content strategy

Rebecca Lieb's picture

How To Analyze Content Needs

We’ve previously discussed how to conduct a content audit. Part of that process is to perform a gap analysis, a rather fancy-pants way of saying “figure out what isn’t there, then figure out how to get it in there.”

Easier said than done. Knowing you need content is not unlike moving into a new, empty house and knowing you need furniture. Of course you do. But what kind? What style? What color? What pieces for what rooms? How much do you require to be functional and practical, and how much would make things cluttered and impractical?

Even once you’ve boiled it down to “sofa for the living room,” you must still determine if it’s a sectional, if it has arms and if you ought to order the matching footrest.

Fortunately, there are are systematic ways to go about analyzing and assessing content needs. This includes determining not only what kind of content is required and in what format, but other factors, as well, including how often, when and where to reach which target audience segment effectively.

Where To Start?

This might seem painfully obvious to some, but one of the most effective ways to assess content needs is to ask. Interview customers, clients and prospects about their content needs and their content consumption habits.

Sources To Tap

Ask how these various constituencies consume content, and what sources they turn to for content.

Do they:

  • Subscribe to newsletters?

  • Read blogs?

  • Listen to podcasts?

  • Use search engines when researching a purchase or service?

  • Visit company websites?

  • Read customer reviews on retail sites?

  • Download white papers?

  • Watch online videos?

  • Follow links on social network sites or Twitter?

  • Do they use their mobile devices?

  • Subscribe to RSS feeds?

  • Read online publications? Which ones?

  • Do they participate in online user groups or forums?

It’s also helpful to uncover the specifics of these channels. For example, it’s useful to know if they read blogs or not, but if they do, it’s even more significant to know which blogs — or bloggers — they most avidly follow. What’s their favorite publication? Their must-see or must-read sources of digital information? These may or may not lie within your professional sphere, but will nonetheless help when it comes to assessing taste, style preferences and predilections.

How Much, How Often?

We’ve all been there: subscribed to a newsletter or eagerly started following a cool blog, until suddenly it all became too much. Way too much.

That eagerly awaited weekly newsletter? When the publisher bumped it up to twice a week instead of once per week, it started looking and feeling more like spam.

Creating too much content is an onerous task for you, and at the same time, it can quickly sour your brand in the minds of its audience.

You don’t want to create content so infrequently they forget about you. At the same time, you don’t want to inundate your audience. It’s not impolite to politely inquire about their desires regarding the optimal frequency of content — and overall brand touches — when assessing content needs.

For many users, a white paper is too long. So is a video on YouTube that runs over five or 10 minutes. Some users will want the content equivalent of a snack; others will prefer a five-course meal. Many may want something in between (and all of this may be contingent on where they are in the consideration and buying cycle).

Scoping out content “serving sizes” is an essential part of a content needs assessment.

When?

Sure, lots of digital content just sits there, waiting for you to find it. A website, a video on YouTube, a white paper, a slide show.

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that you can access all these channels in your proverbial pajamas, whenever you want. But for some types of content (not to mention some consumers) its effectiveness is all in the timing.

Ask when they consume content: At home? At work? Over the weekend? The type of business or service you offer can play a big role in this. Mainframe computers are probably an at-work type of content affair. If you sell pizza or movies or skiing, you may be better off sending that newsletter or tweeting late in the week, perhaps after the workday is done (or just before it’s time to call it a day).

Common sense dictates that most people would rather be exposed to messaging about coffee in the early morning, beer in the late afternoon (Yes, there will always be exceptions to those guidelines, but that’s why we establish guidelines in the first place).

Another reason “when” matters is because while there’s plenty of digital content waiting for you to come ‘n’ get it, digital channels are increasingly about real-time or near real-time messaging.

Tweets and posts on social networks such as Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn, in particular, are more likely to get readership — as well as to be promoted, “liked,” amplified and passed along by readers — if they appear at the right time of day or on the right day of the week.

Quantitative Research

Interviewing key audience members and members of a target market is only the first step in assessing content needs. Turning to web metrics and other analytics sources is another essential part of the task.

Elements to look for in this arena, both on a website and on external sources such as social media and social network sites include traffic, comments, “likes,” pass-alongs and other shout-outs.

What kinds of content, and in what channels, is attracting the most traffic, attention, recommendations and chatter in terms of comments and re-tweets? Conversely, what’s dormant and attracts little to no user attention and engagement?

When it comes to assessing and analyzing content needs, an essential tool in a web analytics package is search keywords: the words and phrases searchers use to find you on the web.

These terms can help quickly identify user needs. “What toothbrush is best for fighting plaque” is an example of a search term that reveals a problem the searcher is eager to solve. How can you create content that addresses that problem — and content that uses those terms — so more searchers with that problem are likely to find your content?

Keyword research reveals the words and phrases searchers use to find you. Combined with the free keyword research tools offered by the major search engines, these words and phrases can be greatly expanded upon.

A recent project with a client, for example, involved conducting keyword research around the products and merchandise they were targeting at “readers.” A quick dig into Google’s keyword research tool quickly revealed that searchers don’t look for products for “readers,” but they do search for items to buy for “book lovers,” and even for “bibliophiles.”

It’s not that they don’t ever search the word “readers” (It’s important to keep keyword research information in context). The point is when searchers are shopping, they’re not shopping for “readers.”

This one nugget of information has made the company’s content marketing more effective, influencing the content and even the categories on its blog, the posts on its Facebook page, and even its tweets on Twitter.

Sure, you can always go with your gut when it comes to creating strong content for marketing. But backing up gut instincts with research, observation and hard data will always make a content marketing initiative that much more impactful and effective.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

The Three Types of Content Marketing

squattypotty

Content marketing is more than just storytelling.

Don't get me wrong. Stories are wonderful. Everyone loves them, and stories can be an enormous component of a content marketing strategy. Yet increasingly the word "story" is used in some quarters to supplant the term "content marketing," and that's just wrong. Of course, to the man with a hammer, i.e., the person with "storyteller" in their title, everything looks like that proverbial nail.

There are three types of content marketing and, as a general rule, only one of them classically "tells a story." The other two content marketing modes are equally important, and often follow the rules of a story arc while not adhering to other rules of narrative.

Here are the three types of content marketing.

Content that entertains

Content that entertains is the most likely of the three types of content marketing to "tell a story." Think viral video, comic strip, or webisode. Whole Foods' Do Something Reel film series is a prime example, and so was last year's viral hit from SquattyPotty, This Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop. Chipotle's The Scarecrow is another standout in the genre, prompting every agency with a fast-food account to receive a "build me one of these" phone call. Purina's Dear Kitten is a recent standout in this genre, so is The Lego Movie (also an example of my highest level of content maturity, monetizable marketing, with a $550M box-office take). Entertaining, storytelling content needn't always be video, there are certainly other forms. But increasingly storytelling is going visual, and audio visual, given those formats are easiest to consume on the small screen, and are more frequently shared in social channels.

Content that informs and/or educates

Overwhelmingly the choice of B2B companies, as well as B2C products and services with a high need for information/education or longer consideration and sales cycles, content that informs helps prospects evaluate options, the product or service, and make decisions. It can also, post-purchase, enhance the customer experience and lead to cross- or upselling. Marketing software maker Hubspot, for example, publishes enormous volumes of extraordinarily useful content for digital marketers and advertisers, rivaling that of trade publications in the space. American Express' OPEN Forum has been a content marketing poster child for years, but isn't a storyteller. Instead, the brand publishes information helpful to small business owners and entrepreneurs. 

Utility content

Zenni Optical doesn't tell stories to its buyers. Instead, it offers them tools to help make buying decisions. How do you measure the bridge of your nose for optimal fit? The distance between pupils? Utility content helps users accomplish tasks; think mortgage calculator from a bank. Calorie counter from a health or fitness product or service. Realtors offer tools that help homebuyers find properties and assess neighborhoods for amenities such as schools or crime rate. Unsurprisingly, utility content tends to be embodied in apps, and is idea for mobile content plays. And while arguably they may be a "story" in every mortgage or home sale or calorie, that's not the purpose of utility content. Instead, more akin to informational and educational content, it helps nudge a buyer toward a decision, as does this table from Crutchfield to calculate how big a flat screen TV to buy, based on room size.

So which of these three types of content should you invest in? (I'm asked this a lot.) The answer, I'm afraid, is "it depends." That's why content strategy is so essential. You may be able to accomplish your goals with storytelling. You may require other types of content in addition to, or instead of storytelling.

Without strategy, it's impossible to tell.

This post originally published on iMedia
 

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content Marketing Targeting Fallacies

When I conducted a substantive survey of marketers and asked them what their biggest content marketing needs were, two responses tied for first place. The first was measurement, which I’ve written about extensively, both here and in subsequent research.

The other pain point is somewhat less discussed: audience and targeting.

This phase of content strategy is threefold: first, identifying the right audience of products and influencers that are appropriate to the product or service produced by your business. Second and third, creating and publishing the right content in the right channels to reach those defined targets.

Small wonder, then, that audience targeting is one of marketers’ top needs, given it’s a three-part process. If work I’m conducting with clients is any indicator (not to mention the conversations conducted with marketers at conferences worldwide), a primary reason why audience targeting is so difficult is a widespread refusal to take the time to develop personas.

Instead, far too many organizations are targeting not only content, but also advertising and social media messaging, to a single monolithic über-persona who by definition is not a persona (or a person, for that matter) at all.

Just as a for instance, what’s endemic in the marketing technology sector is to take the supposed shortcut of addressing all messaging to “The CMO.” The CMO is not a persona; it is a job title, and not necessarily a relevant one at that, given the CMO is by no means necessarily the buyer any more than is some vague notion of “the customer” in the CPG world.

As one of my savvier clients put it recently in a discussion of this persistent issue, “The CMO doesn’t want to talk to anyone. They want to set direction and have their VPs and staff take care of the details. They don’t come to my meetings or my roundtables. They sign IOs [insertion orders].”

Moving Beyond “The CMO”

Thinking beyond the monolithic CMO (or “our customer”) is the first and most pressing task in targeting the right audience for content or advertising initiatives by creating personas. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how many marketing organizations believe it’s possible to skip this essential strategic step.

Yes, persona creation is time-consuming. It involves parsing out the many “whos” that comprise a target audience, identifying their job titles, pain points, needs and wants.

The paths toward achieving this are many, but all involve labor, thought and methodology. Sure, speak to sales staff, but it’s more critical that clients and customers be regularly interviewed to learn why they elected to purchase your product or service over the competition’s.

Where do you provide value — price, design, ease of use, value-adds? — and how does each factor into the buyers’ differing roles? Are these people influencers in the buying decision? Approvers? Decision makers? Each has varying needs, wants and roles to play at different stages in the purchase cycle.

Tap Into Influencers

Audience targeting, however, doesn’t stop with a constellation of buyer personas. Just as critical isadding influencers to the persona mix, which broadens it considerably.

Who are influencers? The media. Industry analysts. Bloggers. Academics. Subject matter experts.

These are the voices buyers listen to. They not only can create awareness, but they reverberate up and down the purchase funnel, swaying opinion, sentiment and affirming (or dissenting) when buying decisions are made.

Everything about audience targeting is subtle, nuanced and highly calibrated. It’s hard work even before “what kind of content” and “for what channels” can begin to be addressed.

Yet for some reason, perhaps because of its very complexity, marketers shortcut defining the target audience to a hypothetical endgame (“We need to reach CMOs, and they’re on Facebook, or LinkedIn, or reading our company blog.”)

And the culmination of that endgame, the distribution piece that is channel and media selection, can’t succeed if they don’t ladder back to the essential process of carefully crafting personas.

Neither will investment in audience targeting software solutions. If they’re only used to hunt hypothetical or illogical targets, you may as well use them to seek out Bigfoot.

Sometimes there just aren’t any shortcuts. Audience targeting will always be a challenge, though it needn’t be the biggest one. You can make this task manageable with some time, effort and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Please Don’t! Five Content Marketing Don’ts For 2016

Despite content marketing‘s meteoric rise over the past couple of years — in terms of awareness, as well as adoption by brands and marketers — many misunderstandings still surround the discipline and practice. While content marketing is hardly new (it’s been around pretty much as long as there’s been media), many a misstep and misconception exist around content in digital channels.

As someone who helps dozens of brands get a handle on content marketing and how it relates to other marketing disciplines, I see the same mistakes around content committed over and over. So herewith, I give you a list of the five top content marketing missteps I see organizations commit. Let’s please all resolve to eradicate them in the New Year, shall we?

1. Executing Content Marketing Without First Developing And Documenting A Content Strategy

This occupies the first place on the list of content marketing don’ts for a reason. Incredibly, according to my own survey data and that of other researchers and analysts, a full 70 percent of organizations undertaking content marketing are still doing so without a documented strategy.

That means they’re investing time, money, resources and staff in a tactic that doesn’t have measurable goals attached.

It also means a lack of governance; they haven’t reviewed what tools, people and processes need to be attached to content initiatives to make them effective and achievable. They lack KPIs, so they don’t know if they’re getting to where they want to be.

It’s high time brands stopped doing content for content’s sake. Planning, benchmarking and attaching content initiatives to a strategy are necessary steps to take for content marketing to work effectively and efficiently.

In fact, the following four don’ts are really just subsets of this overarching need for strategy.

2. Confine Content To A Single Unit Or Vertical

Content marketing is much bigger than just content marketing. Or social media. Or PR/communications. Or advertising, search or email. Content is bigger than marketing, even.

In order to create effective content, input and output are required from across the organization, particularly from the public-facing divisions such as sales, customer service, recruiting and human resources, as well as research, product and, of course, senior management.

The organizations that really succeed in content create cultures of content, in which content functions as a well-oiled, enterprise-wide machine. Don’t fence content in; let it grow and expand.

Content works best when it’s informed by as many sources as possible.

3. Invest In Tools And Software Without A Proper Needs Assessment

There’s likely a great big gap between what you think you need to get content done and what you really need to invest in terms of content marketing tools and technology.

When I surveyed the market, the vast majority of marketers last year said their planned content marketing software investment would be in tools to help them create more content. But when asked what they need (as opposed to what they want), they have a ready response: measurement tools and audience targeting tools top their list.

This disconnect between wants and needs is directly attributable to a lack of content strategy (see #1). Assess your needs before investing in tools and software. Investments shouldn’t be a stab in the dark.

4. Avoid Content Audits

Even organizations that are willing to take the time and effort to develop and document a content strategy must resist the temptation to shortcut this very essential step. It’s easy to understand why.

Content audits, the process of carefully evaluating all digital and offline content across a multi-point scorecard (mine has more than 50 criteria) is a long and tedious process. But you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

Audits uncover needs, gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies you’d otherwise never find. They reveal much-needed gaps in process, style, maintenance and other aspects of content governance and process.

Moreover, stopping at that one baseline audit isn’t an option. It’s the benchmark from which future audits will be conducted.

Please, don’t skimp. Audit, at the very least, twice per year.

5. Measure Only Sales

Measurement is so powerful. Why stop at only sales? Yet sales are the only thing the majority of content marketers measure. That, or volume metrics such as likes and shares, which are interesting (and ego boosting) but don’t impart much business value.

In 2016, don’t neglect to blow out your content metrics with dollars-and-cents, ROI measurements you can take straight to the bank (or to the CFO).

Create the right strategy and content, and implement the right tools and measurement, and you can demonstrate results in areas such as product development, retention and recruiting, customer service and workplace efficiencies — all via content. Don’t think narrowly about the power and efficacy of content marketing!

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Six Content Marketing Predictions for 2016

t's that time of year again. Columnists, bloggers, prognosticators all publish their digital marketing "predictions" for the New Year.

Personally, no can do. I'm an analyst, not a clairvoyant. And I don't possess a crystal ball. But as someone who continually keeps a finger on the pulse of content marketing and content strategy, and who conducts multiple research projects on the topics (as well as updates earlier reports), I'm trained in pattern recognition. That's what analysts do, and while not infallible, research-based analysis is a better predictor of what's to come than crystal-ball gazing, tea leaves, or reading entrails.

That qualifier out of the way, here are the content trends I'll be watching in 2016:

The content stack (again)

The content stack will continue to evolve. Rather than hundreds of point solutions, marketers will soon be able to look to one-stop solutions for their content marketing needs that incorporate most (if not all) of the eight content workflow scenarios. This will simplify processes and enable tighter integration with earned and paid media.

Senior roles focused on content

Enterprises will begin to hire more senior executives to oversee content initiatives. If 2015 was the year of the content manager or director, 2016 will usher in VP and higher roles. Content is not a channel; it's related to every aspect of advertising, marketing, and communications initiatives. As such, it requires senior, strategic oversight -- something companies are coming to recognize.

A continued need for strategy

Content strategy will accelerate, but not enough. My research findings correlate with other studies. Overall, we're finding that some 75 percent of enterprises regularly commit to content marketing while paying no heed whatsoever to developing and documenting a governing content strategy. Objectives, goals, systems of measurement, processes, and people -- all are secondary to the burning "we need more content, and we need it now" issue. I've been speaking with my peers who, like me, help enterprises develop content strategies. More and more often, they complain that prospective clients try to engage them to keep the blog bursting with content, but not to solve the "why" or "how" of that (and similar) initiatives. Mark my words, content marketers: without the strategy in place, you'll soon be spinning your wheels, not to mention creating excess costs in money, resources, and efficiencies.

Content measurement becomes more robust and meaningful

For too long, sales has been the alpha and omega of content measurement. Don't get me wrong, sales is the lifeblood of any organization. But it's not the only measure of success, not in content nor in any other marketing initiative. I've been researching how forward-thinking companies are measuring other crucial aspects of content initiatives. These aren't meaningless volume metrics such as "likes" and "follows," but ROI-related analysis you can take to the bank (or to the CFO). Companies wise enough to build content strategies have a huge advantage here -- they'll know what they can measure, as well as how to measure it.

Global content becomes a thing

My clients are working to figure out how to manage content on a global level. What should teams look like? What tools work for international cooperation? How much central authority should exist versus local and/or regional input? What channels, audiences, creative, and messaging can be the same, and what needs differentiation on different continents, or in different countries? As content rises in importance (and display advertising correspondingly diminishes), global content strategy will be a growing concern.

Content around new things

This is 2016's most emerging and nascent trend, but one that will be huge in subsequent years. As we move from mobile content into the Internet of Things, and into a world full of beacons and sensors, content will decouple from screens in many cases, yet be associated with a growing universe of objects and things. Content will permeate the customer experience -- the "who," "what," "when," and "where" of all interactions. Your car, printer, TV, refrigerator, fitness tracker, phone -- all these devices and more will interface, talk to each other, and share content. I'm fascinated by what kinds of content will develop in the next wave of technology, and will be keeping a close eye on the horizon of content disruption next year, and in the years to follow.

This post originally published on iMedia

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content: It’s Not Another Channel

Content this, content that. Content marketing, content strategy. Everyone’s talking all content, all the time these days.

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently (as recently as lunchtime today, in fact), is who’s responsible for all the content. Is it communications? PR? Social media? Marketing in general?

Briefly stated, the answer is yes. All these divisions (and more) play a role in content marketing and content strategy.

Here’s what should be coming into focus for marketers (but sadly isn’t): Too many marketers, and the organizations they work for, mistakenly view content as a channel.

Like social media, email, search, media, or direct marketing, they want content to be departmentalized, siloed, circumscribed and cleanly defined.

Content does indeed require an enormous amount of domain expertise. A content strategy is required to set goals for content marketing initiatives and to define how those goals will be measured.

Editors and project managers work to build governance around those goals and define how content will be created, approved, distributed, find an audience, be measured, optimized, conformed to checks and guidelines (legal and brand, for starters).

Within this paradigm, areas of hyper-specialization might exist: Web and app developers, writers, graphic designers, photographers, videographers, editors, legal — the list can go on nearly ad infinitum.

And that’s not to mention the involvement of the aforementioned channels: search, email, media, social. All of these require content to function. Email is a container for content. Search optimizes content.

Content Is At The Heart Of Digital Channels

In advertising, content is called “creative” (because it’s more expensive), but at the end of the day, that’s just a fancy word for content. Social platforms and websites would be dismal destinations indeed were they not continually refreshed with content.

Otherwise put, content is the lifeblood of digital channels (and offline channels, as well). Content is not itself a channel.

Yet marketers have difficulties seeing past channels, which is why content struggles to gain a foothold in the enterprise. Like converged media, content requires players from across the marketing department, and indeed, across the organization, to collaborate and to align.

Precious few content initiatives these days happen without paid media, for example. Whether social promotion or ads that drive audiences to content executions, media — and by extension, advertising — are integral to content campaigns.

Yet content and advertising are still viewed by the overwhelming number of companies (with notable exceptions, such as Intel) as very different divisions, the Mars and Venus of marketing.

Search teams, email teams, these look to disparate sources for content, leading to inconsistencies in voice, tone, look and feel.

If content (and brand) aren’t aligned across a panoply of paid, owned and earned media channels (that become more numerous each month), they risk consumers not recognizing the brand, voice, message or product as they flit across media, channels, screens and devices.

An Apple Watch, and email message and a banner ad have little in common, other than the fact that all are content delivery systems.

So here’s where organizations will be challenged in the coming months and year. They will build content teams.

In fact, they already are. I’m seeing hiring move up gradually from manager/director level roles to VP-and-higher job descriptions with “content” or “editor” in the title.

But those roles can’t be siloed off. They can and must be defined as being on par with, equal to and collaborative with all the channel-centric marketing initiatives the enterprise undertakes.

That can only happen with this one big step forward, more of a mindset challenge than I’d realized earlier, in all the years I’ve been studying and researching content marketing and content strategy.

Content is not a channel.

Spread the word.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Social Media's Content Eclipse

Whither social media?

Five years ago, it was all social, all the time. Social networks were the rage -- social shares and likes were the metrics du jour. Never mind that volume metrics impart little, if any business value. Social mattered for its own sake, just as "clicks" and "hits" were currency back in the Web 1.0 bubble days.

Today, social is seriously simmering down of all fronts as a focal point of attention in and of itself. Consider these trends:

  • Forthcoming research I'm currently conducting using ScribbleLive's influence analytics platform [disclosure, a client] indicate that content marketing is the topic on top of CMOs' Attention Index this year. Content marketing scored 23,937 mentions, versus social media marketing as a topic with only 7,485 citations.
  •  
  • Resent research published by my former colleagues at Altimeter Group underscore this finding. C-suite involvement in social media has plunged. Only 27 percent of companies report executive engagement, close to a 20 percent drop since social media's peak back in 2012.
  •  
  • At the same time, organizations are moving to integrate social media as a discipline back into overall marketing operations. There's been a 164 percent increase in integration initiatives these past two years.
  •  
  • Increasingly, social is more about advertising than pure "social." Several recent reports indicate social ad spending has doubled over the past two years. J&J's Gail Horwood mentioned last week in a panel discussion her company's social ad spending doubled just over the past year.
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  • Yet (see above) ad and media teams still aren't integrated into social media operations.
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  • The social media software solutions (SMMS) technology sector is shrinking. Based on research I conducted last year, SMMS is expected to be absorbed by either the ad stack and/or the emerging content marketing software stack by the end of next year.
  •  

Other channel-related M&A activity bear this last point out. Just last week, for example, StrongView, a legacy email marketing vendor (originally called StrongMail), merged with Selligent, a marketing automation platform. Email can no longer exist as a stand-alone channel, unintegrated with other digital initiatives. Social media is finally arriving at that party.

Content, meanwhile, is thriving. It's not just what CMOs are talking about, it's also where they're placing their bets. Content marketing positions are increasing across all verticals and industry, B2B, and B2C. Just scan the job listings. This year positions with "content" and/or "editor" in the title went from nearly zero to a frequent occurrence on job listing sites. Currently these tend to be lower-tier executive roles, manager, or director. Next year expect more of these positions to be VP or higher in rank.

If you've ready this far and think I'm dissing social media, you're wrong. Social is a channel -- just as email and search are channels. This is why we're seeing email marketing service providers and SEO agencies rebrand as content marketing platforms, and social media following suit.

Channels are niche. Content is forever.

This post originally published on iMedia

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Content Strategy for Retail & CPG Brands: Risks & Rewards

 

Over 90 percent of purchases are still made in bricks-and-mortar stores, yet few retailers and CPG brands make driving foot traffic part of their digital strategies, much less work to create unified, omni-channel customer experiences. Instead, they still rely on outmoded and increasingly ineffectual means such as print circulars.

Recently I published deep research on how a unified content strategy can drive foot traffic, spur purchase, and increase customer loyalty. The entire report can be downloaded here, but following, a summary of the risks, and the rewards, of content strategy for retailers and CPG brands.

Risks of not investing in a unified content strategy

In a world where the rate of innovation is moving at breakneck speed, brands and retailers can't afford to be stagnant. Here are the major risks outlined:

Not fulfilling local customers' wants
When customers demand to be treated as unique, recognizable individuals across all company touchpoints, it becomes risky to not deliver that experience to them. This becomes a ripe opportunity for competitors to capture those customers.

Frustrating loyal customers
Most successful companies are built on the support of their existing customers, not the addition of new ones. By not delivering content to customers that makes them feel recognized, or that they have a personal relationship with#a brand, it could alienate longtime supporters, who only need one bad experience to take their business elsewhere. Imagine a grocery store continuously sending discount coupons for meat to a longtime shopper who is#a vegetarian, or a department store sends an in-store promotion for children to a childless couple. Customers no longer want to be part of a faceless mass. They demand to be recognized as individuals and are very aware of brands' ability to do this.

Less foot traffic
While print and other traditional marketing methods are not going to completely disappear, their influence and reach is diminishing each year as customers add other channels to their daily content consumption mix. Continuing to invest in these traditional channels at the expense of digital will result in diminishing relevance, and correspondingly, less people coming in to stores.

Inability to track, measure and report on local marketing 
By far, the biggest advantage digital has been able to offer is the ability to track and measure the advertising efforts put in place.

This leads to more efficient budgetary allocation, more knowledge of the customer and more concrete decision-making, when it comes to serving the right content to the right audience. These capabilities simply don't exist in a non-digital realm, which still relies mostly on second hand, sample sized knowledge provided by publications and networks.

Opportunities

Despite the many challenges, and risks involved, the rewards in digital advertising are exponential once the many cogs start clicking into place.

Here are the major opportunities I identified:

Advertising becomes one-to-one, instead of one-to-many 
Retailers and brands have an opportunity to connect with their customers on a far more meaningful level than simply advertising at them. Through targeting, they can create solutions for a customer to solve problems that are specific to those individuals and their lifestyles. Knowing a customer's likes and dislikes, what time of the month they are most likely to buy, or what type of promotion they are most likely to take advantage of is crucial information for personalizing content.

Once a customer realizes they are being treated as an individual rather than a demographic segment, there's a greater chance of them remaining loyal to that brand, and even advocating on their behalf. In essence, digital advertising now allows B2C marketers to bring the intimacy, and long term engagement of a B2B customer relationship to its audiences.

Engage customers wherever they are 
Until a customer walked into a store and bought an item, it was difficult to know who they were, not just in terms of demographics, but in terms of their interests, habits, and responsiveness to content. All of that can now be measured by reaching customers at all the digital locations they visit before coming to the store. This includes the company website, search results, mobile, social media, and email. Instead of building the store and waiting for them to come, marketers can engage customers where they already are.

"It's critically clear that digital advertising drives in-store traffic, whether we do it through retargeting, paid search for services, or mobile advertising," says Alison Corcoran, senior vice president, marketing of North American stores and online at Staples. "Display does a good job for in-store and online, Search does drive some in-store, but more online. Retargeting depends on audience. Social drives in-store but not too much online and affiliate marketing drives more to our site."

Mobile is an especially potent addition to this mix, since it is a gateway to the customer at all times. There is a delicate balance to be implemented, which avoids bombarding a customer with constant messaging, and instead sending them a meaningful message at the moment when they are most likely to take action.

Digital also solves a scalability problem traditional messaging#can't. Erik Rosenstrauch, president and CEO of marketing agency Fuel Partnerships recently found success with this omni-channel approach when launching the new Sbyke scooter at Walmart during#the holiday season. "How do you market to 500 stores across the country? You can't use any traditional methods because they'll be#highly inefficient," says Rosenstrauch. "We came up with a digital campaign that was both mobile, and web, and highly targeted, advertising only to people within a five-mile radius of each store." By leveraging a variety of databases to get to the correct IP addresses# and mobile numbers, Fuel was able to track the people who responded#to the ads, and service them with additional content, such as video demos and visual information. These efforts resulted in a 700 percent lift in sales.

Know what's working 
Attribution has always been a problem when it comes to traditional advertising. Most companies lacked the concrete evidence that proved their messages in print, TV and radio were actually what was driving customers into stores. With basic digital display advertising, much of the same problem remains. It's difficult to link an ad impression, or even a click to a person showing up in store. However, if there is strategy in place that links online customer activities with offline behavior, this attribution becomes far easier to see, and leverage.

To achieve this, it's necessary for both the offline teams and online teams to be able to see the same customer information, in real-time. More important, digital messages must function beyond brand awareness. Messaging might include information about product availability, specific promotions that can only be availed in-store, or knowledge of local events/conditions that make the message more compelling, and relevant to each customer. Different combinations of messages, content and delivery times can be tracked to see what's working, leading to even more optimization of the advertising efforts.

Strength in local
Local is the secret weapon for retailers/brands to push competitors (and Amazon) off their turf and bring shoppers back into their storefronts. Specific knowledge of local events, conditions, culture and people can be powerful in the hands of a skilled digital marketing team that can program ads to serve up dynamic content based on who will view them.

For example, REI found success by leveraging local knowledge of weather and generating dynamic content around the topic.

Local targeting doesn't even have to be very complex to work. Through a partnership with the Waze app, Target was able to get customers into its store simply by messaging them when they were in close proximity to a store location.

This post originally published on iMedia

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Leveraging Content For In-Store Sales

It’s a little-known but impressive fact: Despite the rise and seeming ubiquity of e-commerce, a stunning 90 percent of consumer purchases are made in-store. That’s feet-on-the-street, brick-and-mortar, shopping cart, cash register, old-school type buying.

Yet retailers and CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands still rely largely on print circulars to spur traffic and sales, despite off-the-cliff print media circulation.

This week, I published research on the topic of how forward-looking retailers and brands can drive in-store traffic with digital media, most specifically with content marketing in digital channels. The full report, “From Web Traffic to Foot Traffic: How Brands and Retailers Can Leverage Digital Content to Power In-Store Sales,” is available here as a PDF download.

Retailers and CPG brands aren’t having an easy time adapting digital marketing to their goals, particularly when it comes to creating seamless omni-channel customer experiences. We learned that only 60 percent of them have implemented strategies that are geared toward creating a local or in-store outcome, such as making a brick-and-mortar purchase.

In fact, only 59 percent say driving an in-store sale is a goal.

While nearly all of the 200 executives we surveyed recognize mobile’s growing importance — in fact, dominance — just half (51 percent) use mobile to bridge the online and offline customer experiences. Far fewer (37 percent) plan a seamless experience across channels, e.g., mobile, the Web, social media and in-store.

What’s to blame for these strategic shortcomings? Measurement is one big problem. Most retailers and CPG brands still measure traffic and clicks in digital, rather than linking metrics and KPIs to desired outcomes, such as foot traffic and purchases.

Their budgets are limited, and they’re unsure of where to invest the digital dollars they do have.

Local” is insufficiently defined, and it can be so much more than a ZIP code. It can mean proximity messaging via beacons and sensors, or it can be tied to a customer loyalty program to generate personalized offers or promotions on-site, such as coupons for items consumers repeatedly purchase.

Additionally, retailers and CPG brands lack content strategy, as well as skilled digital talent and the interdepartmental ability to coordinate promotions, offers, content and advertising across paid, owned and earned media teams.

So how can retailers and CPG brands make a shift and leverage their digital content to bolster in-store sales?

Here are the recommendations that emerged from my survey of more than 500 retail executives, as well as interviews with close to two dozen senior retail and CPG executives. (I conducted the research, which was sponsored by Cofactor, for Altimeter Group.)

Tips For Using Digital Content To Drive In-Store Sales

  • Incentivize visits to retail locations, with features such as order online, pick-up in store and store returns. These can be used in addition to sales, coupons and other promotional activity designed to attract foot traffic.
  • Be mobile first, or at least primary, when it comes to formulating a content engagement strategy. When it comes to reach and opportunities for right-time and location targeting, few channels are better than mobile.
  • Leverage the mix of paid, earned and owned media to maximize value from the budget, and engage customers outside the usual realms.
  • Think online-to-offline when mapping the customer journey.
  • Rethink the print circular. While it can’t yet be wholly discounted, the circular can provide more value when used in conjunction with other modes of communication. Circular content can be amplified across online channels to reach customers where they are actually gathering information to make a decision, rather than remaining static in one medium.
  • Plan for online cross-channel content with similar teams and processes that are in place for delivering offline content. This enables a coordinated strategy across paid, earned and owned channels, without having to start completely from scratch.
  • Eliminate silos. The biggest challenge is to break down silos between departments and between channels. This makes it easier to get a unified effort for the best customer experience.
  • Reconsider budget allocation to devote more towards digital spending, and identify the digital marketing tactics that give the most return on investment.
  • Implement a measurement plan to track the effectiveness of local multi-channel campaigns. Discard vanity metrics like impressions to focus more on customer actions.
  • Leverage loyalty data to personalize/contextualize offers.
  • Define local at every stage. Does it refer to 
a region, city, state or ZIP code? This can vary by the business, but also on a campaign level. More importantly, is “local” restricted only in the geographical sense, or can it be applied to Who, What and When, in addition to Where?
  • Remain sensitive to customer privacy by not bombarding them with overly personalized messages. It’s important to balance relevance against creepiness.

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Why Content Budgets Are So Hard to Quantify

There's no debating the fact that content is not only a hot topic, but an essential part of digital strategy. Advertising effectiveness is on the decline, a trend fueled by a myriad of factors ranging from consumer control (and a subsequent unwillingness to be interrupted) to banner blindness, click fraud, and ad blocking software -- very much in the news currently thanks to Apple's new iOS 9.

As ads in paid media diminish in effectiveness, marketers are forced to confront new ways to connect with customers. This can be via owned media, i.e., pure content marketing; earned media, defined as social or PR, when sharing and/or input is requested from the audience; or forms of converged media, such as promoted posts in social or native advertising on publisher channels; or paying influencers to promote owned and earned content.

Regardless of the channel or medium, content is the one element that cannot be absent from the marketing equation. Paid, owned, earned -- without content, there's nothing. Advertising without content is empty time or space. What else is advertising, after all, than renting time or space from a publisher or broadcaster to inset a message in the form of content?

Social platforms, search, email, websites and microsites, apps, all are mere containers for content. If there's no content in these channels, it's the digital equivalent of dead air.

Where things get murky, however, is the cost of all this content. It's surprising how many in this industry see cost as a straight apples-to-apples comparison. The prevailing fallacy is if you take a dollar out of the advertising budget, and that means an extra dollar for the content budget. But it just doesn't work that way. That dollar gets reduced significantly. What trickles down to content is only maybe five to 15 cents.

Content is just plain cheaper than advertising, which is why that dollar is subject to a hefty exchange rate. Both content in earned and owned media require an investment, just as does creative (which is, let's face it, just a fancier word for content) in advertising. But strip away the cost of the media buy -- the highest-ticket item in marketing, and there's most of your budget right there.

Content isn't cheap. "Just hire a blogger" has long since ceded to videographers, developers (both web and app), graphic designers, photographers, and others skill sets more technical and specialized than basic writing ability. But absent that media buy, content will almost always, without exception, be cheaper than advertising.

Content requires tools, however. I've mapped the vast vendor landscape. However, this investment, which can be significant, isn't generally part of a budget line item for content. Instead, it's filed under marketing technology or a similar line item.

Few organizations have content departments or divisions, another reason it's so difficult to tease out those content numbers. Jobs with "content" or "editor" in the title are sharply on the rise, but they tend to hover at the manager or director level. That will change, and roles will become more senior, but not for another year or two.

Content remains more everything than it does its own thing -- in other words, until it's cordoned off into a defined discipline with a budget, a staff, and its own line items, it will remain extremely difficult to quantify what content budgets really are. From company to company, sector to sector, budget to budget, your mileage will vary.

Still, no matter how you slice it, more and more marketing dollars are pouring into content. Less into paid, more into owned and earned. And there's no end in sight to that trend.

This post orginally published on iMedia.

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

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