Content Marketing, Owned Media
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Marketers have lost control of their brand conversations. Back when only a handful of channels existed, marketing and sales controlled the flow of information — particularly in the medium- and high-consideration buying decisions that Adele Revella says “require a considerable investment of your buyers’ thought and time.”

In this scenario, marketing and sales parceled out messages that resonated with consumers who had no choice but to trust the information.

That’s no longer the case, as customers now control the conversation. When marketers emphasize traditional messages over relevant, engaging content, we end up talking at our customers instead of with them.

Can you recall the last great conversation you had with someone that began with “I’m a leader in my industry, and I work with the biggest brands on the planet”? I didn’t think so.

This is the risk we take when we focus on the “message” rather than the value. It allows me-first messaging to exist in a world where the customer has clearly won.

Message Doesn’t Always Have a Place

A survey by the Economist Group found that 75 percent of marketers fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of content. If you think your job is to mention your product or service as much as possible, you’re doing it wrong.

Content should serve as the connective tissue between customers and the business. Focusing on features and functionality rather than providing answers or insights creates a tenuous connection, if one at all.

In her book “Digital Relevance,” Ardath Albee says that marketers must weave consumers into the content they create. Instead of talking about “the multitenant, cloud-enabled CRM system with open APIs and mobile collaboration,” marketers should “create a story about how their sales team will gain the ability to work from wherever they are with access to the latest information about prospects and customers and to ask and answer questions with their peers, which will help them collectively sell faster and better.” The former is a pile of jargon, while the latter tells a relatable story.

Marketers often hear that we must present the “right message to the right person at the right time.” This is a trope for a reason, but it creates a me-first messaging mindset that can lead content marketers astray. Creating value is the only way to nurture connections and fulfill the promise of content marketing. Otherwise, we risk drowning in a sea of crap with all hope of content visibility going down with us.

Strike Up a Conversation

Customers naturally have questions about the problems businesses aim to solve. Our job as marketers is to dig into these queries, examine the context in which they might be asked, and offer unique commentary — something the Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi calls “content tilt.”

Marketers need to face facts: The B2B unique selling proposition is dead. In fact, 86 percent of B2B buyers see “no real difference between suppliers.” Features, functions, and business outcome marketing earns only a 21 percent lift in perceived brand benefits. Meanwhile, marketing based on professional, social, and emotional benefits boosts performance by 42 percent.

Here’s how to pivot your content away from a series of messages to instead focus on the needs and desires of your audience:

1. Gather data via customer interviews and feedback. Edelman found that 51 percent of respondents in its Brandshare marketing study believe companies show a lack of interest in their needs. We can’t have a meaningful conversation if we don’t know anything about the person on the other end of the line. Use consumer data to craft buyer personas that include information on education, demographics, work environments, goals, and shopping preferences.

2. Study target customers on LinkedIn. Albee practically lives on LinkedIn, studying 50 to 100 profiles for every persona she builds. Seek users who have put effort into the profiles, filling out their employment histories and any relevant awards, interests, and volunteer projects. A rich catalog of detailed attributes will bring your profiles to life.

3. Listen to conversations on social. There’s no better place to learn about your audience’s priorities than social media. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other platforms serve as powerful business intelligence tools. You can discover what people think of your brand and products while monitoring how they engage with your competitors.

4. Review your analytics. Analyze your data to determine what you’re doing well, and target any areas that need revision. Use this information to make improvements based on initial research. You can develop more complex strategies as you proceed. Some areas will require wholesale changes, while others will need only small tweaks to boost performance.

5. Test and iterate, but be patient. Creating valuable, content-driven experiences takes time — certainly more than trumpeting features and prices. You won’t get it right the first time, but that’s OK. Consistency breeds competence.

Consumers crave dynamic, customized content that speaks directly to their needs. There’s a place for educating prospects on features and benefits, but it’s more important to engage them in authentic dialogues and build relationships. Once you’ve done that, your message will form a bond between your business and your customers.


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