The four principles of a content marketing plan that supports customer experience

Ryan Skinner writes that content marketing’s role is so crucial to customer experience that it must be approached strategically – and explains four key principles.

This article originally appeared in The Content Issue, our August/September issue of Marketing magazine.

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Valuable customer experiences will be the primary factor differentiating brands that win in the age of the customer, and content marketing has a crucial role to play in supporting customer experience. Marketers can make the difference for their brands’ customer experience by producing, distributing and promoting content that makes brand interactions more effective, easier and more enjoyable.

The days of shoppers showing up at a store with a basic need and little idea of how to solve it are disappearing.

Forrester forecasts that the majority of purchases will involve online research or purchase by 2020.

As such, customers’ interactions with your brand increasingly rest on content, whether they are discovering answers to a problem, trying to understand your products or engaging with your brand or community.

Marketers have the opportunity and duty to serve these customers and start building meaningful relationships or enhance existing ones.

By developing content that meets customers’ informational needs, eases their life or purchase in some way, or generates joy or relief, marketers can directly contribute to the overall customer experience.

Marketers must align their content strategy with customer experience to achieve a number of goals:

1. Provide valuable content that meets customers’ needs. Customers will explicitly tell marketers – and they are, either directly via surveys or indirectly via things like site search – what type of content they want to experience from a brand. These explicit and basic needs are first priority for the marketer creating customer-centric content experiences.

2. Provide valuable content that makes customers’ lives a bit easier. Like a wayfinding sign in the middle of the forest, some kinds of information and content won’t be necessarily asked for or expected, but they will still be deeply appreciated when found. Content addressing customers’ implicit and unexpressed needs or desires makes up the second category of content.

3. Provide valuable content that differentiates the brand by generating positive emotions. Some content extends beyond explicit or implicit needs to create delight, serendipity or empathy, or prevent anxiety.

 

Ryan Skinner headshotWhile not table stakes for brands, these kinds of experiences offer them an opportunity to differentiate themselves from a sea of competitors – and often at an unexpected moment.

In general, marketers need to plan for valuable content along the entire customer life cycle.

Customers’ content needs don’t begin on a product page and they don’t end at the shopping cart; they may want content to understand how to think about a household problem, or they may want content to answer common product set-up questions.

The customer life cycle is a six-step framework that gives marketers a data-driven content strategy for supporting customers’ needs.

In order for marketers to accelerate their journey toward a successful customer-led content plan, they should prioritise content that drives incremental brand value by following these key principles:

 

1. Identify where you fail to meet needs in your customer life cycle

Many brands, following a content audit, will find that they’re failing customers in fulfilling their most basic informational needs – the foundation for a good customer experience.

For example, financial services and insurance firms have long failed to address customers’ content needs at the discover stage, which led insurance provider Prudential to develop its ‘Bring Your Challenges’ program.


Figure 1. Customers who seek out products online relate to content throughout the purchase journey. Source: Forrester’s North American Consumer Technographics Customer Life Cycle Survey 1, 2015. * Source: Forrester’s European consumer Technographics Online Benchmark Recontact Survey, 2015 (France, Germany, UK).

Figure 1. Customers who seek out products online relate to content throughout the purchase journey. Source: Forrester's North American Consumer Technographics Customer Life Cycle Survey 1, 2015. * Source: Forrester's European consumer Technographics Online Benchmark Recontact Survey, 2015 (France, Germany, UK)


2. Increase your brand’s responsiveness to explicit or implicit needs

Customers will tell you what they want, either directly or via data that reveals their behaviour.

Working with Microsoft on its Azure cloud computing platform, Smith Agency – a customer experience service firm – used data to determine that Microsoft’s messaging wasn’t driving usage and so they worked together to develop content that drove usage.

 

3. Identify moments for brand differentiation via ease or positive emotions

Creative approaches to content can allow brands to set themselves apart, such as the first airlines that played with humorous approaches to safety videos. Luxury ecommerce retailer Yoox understood that most product unboxing scenarios – ripping open a cardboard box – were far from luxury experiences, so it totally overhauled how it packaged deliveries, including unique boxes, scented paper and hand-written, personalised notes.

 

4. Look beyond touch points you own to answer customers’ needs

Marketers should not chase a direct relationship with their customers at all costs, as many customer needs will naturally be better served elsewhere. For example, some financial providers have learned to offer a mortgage payment calculator on sites for mortgage price comparisons; here, they can answer a clear customer need in a context where customers will explicitly not want to come to them directly.

 

In the age of the customer where customer experience is today’s most important battleground for competitive differentiation, valuable content and successful content marketing will give marketing leaders the ability to hit two otherwise hard-to-hit strategic goals: building a brand in a world of banner blindness and ad blocking, and ultimately improving customer experience.

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Ryan Skinner is senior analyst, B2C marketing, at Forrester Research.

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