Over the last several months, I have found the conversation around content to be slowing evolving from “Why is content important to my business?” to “How do we organize around content delivery?”. The answer to this question lies in the recognition that content is not simply a one-dimensional SEO tool, but is ultimately how your brand lives within the digital world.
How Your Brand Lives Within The Digital World
The consumer “path to purchase” has evolved from a linear, brand-directed model, to one where the consumer can fully leverage the transparency of the market, secure guidance from multiple authorities, and gather feedback from their social graph. In fact, what once was a tedious, research-based path is now an enlightened buyer’s journey; a consumer-directed, socially influenced, brand-inspired pursuit of truth and opportunity. The opportunity for brands is to utilize content to inform, support and shape this consumer adventure. Where many brands and agencies fall short is by developing independent content strategies that fail to leverage the fluid tapestry of touch points throughout the buyer’s journey. Your customer’s don’t think within the silos of SEO, Social Media, Public Relations and Branding – and no longer should you.
How Companies Traditionally Organize Around Content
It’s easy to understand how content strategy, creation, optimization and delivery can fall into the hands of multiple parties and multiple owners given that content crosses so many channels. In addition, this is still a relatively new marketing strategy for most brands, so it doesn’t quite fit into pre-existing organizational structures, budgets and resources. As a result, multiple teams may end up developing multiple content strategies that, due to the organization’s lack of internal integration, end up appearing haphazardly along the buyer’s journey as he/she comes into contact with your brand.
If content strategies are not choreographed, brands face a number of issues:
- Consumers interact with inconsistent content which damages the authenticity of brand voice, brand promise and brand relevancy
- SERP’s identify duplicate content which can deplete SEO Value
- The underutilization of content which could be customized for each unique channel
- Underutilized content misses social media opportunities
- Ownership confusion internally and, with your agencies
- Inefficient Resource Management
- Minimized Conversation Opportunities
A Content Integration Model
In Q4 of 2011, our agency re-organized our SEO, Social Media and Creative Teams into a single “Content Team”, charged with the goal of delivering integrated content strategies and solutions for our clients that were optimized for cross-channel distribution. After working alongside our clients and their brand and PR agencies, we realized that the deliverables for our respective services not only overlapped, they were inherently reliant upon each other for success. As obvious as this was, both our clients and their agencies were in great need of an integration model that maximized the impact our collective content efforts could deliver.
For years, all marketers and agencies have been tasked with delivering integrated marketing solutions. And every agency has their version of a venn diagram to demonstrate their integrated philosophy or process. But as they say, “It looks good on paper, but paper don’t play”. The most important aspects of any process, whether it’s for manufacturing airplanes or building a model airplane are: 1) Buy-in 2) Ownership 3) Application and 4) Compliance. That’s it. Miss any one of those steps and you have a lot of extra parts sitting around on the floor.
“Customer-centric” and “platform-neutral” are not new theories for marketing integration. But for content integration, they seem to be foreign to the game. Don’t believe me? Ask yourselves these two questions:
- How many of your or your clients, when asked what purpose their content is intended to serve, have said either “to position us as thought leaders” or “to improve our organic search results”
- How often have you seen a brand’s SEO agency, social media agency, and the PR agency in the same room at the same time?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you answered “all the time” and “not enough”.
Eighty-nine percent of shoppers research a product or service online before purchasing. The content they interact with during the search process can either positively or negatively influence their purchase decision. As a result, we must hold our clients and ourselves accountable to the belief that there is a human behind every click, and to effectively capture a disproportionate share of each customer’s heart, mind and wallet, we must understand his/her expectations along each step of the path to purchase to align needs and mindset with message and medium. At times, this is more anthropology than demography; not only must we define the “who”, we have to understand both the “what” (behaviour), and the “why” (motivations). When you focus on understanding the “why” more effectively than your competition, you are presented with the opportunity to level the playing field, or better yet, tilt it in your favour. So the game is no longer a matter of who has the greatest marketing spend, but rather who has the better understanding of the customer and who can apply those insights more effectively.
Successful brands are developing a content strategy focused on serving the customer, not simply serving their own marketing agenda. They are prioritizing education over announcements, inspiration over discounts, listening over preaching, enabling over demanding, dialogue over monologue. They embrace a story-telling approach that allows for authorship to come from their customers. In short, they are realizing that for a brand to have advocates, they must first become an advocate for their customers.
Thought leadership is a strategy. Improving organic search results is an outcome. Serving your customers and informing their journey is a purpose. That’s customer-centrism.
There are many intersections that occur between a buyer’s path to purchase and a brand’s marketing presence. Some of those intersections are within a brand’s control, and some are not, but each one has direct influence on the other. Display ads drive search queries. Social engagement increases page ranking. Content enhances SEO. This action is a result of momentum that may not be attributable to a specific, linear trajectory; it’s the spawn of a series of interactions, touch points and experiences between your customers and your brand. Some would say that the days of the single brand campaign activated across multiple channels, is an antiquated marketing model. Perhaps. But if we stop thinking about content as marketing, and think of it as how your brand lives and breathes within the digital world, self-imagined boundaries can become self-enabled alliances.
Map the buyer’s journey, understand their needs and mindset at each stage, recognize the different sources of information they are turning to at each stage, and develop content that is “journey-driven” vs. driven by agency service offerings. That’s “platform-neutral”. And if your SEO agency, social media agency and PR agencies are not optimizing against a common set of keywords and brand narrative, not cross-pollinating content, or worse, not working off of a shared content calendar, that’s disaster.
(Digital) Life Is Hard.
Creating a diagram is easy. Buy-in, Ownership, Application and Compliance are not. But the first step is to recognize that content is more than SEO juice, accept that it is ultimately how your brand lives within the digital world and respect it’s role in serving your customers above your brand.
The buyer’s journey is a consumer-directed, socially influenced, brand-inspired pursuit of truth and opportunity.
Are you ready for the adventure?