Content Marketing Must Support Customer Experience

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Brands that stand out today create valuable customer experiences, and content marketing has a crucial role to play in supporting those experiences. Marketers, then, serve a critical function by producing, distributing, and promoting content that makes brand interactions more effective, easier, and more enjoyable.

Shoppers no longer show up at stores with a basic need and little idea of how to solve it. Forrester forecasts that by 2020, most purchases will either happen online or involve online research, which means that interactions will increasingly rest on content, whether it’s providing answers to a problem or explaining a product. 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 (CX).

Aligning content strategy with CX produces content that achieves these goals:

It meets customers’ needs. Customers will explicitly tell marketers—either directly via surveys or indirectly via site searches—what type of content they want to experience. These explicit and basic needs are first priority for the marketer creating customer-centric content experiences.

It 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.

It generates positive emotions. Some content extends beyond explicit or implicit needs to create delight, serendipity, or empathy, or to prevent anxiety. While not table stakes, these experiences let brands differentiate themselves, often at an unexpected moment.

Marketers should plan content for the entire customer life cycle. Customers’ content needs don’t begin on a product page and 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 setup questions. The customer life cycle is a six-step framework that gives marketers a data-driven content strategy for supporting customers’ needs (see figure).

To drive incremental brand value, follow these principles:

Identify where you fail to meet needs in your customer life cycle. Many brands fail to meet customers’ most basic informational needs—the foundation for a good experience. For example, financial services and insurance firms often don’t address customers’ content needs at the discover stage, which led insurance provider Prudential to develop its “Bring Your Challenges” program.

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 behavior. Working with Microsoft on its Azure cloud computing platform, Smith Agency—a CX service firm—used data to determine that Microsoft’s messaging wasn’t driving usage, and worked with it to develop content that did.

Identify moments for brand differentiation. Creative approaches to content can allow brands to set themselves apart, such as the first airlines that applied humor to safety videos. In another example, Luxury e-commerce retailer Yoox realized that most product-unboxing ­scenarios—ripping open a cardboard box—were far from luxury experiences; they overhauled how deliveries were packaged, serving up unique boxes, scented paper, and handwritten, personalized notes.

Look beyond your own touch points. Marketers should not chase a direct relationship with their customers at all costs; 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.

With CX the most important source of competitive differentiation, successful content and content marketing will give leaders the ability to nail two hard-to-hit strategic goals: building a brand amid banner blindness and ad blocking, and improving customer experience.

Ryan Skinner is senior analyst, B2C Marketing, at Forrester. He is a leading expert on both content marketing and the analytical sides of content marketing and marketing automation.

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