As consumers, it is easy to see how technology is transforming our experience by giving us the ability to research and compare options when it comes to product choices. Likely, the brands that win our preference strike a good balance between convenience, cost, and a compelling story.
Research shows that by the time they click “buy” – physically, and online – people have done their due diligence. On average, individuals are 57% through their research process by the time they contact a sales person. Shoppers and customers using a web site and/or walking into a store are armed with information and ready to drive their own experience.
By providing options, technology is supporting buyer choice and disintermediation, driving the unbundling of old services; for example cable subscriptions and CDs are one option, streaming just a show or season binging and buying one song at a time are viable and cost effective alternatives.
On the other end of the spectrum, technology is also driving the bundling of new services, like accessing discounts from buying from one source that delivers on the promise of competitive pricing and fast delivery or signing up for new skill building online courses and programs supported by a community of practice and professional network.
The maturity of technology adoption has created a sophisticated buyer who has plenty of product and service options despite fixed time and limited attention spans.
Along with the opportunity for marketers to go direct to customers, this environment requires a more personalized and flexible approach.
The Digital Advantage for Organizations
Many organizations reap multiple benefits from leveraging digital channels – automating functions that previously required more manual effort, tracking the number of visits to their web site, and extending the option to buy online. Thanks to technology, businesses of any size are able to optimize budgets and drive operational efficiencies within their sales cycle.
For example, buying keyword advertising is a cost-effective way to target people who are in the market for a product; and marketers can leverage systems and tools to capture visitors’ data and serve up content based on their browsing behaviors.
However automation and efficiency are only part of the answer for businesses to take full advantage of new technologies.
If it were true that people just want the most direct route to purchase, the most profitable online destinations would offer as little as possible between initial search and a buy, enroll, or donate button – which is rarely the case.
In most instances, (excluding coupons and discounts) what moves product and initiates sales are customer experience and brand affinity based on personal preference and emotional resonance. Further, when looking for products or services most people still rely on old habits and recommendations from people they know.
In addition to optimizing offers, brands need to support the information needs of buyers and customers during the varying stages that span product discovery conversion, repeated purchase, and finally, encourage referrals, ratings and reviews.
As digital channels opened up new ways for consumers to interact with brands, determining how to tell a single, cohesive brand story across all touch points continues to be very challenging, especially in organizations where the digital team is part of eCommerce rather than the marketing group.
Content in the form of text, visuals, and interactive elements is the new way to create demand by helping create a brand voice and direction through storytelling. The challenge for most digital marketers’ is that their content options tend to be:
- Do their own writing and content curation– which may lead to mixed results given the already full workload, and/or to becoming too entangled in the weeds, thus losing sight of the big picture
- Depend on internal resources– often limited and not directly part of the eCommerce group – as is often the case with subject matter experts who tend to work with either the marketing and/or communications group
- Outsourcing content creation – in this case, scale can be achieved through a well-orchestrated strategy, execution discipline, and strong collaborative skills; however, the issue of control comes into play
Challenge #1: Taking the DIY Approach
While the tech entrepreneur’s touted mantra of failing fast may work in Silicon Valley, most marketers adopt a more conservative approach to growth by forecasting budgets on the basis of more predictable returns.
The need to have direct, and often immediate, impact makes it hard to allocate budgets to mid- and longer-term asset building propositions like content strategy and execution.
The strategy itself is only part of the challenge. Many marketers take on more than their fair share of work and end up doing much of the writing and coordination themselves, making it hard to scale a content marketing execution plan.
Delivering consistent business results across media is easier to plan as part of a paid search campaign. It is easy to see how the odds continue to stack in favor of orchestrating all digital experiences to drive to that last click. However, this option is often not sufficient to build the traffic engine that generates brand impressions at scale, all the more difficult to do when too deeply in the weeds of keyword optimization. Overcoming this challenge often takes a combination of DIY (do it yourself) and DIFM (or do it for me).
After uncovering where they need the most support – people, process, and/or tools – successful brands build capacity internally and expand their capabilities by collaborating with an external service provider as appropriate.
Challenge #2: Depending on Internal Resources
Beyond the immediate marketing group, internal resources are often limited and/or focused on and experienced in other parts of the business.
In many industries, what makes good content work is also what makes it challenging to produce: knowledge of the business it supports, as well as an understanding of how people search for and make purchasing decisions. Few organizations staff the digital group to cover expertise in both, and the day to day tends to become very focused on the more technical aspects of the job to drive conversions.
On the brand side, getting the word out consistently and with stretched resources is often done with a checklist – posting the same content and links in all social networks. However, if a shopper can get the entire brand experience on Facebook, why would she engage with the brand on Pinterest, or Twitter, where the content is just a repeat in a different channel?
Overcoming this challenge requires internal collaboration with subject matter experts, especially in organizations targeting other businesses, which tend to have longer sales cycles, and in specialized industries or product and service intensive organizations.
A good content strategy and plan takes into consideration both organizational culture and the unspoken norms and ways culture is constantly negotiated in various social networks. It also helps determine which presences to build and maintain actively based upon audience or customer segments and business goals.
Challenge #3: Outsourcing Content Creation
Compelling advertising builds brands; yet fewer brands continue to build that way. Further, technology has opened an opportunity for more marketers to directly deliver compelling experiences through digital channels. Many brands make it an either/or proposition, however there is an opportunity to make it both/and.
Outsourcing content creation helps organizations with scale. However, this can only be achieved when a well-orchestrated strategy exists; execution still takes discipline, and strong collaborative skills.
The opportunity to build a direct audience online for many businesses necessitates the development of a robust pipeline of quality content. It takes vision in addition to planning, commitment, and resources to address buyer and customer needs at key stages of their purchasing process.
Achieving consistency with content requires volume; creating signal demands quality as well as the element of surprise and delight. When outsourcing, the issue of control is where most brands struggle to bring it all together. DIFM (do it for me) still needs a strong DIY (and do it yourself) component.
Successful brands balance control with collaborative skills, including with customers – reputational and social proof are now a necessary part and foundation to build a customer base.
Human nature is what makes marketing both interesting and challenging. People approach dry, factual arguments with skepticism, yet when absorbed in a story they drop their intellectual guard and are emotionally moved to act.
Developing content to support products and services beyond the mere facts – what they are and what they do – to tap into emotion – is to embark on the territory of great storytelling, which, in the online world, can be achieved through content.