principles that can help you master your content marketing and maximize customer engagement for years to come. Here are top five core principles and patterns you can apply to your content marketing science swagger:
#5 Create a Force Multiplier for Content
When possible, you should always try to convert your content into as many derivative formats as you can. For example, if you write a blog article about one of your products, leverage it as the basis for video script and then cut the audio out of the video and create a podcast episode out of that. Syndicate that podcast episode to all of the top podcast portals. Transcode the video into horizontal, vertical and square formats for posting on various social channels. Have a linking strategy that drives disparate social followers back to other channels where you can get more engagement and cross-pollinate your social audiences. Once you have enough blog entries, pull them together and publish an eBook. You get the idea. Be smart about your content workflow. Make sure nothing gets wasted or underutilized. You get the idea.
#4 Don’t Muck Up the Funnel with Content
In every organization, there is an undeniable impulse to make a land grab on the checkout flow page real estate. Resist the urge to distract your customers with enticing upsell content until after they have completed the checkout process. Once they decide to “proceed to checkout”, make the process as smooth and distraction-free as absolutely possible. Agonize over the usability. Test different options for each element of the flow. Test entirely different flow paradigms. Encourage account creation so that details can be saved with social sign-on. Send follow up communications enticing your guest customers to convert to registered customers. One great place to target registration conversion efforts is in the order status flow. The open rate on order status emails is staggering. If you company doesn’t start with the letter A and rhyme with Flamazon, then you can bet that your customers don’t trust that their purchases will arrive quickly and consistently. Make it super-easy to create an account at every step of the post-order process.
#3 Own Content Discovery
Remember that discovery occurs without intent. That’s the key difference between the concept of discovery vs search. When you search, you have intent. You have input. You have an idea of what you are looking for and you provide something as the seed in the hope that some magical machine in the sky will bring back what you’re looking for. When you discover, you are just browsing. You are window shopping and scrolling around, and then BAM! You discover something great. What many don’t realize is that all that content you think you are discovering randomly has been carefully chosen for you by algorithms and machine learning models. Algorithms can only go so far, but machine learning has incredible potential to boost your content marketing in the critical moments of discovery. What this means for your organization is that you need to prioritize data science. Without data science pros, you are letting your data go to waste plain and simple. This isn’t something you want to outsource. You need a team that has all the tools and support they need to find models that will predict exactly what piece of content will be that key motivator someone needs to bring them closer to the purchase.
#2 You are Not Your Customer
If you design your content delivery around how you think, then you will only capture like-minds. If you want larger audiences, you need to scale your thinking. Market research, persona studies and segmentation can be extremely effective, but they lack dynamics that we find in the real world. If not careful, they can be a crutch and extremely limiting. Someone may be price conscious about shoes, but willing to spend a fortune on socks because of some random childhood experience. How do you keep track of all of that? It’s daunting at best and virtually impossible at worst. Think about a situation where you throw the shoe buyer into a “price sensitive” segment which then triggers all sorts of dumb rules to re-target them with low-end content for socks all over the web. What if you instead look for statistical affinities of your entire traffic population and dynamically offer content based on the likelihood of conversion taking into consideration every piece of data that you have on the current user? Surprise! Data science! Remember, data science is the opposite of static rules. Segments and algorithms are all static. You need people, processes and platforms that can deliver the right content at the right time in the right channel.
#1 Know the Context
All of these recommendations boil down to a simple and powerful principle that must be internalized in order to own the customer journey – know the context. Content is doing you no good if you don’t deliver it in the right place at the right time to the right person. Who I am a year from now could radically change as it relates to 90% of my purchase decisions. Even if I’m actively shopping for a new car, you’re not going to catch my attention when I’m searching for groceries online. Content needs to be curated, centralized, organized and tagged with as many attributes as possible, but that’s only part of the work. Building a contextual awareness model that maps your customers and prospects based on the vast array of data that they freely provide you, building dynamic affinity associations between your current target customer and someone that is acting a lot like them, and adapting based on actual conversions is the big work. Surprise! More data science! In all seriousness though, data science will take you farther than you could possibly go with static rules and segmentation, but there’s no replacement for common sense and a genuine desire to improve customer outcomes. This is the point where you leave data and science, and enter the land of empathy. Look at the data, figure out convenient ways to understand the types of customers you have and become empathetic to what kind of outcomes will please them in a way that is mutually beneficial. Start with small wins and measure your success carefully. Build and rank machine learning models that are working, but don’t canonize them. They are serving a purpose now, but like any other model, they will fail over time if they are not constantly fed with new data and governed by someone that truly cares about the customer experience.
So where are you in your content mastery journey?
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