Connecting Through cONTENT
Captivating customers with relevant, personalized content delivered at the right time and place
The Change Agent
It has never been easier or more affordable for businesses to reach their customers. But mass marketing simply doesn’t cut it anymore. For messages to be seen and heard—and to resonate with target audiences—businesses need to step up their content game.
Elevating the Customer Experience
A brand is a distinct expression of what a company is and what that company promises to customers. In a literal sense, brands are represented in the form of a name, symbol, color and visual scheme or some combination of those.1 But a brand is much more than that. Recognized brands actively build loyalty with customers by creating emotional connections. They engender confidence and trust.
Content is the fuel that ultimately shapes perceptions about a company and its value. It is the tangible evidence that brings the brand promise to life through words, visual graphics, and video and audio storytelling. When done right, content meets target audiences at the right time, in the right place and with the right message. Consistent, honest, relevant and timely messaging helps create the confidence and trust that turns one-time customers into lifelong brand loyalists.
It sounds easy, right? Think again. The reality is that consumers are inundated with marketing messages every day across hundreds of platforms and channels. In fact, most Americans are exposed to 4,000–10,000 ads every day.2 To succeed and ensure their messages are heard, brands must cut through the noise.
The reality is that consumers are inundated with marketing messages every day across hundreds of platforms and channels. In fact, most Americans are exposed to 4,000–10,000 ads every day.2
And while distributing brand content has never been easier, cheaper or faster, customer expectations have also never been higher. That’s why a content strategy is critical. It supports organizations’ efforts to deliver seamless, personalized customer experiences with every interaction. As a foundation for marketing dollars, a content strategy provides purpose, goals and direction. And because customers expect engaging and meaningful personalized content, companies that figure out how to implement relevant digital experiences will differentiate and dominate.
Customers expect relevant content in exchange for their personal data. It’s no secret that businesses have access to a wide variety of customers’ personal data, including date of birth, email address, online activity, buying behaviors. However, the expectation is that the data will be leveraged securely, efficiently and with integrity. The data should be used only to better understand the needs of the customer, and to nurture and evolve the relationship with the brand. They expect the data will create personalized content that will make their lives a little easier and eliminate friction from their journey. Fail to do that and customers will ignore the brand.
A fireside chat with Seismic Senior Customer Success Manager Ben Anderson and digital marketing and CX leader Timothy Cheung about the value of a content strategy in shaping the optimal experiences for your customers.
Seismic Senior Customer Success Manager Ben Anderson is committed to ensuring customers realize the optimal value of sales and marketing enablement tools. Timothy Cheung is a seasoned digital marketer with in-depth knowledge around interactive marketing, websites, digital media, channel marketing, and digital and online experience.
Focused on enhancing customer experiences and enabling customer success, both Ben and Timothy provide their unique perspectives on how content shapes the customer experience at every interaction.
What is the value of a content strategy?
Ben Anderson (Seismic): A content strategy is vital to telling a consistent brand story. It ensures that every member of your organization is sharing the same core narrative and that everyone who interacts with you is hearing the same key messages. When combined with the right tools, analytics and alignment to organizational goals, a strong content strategy is the backbone of a successful sales and marketing organization.
We see effective content strategy as an iterative and self-informative loop that blends internally defined needs with direct feedback from the field to inform and refine what is being created. It’s important for your content strategy to be connected to identifiable organizational goals. This allows you to know what you need to create and the schedule for that creation, and to control the ways in which the content is rolled out to the market. You’ll also have goals to measure against, so you can know what works in the field and where the gaps are.
Timothy Cheung: You've heard the saying, “content is king.” Content is not an emerging trend; it's something that has always mattered. A content strategy is a critical component of how you tell your story, reach and connect with your customers, build a following and achieve your goals. Whether that's through specific marketing tactics—like how we leverage tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram—or through our brand and product content, all components need to formulate into one cohesive story that ultimately helps the company achieve its long-term strategy.
How does a content strategy enable personalization at scale?
BA (Seismic): A strong content strategy is centered on telling your organization’s core story. If you have your core storytelling strategy in place and it is working effectively, you will then be able to personalize that story for different situations and audiences.
Consistency in the process and production standards ensure that what you are producing is of value and aligns to the organization’s core story. Confidence that your brand and go-to-market message are being faithfully conveyed across teams and channels. A strong content strategy ensures that the assets being created are on brand and are aligned with organizational priorities. This means that assets can be efficiently updated, rather than fully recreated, for different audiences, channels and situations.
At Seismic, we provide the capabilities for organizations to execute their brand strategy by ensuring consistent alignment to approved core messaging, making it fast and easy to personalize content and track its influence.
TC: You should start with personalization in mind. You shouldn’t be creating mass content and hoping the audience will pick it up. There's far too much information out there that creating content without the intent to personalize poses the threat that you’ll never reach your target audience, group or community.
Similarly, for every stakeholder conversation, presentation, pitch or other interaction, my advice is to go in making sure that you know your audience and that you’re delivering something that’s relevant.
And as you’re building out your content strategy, keep in mind that you may have multiple different audience segments and personas. Think about the entire journey for each audience and what information they want and need—for all the different ways we’re communicating with them during every stage of their journey and at every touchpoint. What story are you trying to tell them? What do you want them to see, feel and do? How do you want each message to come across? We’re trying to tell them the right message, in that moment in time.
From a scaling standpoint, it’s important to be thinking about where the target audiences are going to engage with us, how we’re going to engage with them, and try to structure audiences into a couple different journeys that are maintainable for the size of your organization and the skills of your team.
How do organizations effectively incorporate brand, marketing and the customer into their content strategy and digital customer journey?
BA (Seismic): At Seismic, we believe that the customer should always be at the center. This means that your core brand story should be aligned to current and prospective customer needs. From the brand story, you can then build out go-to-market strategies for specific products and segments. When your brand story and go-to-market strategy tie back to the customer, it enables your content strategy to clearly align to customer and organizational needs.
From this strong foundation, you can create opportunities for personalization and set boundaries to ensure alignment to the brand story and marketing strategy. The audience you are talking to matters, and the message you are conveying should—and will—differ if you are talking to a CMO versus a director or individual contributor. When developing content, you’ll want to consider the different targeted user constituencies by characteristics like role, industry and buying cycle stage. Over time, with a feedback loop and measurement strategy in place, you will be able to optimize and more easily develop and plan for targeted communication.
Ben AndersonSenior Customer Success Manager, Seismic
Your core brand story should be aligned to current and prospective customer needs.
TC: We tend to think customers are going to want us to understand all the different touchpoints and engagements and for them to have a feeling of authenticity when they interact with our brand. Authenticity is more easily achieved than you might think. It’s as simple as pulling in one or two key data components. Everybody associates very strongly to their name, and it’s that little personalization that goes a long way. But if we’re really thinking about the entire kitchen sink of customer information available and how we can put that into the experience, your customers aren’t necessarily going to need all that initially for authenticity and to be differentiated. If you’re going for an authentic, personalized experience and it looks like every other website or experience they’ve had—whether they have a relationship with the organization or not—they’re going to see through it.
The other big part of it is the data you are personalizing with. You don't need to use all of it. Pull the key points that are most valuable to your audience, customer base and product. Don’t overdo it.
I’m starting to see the Agile philosophy being adopted in the digital marketing, brand and content space. The squad or pod structure or Agile teams are put in place and they work because they provide a framework to more consistently communicate, collaborate and are able to readily share. The most important thing is that these teams ensure it all flows seamlessly into a single piece of content for your customers.
How can organizations ensure consistent customer experiences delivered through every touchpoint across the enterprise?
BA (Seismic): Clear communication, governance and a consistent process.
- Communication is about clear direction of goals and intended use for each touchpoint for clients. What, for example, would be the intended use of mobile applications or email to contact clients, or how are you expecting clients to find and access information on your publicly facing website. If you have intended stories for these touchpoints, you can ensure that the content strategy you have in place matches the intent of those stories.
- Governance in the form of a committee that meets routinely to discuss and review content strategy practices and goals and to formulate communication to the organization on changes and general direction. Self-examination is a key element to ensuring you are never standing still, and a governance committee, run the right way, is an ideal tool to help keep your internal alignment.
- Consistency in process can be thought of as an extension of governance, as many of the tactical aspects of consistency are addressed in your governance plan, such as content life cycle or whether it can be used externally. But this also applies more broadly to the tools you use and adherence to the overall strategic goals of your organization. I often will ask my clients whether a tactic they are proposing is in alignment to the strategy and goals of the organization, and if it is not, then usually it is not the correct path to pursue.
Seismic helps you do all of these things at scale. You can clearly align content to specific customer segments and use cases, allow for personalization that adheres to brand and strategy guidelines, and measure usage and outcomes so you can continue to improve.
Timothy CheungDigital Marketing and CX Expert
Build frameworks and guidelines to keep everybody steering in the right direction and, to a degree, police it and be ready to manage it in real time.
TC: In terms of marketing, branding and content strategy, there should be standards and documentation in place. Build frameworks and guidelines to keep everybody steering in the right direction and, to a degree, police it and be ready to manage it in real time. Guidelines should be super prescriptive to keep everyone aligned to ensure a consistent customer experience through every single touchpoint across the company, but with enough flexibility to allow teams to effectively execute within the specific channel. Things need to flow seamlessly. If you have a team that suddenly does something different and it doesn't feel like a consistent experience for the customer, the customer will feel a fracture or break in their connection to your brand.
It’s a journey over time that demands consistency. Brands are built on their customer perceptions, and those perceptions aren’t going to change overnight.
How can organizations measure the effectiveness of their content strategy?
BA (Seismic): Data collection is a critical aspect of evaluating your strategy. Listen to your feedback loop. What you produce and make available can and should be measured.
Bottom-up and top-down measurements are necessary to obtain a full picture of what is happening. From the bottom up, we gather specific usage and consumption data so that we know what content is being used and what is resonating with recipients, which can help inform what content should be created. From the top down, when your content strategy is aligned with corporate objectives, you can begin to identify where measurement can be made and whether your actions are contributing to ROI. Most commonly with our clients, the first place they tie in value at the strategic level is in overall efficiency and opportunity cost. Through consistent content strategy you create an overall more efficient system that gives time back to everyone up and down the chain. Further up the value curve is attribution, or identifying what content is influencing something in the buying or selling cycle—whether that is deals that close, time to close, deal size or something else, the details are usually client specific and relate to how their content strategy is tied in to their overall objectives.
It is, though, a crawl, walk, run approach. Unless the foundation is correct and solid (i.e., your content strategy), then you will not be able to effectively measure standard efficiency gains, which are a precursor to higher-value measures such as attribution.
TC: When it comes to content strategy, there are a number of ways you can measure. If your bottom line is revenue or sales focused, understand that content strategy is going to have varying degrees of success depending on many variables such as where your customer is in their purchase journey. Product content may have more of an immediate impact on your bottom line. For example, we’ll be trying to sell our product on TV. How do we position it in that context in a way that customers see value in that offering? How do we bring confidence to their decision to choose our product?
For example, in telecommunications, we have to build confidence that the customer is choosing a provider that will give the level of service they want, the features they want and the channels they want. If your content addresses these things, then you should see an impact in your conversion numbers right off the bat for any customers already in the purchase journey. B2B typically tends to be a longer consideration cycle where you won’t see immediate results. But you know you’ve done your job well if the customer keeps coming back. Customer satisfaction and brand confidence are other metrics. Also look at how they came to your website, what they did when they got there and whether they are happy with the content you’re producing.
We’re also getting into a space where A–B testing in real time is more manageable and scalable. Leverage every opportunity and take learnings from testing to make informed decisions or course-correct as you go.
TEKsystems Digital Experience leaders Burk Buechler, Scott Beach, Steve Householder and Michelle Kindall share their points of view on content strategy, personalization at scale and leveraging creative studios. Kalev Peekna, leader of One North’s Digital Strategy practice, provides additional commentary and rich perspective on the power of content.
Customer Experience: The Crown Jewel for Brands
Almost three-fourths of companies say improving the customer experience (CX) should be the top goal of digital transformation.3 But many fall short in delivering CX that resonates because they aren’t looking at each customer in the context of where they are in their journey. They hit customers with irrelevant messages, or even repeat messages, that don’t break through constant marketing noise. Messages often don’t get heard, create fatigue or, even worse, annoy the customer.
Customers are on the receiving end of thousands of messages daily. TEKsystems Director of Digital Solutions Scott Beach notes, “as marketing dollars have moved to digital marketing over the last decade, the volume of digital messages that consumers are exposed to has skyrocketed.” Those messages are coming from web, email, social media, texts, podcasts and everywhere in between. And the content marketing life cycle is incredibly short.
So, how do we develop a content strategy that’s more effective, one that maps content to specific customer needs? “A good place for brands to start is to renounce random acts of content,” says TEKsystems Director of Digital Experience Steve Householder. Intention is critical. A content strategy gives brands that necessary intention and direction as they aspire to nurture relationships, elevate the customer experience and stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Kalev PeeknaManaging Director – Chief Strategist, One North
Even great content will be a miss if it is delivered at the wrong time or through the wrong vehicle.
An effective enterprise content strategy connects brand, marketing and customer.
To do this, organizations need to take several critical factors into consideration:
- The buyer persona. An archetype or common traits for each segment of the organization’s target audience.
- The customer journey. “Even great content will be a miss if it is delivered at the wrong time or through the wrong vehicle,” says Kalev Peekna, managing director and chief strategist at One North. Content should be available for every stage of the buyer journey, including awareness, consideration and decision stages, and through every interaction along their purchase decision.
- The channel. Customers are consuming content across platforms and channels, including web, mobile, email, video and even voice.
- Data. Data should be leveraged to provide messages that add value for the customer in that moment.
Digital technologies, such as marketing automation platforms and CMS, enable organizations to deliver seamless customer experiences across moments and channels. The technology allows them to engage customers methodically and with intention, reaching them at the right time and place and with the right message for their needs in that moment in time. But technology cannot enable a strategy that doesn’t exist. A truly seamless experience demands a clear vision and strategy for what the experience should be.
Personalize or Get Tuned Out
Generic messaging doesn’t cut it anymore. “Mass undifferentiated marketing is increasingly ineffective as a tool for growth,” according to Beach. It’s time to get personal, or hyper-personal, by demonstrating a genuine, human understanding of the customer. “Hyper-personalization allows you to weave in extreme amounts of empathy using data. Get that message to the right person at the right time so it creates a relationship with the brand,” Householder adds.
“But personalization is only ever easy for the user,” Peekna says. To successfully implement personalization into the content strategy, organizations need to clarify business goals, define customer segments and personas, and manage holistic customer data. With those steps in place, data will power the content strategy. When leveraged appropriately, data enables organizations to send messages that add value and meet buyers where they are. But many organizations struggle with maximizing the value of data within their digital marketing experience.
Burk BuechlerManaging Director of Digital Solutions, TEKsystems
You must have centralization and coordination to maximize your channels and think about how customers are interacting and engaging with you on those channels.
Common Data Pitfalls
- Disparate data: Data lives in disparate places, making it challenging to see the big picture. “You must have centralization and coordination to maximize your channels,” notes TEKsystems Managing Director of Digital Solutions Burk Buechler. “What channels are your business active on? How are customers interacting and engaging with you on those channels?”
- Ownership of data: Often internal politics get in the way of a successful data strategy to power content.
- Data hygiene: “Lack of clean data is often the number one reason companies can’t scale their content,” says Peekna.
Personalization at Scale
In the past, a marketing campaign life cycle could extend anywhere from a couple months to a year. “Today, e-commerce and digital are driving organizations to run campaigns in a matter of weeks, not months,” Beach explains.
Creative studios are an operational model that allow brands to meet the demands of faster timelines for delivering personalization at scale. For example, seasonal or holiday campaigns are very time sensitive, and their relevance only lasts so long. Organizations are tasked with serving up enticing, timely campaigns that may only be relatable for a couple weeks or days. Creating this type of content at scale is a rigorous and ongoing task, and many organizations find it difficult to manage exclusively in-house. Creative studios are the solution that enable organizations to execute with scale and precision.
Steve HouseholderDirector of Digital Experience, TEKsystems
The brands that figure out how to monetize, measure and declare either victory or failure of their content strategy are going to be the ones that stick around and grow.
The Value of Creative Studios
The creative studio model supports end-to-end production of creative assets, websites and applications. This highly efficient way of working allows organizations to optimize work velocity and quality, scale a team based on evolving needs and free up in-house staff with more intimate knowledge of the brand to focus on other strategic projects.
TEKsystems’ creative studios address three obstacles brands face when insourcing content, copy and design:
- How do you scale creative operations? We help with resource identification, onboarding, and demand and capacity planning to meet evolving business needs.
- How do you ensure brand compliance and voice across your messaging? We enforce and enable brand standards, design training, creative review and design process improvement/automation.
- How do you consistently deliver work on time and to in-house Marketing expectations? We manage intake process, schedule, traffic and workflow.
TEKsystems’ Tips to Conquering Content
- Show empathy: Because customers are being inundated with messages, it is that much harder to differentiate. Show empathy and a human, emotional level of understanding of where a customer is in their journey. Not only will this set you apart, but it will strengthen trust with the customer and create lasting connections to the brand.
- Optimize tools: Scaling any aspect of the business generally starts with technology. “Most organizations that have implemented a CMS or migrated to a different CMS are only using about 50%–60% of the technology,” explains Householder. To see real value, focus on optimizing these tools.
- Build a multidisciplined team: People who understand the marketing and technology sides of the equation are uniquely positioned to thrive. But this T-shaped talent is hard to come by. Leverage creative studios to not only fill talent gaps, but also to enable efficient, end-to-end creative production at scale.
- Centralize data: The tools are only as good as the data we feed into them. “Data that lives in different places can’t inform each other,” says Buechler. And with many platforms, it becomes increasingly difficult to merge the information and make it actionable.
- Measure what matters: Demonstrating the value of content efforts is essential but often a struggle. Metrics to monitor:
- Marketing conversion rates
- Repeat business and multiproduct/service relationships (i.e., increased share of wallet)
- Customer feedback through reviews, satisfaction scores and Net Promoter Scores
- Revenue growth
- Track ROI: “The brands that figure out how to monetize, measure and declare either victory or failure of their content strategy are going to be the ones that stick around and grow,” says Householder.
Real-World Application: Stitch-Fix
Established in 2011—and now a multibillion-dollar consumer technology enterprise—the online personal styling company Stitch Fix prides itself on a mission: “change the way people find clothes they love by combining technology with the personal touch of seasoned style experts.”5 Stitch Fix provides its customers unique, personalized experiences. It delivers clothing and accessories that fit an individual’s style—if you like it, you keep it. If you don’t, send it back. The customer is at the core of its business.
With the power of data, Stitch Fix has found a way to scale its hyper-personalized business model. “Using data to better understand what people want enables us to turn over inventory faster than many conventional retailers do,” explains Stitch Fix founder and CEO Katrina Lake. “Because we can buy the right things and get them to the right people.”6
Katrina LakeFounder and CEO, Stitch Fix
Using data to better understand what people want enables us to turn over inventory faster than many conventional retailers do.
Using customer-generated “style profile” data—which encompasses more than 85 data points8 about the customer—the company finds clothing and accessories that match the taste of the individual. With feedback and purchase history data, Stitch Fix is able to iterate and improve its product selections over time to accommodate individual customer preferences as it learns them.
Data science has enabled the company to innovate, forecast demand, develop new styles and optimize its merchandise and fulfillment center. “Data science is extremely important, and other teams, such as marketing and engineering, will increase their capabilities by partnering closely with our data science team,” Lake says. And its in-house clothing brand, Hybrid Designs, uses machine learning to identify unmet style needs that they can then create and sell.
Applying data analytics and cutting-edge technologies, Stitch Fix delivers a scalable, hyper-personalized customer experience.7,8Stitch Fix is not a TEKsystems customer. All information shared herein was accessed from public sources as indicated.
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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of TEKsystems, Inc. or its related entities.
Meet Our Contributors
- Branding, American Marketing Association
- Finding Brand Success in the Digital World, Forbes
- State of DX Survey, TEKsystems
- IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Customer Experience 2020 Predictions, IDC
- About Us, Stitch Fix
- Stitch Fix’s CEO on Selling Personal Style to the Mass Market, Harvard Business Review
- 5 Lessons In Personalization From Stitch Fix, Forbes
- Understanding Stitch Fix: Finding the Perfect Fit, Goodwater Capital