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Why Content Strategy Isn’t Enough

by on December 15, 2015
 

In 1989, I was conquering the eighth grade with a pair of Hammer pants, big bangs, and a stockpile of Aqua Net hairspray. During class, notes would be passed so friends could arrange to drink Dr. Pepper, eat Skor Bars, and play Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth album on a ghetto blaster after school. On a real good day, there’d be a message from the guy I was “going with” on the answering machine when I got home.



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Source: Antique and Retro Shoppers Map

Luckily for us, since the late 80s, the pace at which technology has evolved is astounding. If I want, I can get fashion advice from people all over the world who share my size and style. If I need to get in touch with a friend, all I need to do is send a quick text. And, if I actually needed it, I could, in fact, order a can of Aqua Net Super-Hold from my mobile phone, sitting on the couch, streaming a Jack Johnson concert, while reading a post on Pocket from Vogue about other uses for Aqua Net when it’s not serving as “an invisible cantilever for implausibly huge heads of hair.”

There’s no doubt that these technological advances have made our world faster, smaller, and more connected. How is it even possible that it took phone companies 89 years to connect 150 million people, where it took Facebook only 8 years to connect 1 billion?

What’s interesting, and actually quite ironic, is that even though the world is more connected than ever, when it comes to companies and their customers, many of the relationships couldn’t be further apart.

Source: Christoph Becker

It’s no wonder there is a ginormous distance wedged between companies and their customers. Many companies — especially in the tech industry — are not being built for the long-haul and they have their priorities in all the wrong places.

For many of today’s companies, growth is emphasized at all costs. Overvalued tech companies are painting an unrealistic illusion of what to strive for as a business.

Source: Nathalie Nahai

In the good old days when I was using Aqua Net, the average time for a Fortune 500 company to reach $1billion in market value was 20 years.

Google did it in 8.
Facebook in 5.
Uber and Whatsapp in 2.
Snapchat: just 22 months.

To expect growth at this speed is unrealistic for most companies, yet that’s the new role model. Working to become the next unicorn pushes companies to value the wrong metrics and lose sight of what’s really important: putting in the time to earn the trust of their customers and building a business that’s worth being connected to.

As marketers, we’re forgetting that it’s not just about the content we produce, it’s about the experience people have with the brand and the company we’re working so hard to build.

As we walk into yet another year, we need to be intentional about building purposeful brands. Without fail, we need to deliver a seamless, authentic experience. And whatever we do, we need to ensure people, not technology, are driving marketing efforts.

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Build purposeful brands

Source: Mark Boncheck

All too often, the content that companies are generating is entirely disconnected not only from the needs and desires of their audience, but from the brand and company they aspire to be.

Over the years, content marketing has fallen prey to the “more is better” mentality. Rather than intentionally developing content as an extension of a company’s purpose and promise, content has become a quest for volume.

As more research has been advocating that high volume isn’t necessarily the best strategy, and that there actually is safety in quality over quantity, companies are starting to be more intentional about what they’re producing and why.

Unfortunately, the way many companies still view content strategy is generating a bunch of stuff that’s going to help them rank rather than as an altruistic gesture that builds credibility and serves a true need for their customers and community.

Source: Velocity Partners

There’s no doubt that content strategy is still important and that your content must be the best search result anyone can find, but just because you have great content doesn’t guarantee you anything.

As we continue to lose the ability to organically reach an audience on search and social, as technology increases the opportunity for people to block advertisements, and as avenues for connecting with customers increasingly become more digital, we must build brands so compelling and human that they transcend technology. We must become so real and relatable and true and trustworthy that customers don’t wait for you to come to them, they go looking for you.

Your content — whether that’s the words on your website, the listings on your product pages, the posts on your blog, the promotions in your emails, the exchanges on social media, the conversations with your customers, the design of your packaging, the presence of your team at an offline event, or your actions to remedy conflict — has to be part of a seamless experience across channels and mediums. This should all be part of a marketing strategy that’s working toward building an experience with a purposeful brand.

At the heart of every powerful brand and an effective marketing strategy is a company’s meaning beyond money. Many companies, not just startups, struggle with first identifying this meaning and then understanding how it integrates into their positioning. They’re not quite so sure what sets them apart from their competitors or who the right audience is for their product. When you don’t have clarity on these things, no matter how big your budget is, it’s going to make it really difficult to connect with your customers.

Arielle Jackson offers some questions and a simple framework to make sure your positioning is solid by using the prompts: For, Who, That, and Unlike:

Source: Arielle Jackson via First Round

With this formula you can quickly, clearly — and most importantly, in a very human way — communicate your positioning and your purpose. This is Harley Davidson’s:

Source: Arielle Jackson via First Round

To start, and in order to populate the prompts in the framework, Arielle recommends answering these questions:

Source: Arielle Jackson via First Round

She also recommends that when developing or evolving more meaningful positioning, it needs to come from the mark your company wants to make on the world.

Source: Arielle Jackson via First Round

In your positioning, you must identify where you fit in this world and also answer the question:

Source: Arielle Jackson via First Round

Knowing why your company exists and what it’s here to do will not only help you build a purposeful brand, but also make a remarkable difference in your marketing strategy and the connection with your customers and community.

Several years ago, Dove redefined their purpose and discovered a more significant meaning around which to build their brand.

Source: Arielle Jackson via First Round

Since 2004, the driving force behind Dove’s brand, their meaning beyond money, has been expressed through many mediums inside the Campaign for Real Beauty movement. From ads with real customers:

Source: Dove.us

…to billboards around the world that ignite engagement and thought:

Source: Dove.us

Since starting a conversation around what beauty really looks like more than 11 years ago, the way they’ve been communicating the message has continued to evolve so that it remains relevant. With this approach, Dove has earned brand advocacy, loyalty, many awards, and a hefty climb in profit from $2.5 to $4 billion.

Although their approach has received a great deal of press questioning its authenticity, Dove has made sure they aren’t just spreading awareness but putting action toward the meaning behind their message. Partnering with Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Club, and Girls, Inc, Dove has funded and supported activities that bring awareness to bullying as well as discussions about what it means to be beautiful.

Ultimately, far beyond profit, the greatest result Dove has experienced is actually working toward achieving their purpose: helping more women love and feel good about their bodies.

What you stand for as a company and a brand drives your products, your actions as a company, and also your marketing. More importantly, it will be the spark that ignites a connection with the people in your community.

When it comes down to it, people will continue to have access to more: more content, more products, and more choice. The need to build meaningful relationships with your customers is not an optional approach, but a requirement. Identifying and communicating your purpose as a brand is just one part of making this happen. The rest is delivering a seamless, authentic experience.

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Deliver a seamless, authentic experience

Source: Mark Boncheck

In Joseph Pine’s TED talk on What Consumers Want, he discusses how we’ve hit a new level of value in our economy. In this “experience economy,” we must go beyond goods and services to a create a memorable event. An experience. This isn’t a new concept and many companies have used experiential marketing very successfully.

But the most important piece of Pine’s talk explains how the experience needs to come from an authentic company. That authenticity has become the new consumer buying criteria. In other words, who you’re going to buy from and what you’re going to buy has everything to do with how authentic the company is. This authenticity can’t be faked through your advertising or any components of your brand’s identity. 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition. Bottom line: If you say you’re authentic, you’d better be authentic.

Authenticity means that the things we say, and especially our actions, communicate the things that we actually believe. So instead of companies saying what the demographics data tells them consumers want to hear, authentic companies — their employees and all — actually live and breathe, with conviction, their meaning beyond money, across all channels and mediums.

Take Wear Your Label for example. A fairly young brand, Wear Your Label is striking up conversations about mental health with clothing. Their mission as a company is to remove the stigma of mental illness one piece of clothing at a time.

Source: Maya Sherwood Photography – MTV News

Wear Your Label lives and breathes their meaning and authenticity, which is apparent in everything they do — on- and offline. They create an inclusive, welcoming, empowering experience. Even the labels on their clothes exude their purpose. Instead of washing instructions, all clothing has a self-care reminder:

On the Wear Your Label website, instead of hiring models to showcase their clothing, they use role models who are brave enough to share their own stories of mental illness and how it’s affected their lives. There are no height or weight requirements, they simply ask people to share their experiences.

Source: Wear Your Label

On their blog, Wear Your Label is transparent about how they make their clothes and have a community of advocates who write their content.

Offline, Wear Your Label sticks with being real. When they were asked to put together a show for New York Fashion Week, instead of solely pulling from a supermodel cast, they featured an open call to pull three customer role models onto the runway. When they spoke at Youth Day 2015 in Toronto, they went experiential by setting up a pop-up shop, having 15 volunteers hand out conversation cards to the crowd, and giving a dollar of every purchase to a partnering mental health organization.

On social, their feed is refreshingly human. On Twitter there’s a balance between self-promotion and igniting a connection. It’s real people wearing their clothes, providing daily self-care reminders, and everything is a reflection of their purpose. Wear Your Label is off to a great start as a brand and is doing a ton of good stuff to earn credibility and build relationships that will, over time, result in a strong community and a profitable customer base.

But here’s the thing. Creating this presence is fairly simple from a marketing standpoint. Any brand can do this. Any brand can ask people to tell their stories and put emotional videos up on their website. Any brand can post some helpful, heart-filled tweets on social media. But an online presence is only a fraction of the authenticity equation.

The most telling pieces will come from the quality of their product: how it wears and washes. How easy it is to order online across devices. What it’s like to deal with a return if something wasn’t a great fit. Whether they respect email preferences. When they say that order volume is high and delaying shipping, do they honor the window of 5-10 additional days as published on the site, or do they fail to communicate when they need to break this commitment?

Source: Wear Your Label

When a brand follows through, this is the stuff that builds a seamless experience, proves that they are authentic, and fosters trust and connection. In order to earn the loyalty and advocacy of their customers, like every brand, Wear Your Label has got to deliver. No matter where. No matter what. And at every touchpoint they have the opportunity to win over their customers and community. I have confidence that Wear Your Label will continue to be successful in their growth and be one of the good ones.

Source: Ekaterina Walter

Many marketers and CMOs are wondering where to put more marketing dollars. Put those dollars where your experience falters. You may not control “the funnel,” but you do control how you behave every time a customer or community member interacts with your brand throughout the lifecycle.

You can control how authentic you are, the quality of your customer service, how much time you spend improving your product, and the value the customer gets from your product once they’ve taken it home. If you’re blowing it at any stop along the way, invest your money there. By ensuring your customers have a seamless experience with your brand, the closer you’ll get to achieving your brand and revenue goals.

Source: Help Scout

The fact of the matter is that your actions as a company are what afford you a runway with your customers. If there is a disconnect in the experience you’re providing at any point, you’ve either lost a customer entirely, or you’ve just dissolved trust that has previously been built and will negatively affect your customer’s purchasing decisions and advocacy behaviors.

Source: Mathew Sweezey

The pressure is on for brands. Not that companies have to be perfect. We’re all human and we make mistakes. But in order to build deeper relationships with customers, we have to do what we say and genuinely show that we care. Companies who are willing to invest in building this level of trust will not only profit from it, but outlast their competition.

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Let people, not technology, drive marketing efforts

Source: Robert Safian

These same authentic companies who are out making their mark on our world operate entirely differently from the companies my parents worked for when I was using Aqua Net and wearing Hammer pants. Companies who have had success building relationships, connecting, and earning trust from their customers in our extremely digital world know that it hasn’t come solely from their marketing strategy.

They’ve successfully presented a very human experience for their customers because it’s a passion and a mindset that’s breathing life from inside their very core. And their entire company, not just their marketing department, is feeding it. Internally they know how to break down silos, communicate, and effectively align their organization to their goals so they can deliver what their customers and community really need. They may use technology like HipChat or Slack to be more efficient internally, but they don’t allow it to take the place of face-to-face when it’s needed most.

Source: Mathew Sweezey

As companies get their bearings in our rapidly changing world and make the necessary adjustments to stay alive, marketing can no longer operate separately from other teams.

Doesn’t the shipping or product team need to work closely with the website and social teams to communicate real-time delays or bugs to customers? Wouldn’t the marketing and engineering team benefit from the feedback customer support is receiving? Shouldn’t the social and community teams work alongside sales to nurture relationships on- and offline? In order for companies to be fully authentic, they cannot mislead by presenting a unified presence on the outside that is completely disconnected from what it’s really like on the inside.

It’s also impossible for companies to deliver a seamless experience if the people — on both internal and external teams — cannot collaborate, align with co-workers, or focus together on achieving the overarching vision of the company. Just as you must build trust with your customers, the people on your teams need opportunities to do the same.

Teams need to be given the tools to self-manage, empower each other to be leaders on many levels, and have the courage to more effectively communicate with their peers. Changing the way your organization operates internally certainly gives your employees the opportunity to figure out how to work better together, but on a much grander scale, it affects the trajectory of the company.

Your entire organization is responsible for the customer experience at every touchpoint, which means giving your employees the power to take initiative and collaborate across teams allows more people in the company to focus on the customer. Similarly they can recognize the challenges you’re facing as a company and take the initiative to collaboratively find solutions to fix them. All of these actions affect your bottom line.

Source: Gary Vaynerchuk

It’s also up to every person in your entire company to find ways to relate to your customers. In Max Lenderman’s book Experience the Message, he tells the story of the Ritz Carlton approach not just to customer service, but customer data. Each day the doormen and concierges are given a check-in manifest that they memorize. Guests are personally greeted — by name — by the staff.

As the hotel staff learns the likes, dislikes, and habits of their guests, they make note of these characteristics in a customer relationship management (CRM) database. The more often someone stays at the hotel, the more personal their experience becomes. Their guests return. A lot. The average Ritz Carlton guest spends $100,000 over a lifetime.

But having this data is not what builds the trust and relationship with their customers. It’s how the Ritz Carlton staff apply it in their very caring and personal interactions one-on-one with their guests. It’s in the values that serve as their staff training tool. It’s in the way they use the data not to exploit their guests but to make their experience better.

Source: Rita J. King

Technology is unfortunately a double-edged sword. It certainly benefits us tremendously, but it’s also what’s causing the insatiable desire for companies to be more real and human. We think a CRM system or marketing automation platform is going to help us talk to someone at the right time and the right place and make the sale for us. That’s not for a machine to do. That’s where we — as people — win. Those systems are only tools and a tool is not a solution. They are to be leveraged to create better experiences and ultimately help brands become more human.

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Let’s build better companies

The way our world is evolving heavily affects how companies should shape and market. Content strategy isn’t enough because with the quick-wins marketing approach we have now, we’re losing our connection to people. We’re trying to force control over a journey with our customers in which we have very little influence. We’re thinking technology is going to build our relationships for us and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

But although these are huge challenges, they’re also huge opportunities. They give us the chance to stand above the level of mediocrity that consumers — and even other brands — contend with every day.

Content will always be extremely important. And when building your content strategy, you must have the entire cross-channel experience in mind, and that should guide the tools you use to effectively and authentically engage with your audience. But just producing great content won’t work unless you also prove yourself to be the worthwhile company your customers desire.

The characteristics of an authentic company are harder to prove results from. And building a purposeful brand takes a great deal more work and time to earn a customer base. But it’s also what will keep your customers around longer. It’s what will motivate them to tell their friends about you. And it’s what your competition can’t build overnight. The companies who are willing to do this work are going to be the ones who win over the next many years.

And these are the companies we need to build. The ones who will stand out from the rest. If you invest the time to build a genuine brand, people will hear about you. And they will come find you. Hammer pants and all.

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A special thanks to Olivia Roat, Mike Soderholm, Beth Etter, Rebecca Gilmore, and Courtney Brown for their support in writing this post.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/seomoz/~3/50pEovCx4Nw/why-content-strategy-isnt-enough

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