A Useful Content Experience: What Marketing Should Be
By Robert Kittleberger
It’s no surprise that businesses handle advertising and marketing much differently today than they did a few years ago. But that’s not just because they have new and different technology options, it’s because consumers demand it. They demand a useful content experience.
When the Internet provided us with search engines and social sharing, it gave consumers a new way to find products and connect with businesses; it created a new standard for what it takes to get them to make a purchase. In short, it’s not just about a good advertising pitch anymore.
Ads don’t work like they used to. In the eyes of today’s shopper, a catchy ad or even a well-crafted marketing scheme is not enough to make the sale.
So what is enough? What does the consumer want?
Content and Information
Modern digital media is so flexible, personal and fast, it’s created a standard that makes conventional businesses invisible. Simply providing a product or service isn’t enough to win trust amongst the general population online.
In order for the consumer to trust a company, they need to be provided with facts, insights and help surrounding the problem they want to solve. Information about the item or service they may want to purchase is secondary. Their experience comes first.
Brands need to help solve a problem and fulfill a need before a sale (or even a sales pitch) can ever be made. That’s the essence of a great content experience, and it’s why I chose the image for this article. Even though Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb is more about design than content, it’s a perfectly apt way to illustrate the idea.
A well-written and helpful piece of content is now considered to be a far more effective sales pitch than anything else. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 90% of consumers find such content useful, while 78% believe that it indicates the company providing it is interested in establishing a positive relationship with them.
There are two primary reasons for this:
- 1) The consumer’s frame of mind.
- 2) A desire for a more genuine sales experience.
Let’s talk a little bit about both points.
The Consumer’s Frame of Mind
Think about the frame of mind you’re in when you’re watching television and a commercial comes on.
Now is it really honest if we consider that commercial to be the optimal way of getting our attention? They have our eyeballs, but do they have our attention? Furthermore, are we even in a frame of mind where we’d be willing to hear any kind of sales pitch? The answer in both cases should be an obvious no.
When you’re sitting on the couch watching the game or a re-run of The Office, you aren’t thinking about purchasing things, except maybe if you’re hungry and it’s halftime. Your goal in that moment is simply to be entertained.
Ads tend to postpone that entertainment and thereby frustrate our efforts, they get in the way and detract form the experience.
It may actually be the worst time to try and get you to purchase something because you just don’t care at that point. Ad-based marketing is interruptive by nature, and therefore gets in the way of your other objectives. And ads pushed through broadcast media are anything but relevant. They are delivered to such a wide audience, how can they be? Even online, when ads are more relevant to the content on the page, they still tend to represent a departure, if not an outright interruption from your intended focus.
Compare that with your frame of mind when you’re searching for something on Google. Let’s say for example, modular homes.
Why would you be searching for modular homes? The answer is one or more of the following:
- -Looking for information about modular homes.
- -Curious about this segment of the housing market or construction.
- -Looking for a consultation regarding the possible purchase or construction of a modular home.
- -Interested in purchasing a modular home.
You can see right away that a company who sells modular homes through an online website has a tremendous opportunity here.
First, your frame of mind when searching for this keyword is completely bent upon finding something that provides help and information concerning this topic.
One might say you’re in a “buying mood.” Whether that’s the case, it doesn’t much matter. The content you seek is the main attraction, not the interruption.
You don’t really want to see a banner ad, right? You don’t want to see “Click here for awesome deals on modular homes.” That might be helpful, but why would you trust it when there is deeper, more informative content one more click away?
What you really want is more likely going to be information and some free consulting. As a consumer, you’re happy to read branded content, so long as it’s useful branded content.
As a business, if you provide that information and consulting, the content experience consumers want, then you’re playing right into the frame of mind of a prospective buyer. Furthermore, 68% of consumers actually spend time reading content from brands they’re interested in, which means they’re actually pursuing information from that company, independently of an ad.
When you become the source of that information and that help, there’s an immediate trust that is formed between you and the prospective buyer. That trust makes an actual sale far more likely to occur. And just as importantly, that content is far more likely to find it’s way in front of a qualified prospect in the first place.
When your content is the main attraction, consumers search for it and engage with it on purpose, not because it happened to get in their way.
A Genuine Sales Experience
As a provider of products or services, you’re not only selling a product, but you’re also selling an experience.
A genuine attempt to help somebody by providing them with information and solving as many of their problems as you can for free is the optimal sales experience that people are looking for. There is no longer an advantage to walling off information or working consumers through a tightly-defined sales funnel. People just don’t stand for that anymore. They have too many options.
Consumers are empowered with information whether you’re the one to provide it or not. Be the company that delivers it and you’re going to have a much easier time getting traffic and leads to your website with a high chance of converting those leads into actual sales.
How exactly is all this content provided to your target audience?
Without question, the most useful and widely accepted method of getting this type of content to interested and motivated people is by way of text, graphics or video on a webpage.
At a practical level, this usually shows up in the form of articles and informational write-ups or how-to’s that are published as blog posts or content sections within the body of a web page. Statistically, companies that keep active blogs bring in 97% more leads than those who don’t. And ones that provide a multimedia experience with images, graphics and video fare even better.
As a result, many businesses who already have a website have added a blog to their site for this specific purpose, since multiple blog posts are the most optimal way to provide indexed (search engine accessible) content.
Guest posting on other related websites, cross-posting to social media accounts like Facebook and Google+, and even publishing paid sponsored posts on other blogs contribute to the consumer’s content experience, and expand your online footprint, making your content, and therefore your company, easier to find.
It might seem complicated at first but if you peel back the layers, the formula is simple and it works. Just start answering the questions your target consumers have. Over time, you’ll create an informative library that continues to pay dividends as more and more consumers locate your information and engage with it.
A Better Approach
The bottom line is that content marketing works, because it caters to the consumer in ways that traditional advertising cannot. And it does so in a sustainable manner, with long-lasting content assets that get published online and stay there, unlike ads which run only as long as you pay for them.
That’s not to say that television ads and other forms of more conventional advertising don’t work or are irrelevant, but they’re definitely in the process of changing. That change is happening online as the consumer’s investigative process merges with useful branded content.
If you can tailor your marketing efforts to focus on producing the content experience your target customers want and need, rather than simply messaging, ads and promotion, you’ll be far more successful when it comes to reaching your ultimate goal of traffic, leads and sales.