Following on from Part 1. Digital strategy: Do you need one and what can it deliver? we analyse the various methodologies utilised by Australia’s brightest minds in content to understand the processes and benefits of developing a customer centric content strategy.
In a generation where content is king, some businesses have hit the nail on the head when it comes to using content to better connect and communicate with customers. Their success is usually through having a clear understanding of the market and brand positioning, competitors and audience, as well as a strong brand story which includes visions, mission statements and values.
For the businesses that aren’t excelling in this area, it’s usually because time hasn’t been spent to develop an overarching and integrated digital strategy which encompasses every aspect of the business. This includes managing operational efficiencies as well as controlling all communications through social media and other digital platforms.
The good news is that it’s never too late to re-evaluate a brand and get digital content to deliver.
A key component of every digital strategy is that all communications activity should be a true reflection of a brand’s story and be executed by developing engaging, timely and relevant content that is driven by an understanding of the customer.
The first step in creating a customer-centric content strategy is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the customer and their needs.
Miranda Bond, a digital strategy consultant who specialises in content strategy and planning, says the key to a great content plan is having developed comprehensive personas and an understanding of the customer journey.
Bond’s strategic process involves a customer discovery phase, where she seeks to uncover as much as possible about existing and potential customers, particularly from a digital perspective.
“I’m looking to establish what digital and social channels they use, what activities they take part in online, how tech savvy they are, what blogs do they read, how much time do they spend online, who do they talk to and what they feel passionate about online,” she said.
Once all the data is amassed, Bond says that customer groupings – otherwise known as customer personas – and customer journeys become apparent.
“The development of customer personas is part art, part science. It’s not just taking data and moving it into a new format,” she said.
“There is a significant amount of crafting required to apply this information – and this is often the missing element in the customer discovery-journey process.”
A customer persona is a semi-fictional representation of certain ‘ideal customers’ based on market research and real data about an organisation’s existing customers. There are many different examples and templates that can be found online and then used in the development of customer personas. There are some common components, and these include:
• digital touchpoints (what channels and devices customers use online)
• customer demographics and purchase story
• what influences the customer
• the customer’s likes and dislikes.
Mapping the customer journey
The customer discovery process assists with the development of customer journeys. A customer journey outlines the steps existing and potential consumers may take through digital platforms which lead to a purchase.
In 1898, Elias St. Elmo Lewis – an American advertising advocate – developed a model which mapped a theoretical customer journey from the moment a brand or product attracted consumer attention to the point of action for purchase – otherwise known as the ‘purchase funnel’.
Today’s customer journeys have changed dramatically due to the advent of digital. It’s no longer a singular funnel but more of a convoluted process that encompasses different digital channels and platforms right through to basic human interaction.
For Richard Parker, Managing Director and Digital Strategist of EDGE agency in Sydney, the fundamental components of the purchase funnel hasn’t changed – it’s just gotten bigger.
“Within a customer segment, you’ve got hundreds and thousands of individuals who will choose to move through the customer lifecycle in their own way,” says Parker.
“Customers will interact with content on whatever channels they choose, on their terms, and in the order that they want, so all that we can do is make sure that we have content in place at the right phase of the customer lifecycle and that we’ve got it in place on a number of different channels to allow consumers to choose their own journey through digital.”
Parker uses data and analytics metrics to underpin every piece of content to create digital touchpoints, designed to capture each customer interaction. He uses these touchpoints to produce valuable insights about an audience and enhance a brand’s content strategy over time.
How does a brand impact content?
As part of the content strategy phase it’s important for businesses to have understanding of their brand’s authority to publish content.
Before Red Bull became the content powerhouse that it is today, the company made a strategic business decision to sponsor grassroots adrenaline sports. This created opportunities for content creation however it was the sponsorships that granted Red Bull the authority to own the content.
“A sugary, caffeinated drink does not necessarily have the authority to tell you about adrenaline sports, in fact if you’re about to throw yourself down the side of a mountain, the last thing you want to do is jack yourself up on caffeine,” says Parker.
“Arguably there’s an anti-authority problem with the product so they had to create content opportunities by building their brand.”
Edge agency takes its clients through an authority to publish exercise to draw out where a business has the authority and credibility to publish content in certain areas. For some brands that’s easy from a content perspective, but for others it’s a lot more difficult.
“A brand’s natural authority might be quite boring or maybe it doesn’t necessarily deliver on their brand requirements so we start creating content that is quite a way, away from the core product or service a company offers,” says Parker.
“In order to do that with any kind of authority, we have to build a strategy around building authority.”
According to Parker, building credibility is vital to content marketing. He warns brands against publishing content that has nothing to do with their brand because consumers just won’t believe it.
“If you don’t spend enough time to get consumers to believe in what you’re doing then it will fail.”
What’s involved in a content plan?
There are various different methods of developing a content plan.
Bond takes a comprehensive, customer-focused approach to generating digital content and the process starts by looking at what content is required or desired by each of the personas, followed by an analysis of what content is needed to move personas from one part of a customer journey to another and which channel is appropriate for each type of content.
All of these decisions are informed by customer research.
“Following this process, the content ‘pillars’, or categories, will emerge and from here we develop the content framework. This forms the foundation of a content calendar and content plan,” Bond said.
The content calendar is a visual representation of how content can be distributed throughout a year and it covers major global and national events relevant to the industry sector.
A content plan takes this information and combines it with an organisation’s marketing, sales and communications calendar and layers the different campaigns or initiatives to be implemented across each digital channel.
Mike Zeederberg, Managing Director of boutique digital agency Zuni, applies three customer-centric lenses to execute a content plan which include the content strategy, CRM strategy and channel strategy.
This dictates what a company should say to who and where.
“A content strategy should sit across all areas of a business and take a collective approach to how a business is going to communicate with its current customers, attract new customers and give them the information they need to assist them in their journey to both purchase and become a loyal customer. This is instead of shouting out to everyone who may be listening,” Zeederberg said.
“We work with our clients to think about what they can say that adds value to their customer’s life in the realm that their products and services operate.”
Every business requires a tailored approach to creating content. Zeederberg works with clients to identify key themes from the content strategy, then maps them accordingly via the channel strategy, and uses a CRM strategy to ensure content is correctly deployed.
Edge agency applies a ‘Hero, Hub, Hygiene’ model during the development of a customer-centric content strategy and content plan.
Hygiene content is that evergreen content that is timeless; it’s problem-solution content; it’s question and answer content; it’s the kind of information that consumers are searching for and something that a company needs to have an answer to as a brand.
“We’ll do a search analysis and map out what customers are asking for that aligns to the content opportunities, otherwise known as ‘white space’, that we’ve established. We’ll then find keyword terms that we need to know and we’ll create hygiene content around this,” says Parker.
Hygiene content is created to drive search engine optimisation (SEO) over time. It pulls consumers into a business’s ecosystem because they are actively searching for information as opposed to a brand pushing out that content.
Hub is primarily ‘push’ content as opposed to ‘pull’ content.
“Hub is the stuff where you do need a regular publishing schedule because, while hygiene content is rational and answering questions, hub content is more emotive and designed to promote an emotional response. Hub content is more timely and likely to be a reaction to something that’s going on in the real world – so it’s more fun and engaging,” says Parker.
Hero content is the larger annual campaigns that are aligned to significant events in the marketing calendar. It has a more targeted objective, a larger production budget and wider media input. Hero content will directly compete with traditional advertising.
“We do the Hero, Hub, Hygiene planning and make sure that provides all the content we know we need to meet the needs of our customers throughout the customer lifecycle, but we’re also making sure that we have both push and pull content so people are coming into our content ecosystem and interacting with that content and filling marketing databases,” Parker says.
“We’ll then do a top-line channel recommendation because we’ve looked at our customer lifecycles, we’ve considered Hero – Hub – Hygiene and now we’re considering which channels we’re going to use to publish, distribute and potentially amplify that content with paid media.”
For Parker this point is where content planning becomes more operational.
“We’ll develop editorial pillars and very clear recommendations around content format and frequency by channel. We’ll also look at the voices we recommend we emphasise, for example should we be emphasise or ‘surfacing’ individuals in the business and building their authority outwards or should we be only be surfacing the voice of the brand. We’ll also look at whether we should be reflecting the voice of the consumer by using user-generated content and hero consumers which we bring to the floor, and do we actually need to build authority for our client,” he says.
This leads to the creation of a highly-targeted content calendar plan which considers the ongoing rhythm of each channel; which editorial pillar each piece of content falls into; which audience it talks to; and which stage of the customer lifecycle a person is in.
Applying this customer-centric approach to content will directly impact bottom line financial performance, simply by allowing brands to better service their customers.
The basic principles of the purchase funnel haven’t changed, but brands need to be aware of digital’s changing environment to ensure they continually optimise their digital strategy to help content deliver, and ultimately positively impact consumer behaviour.
Richard Parker is the instructor for the ADMA IQ Content Marketing Strategy course – an intensive workshop designed to teach content creation and strategy, content publication processes, how to manage content and how to optimise content.