By Rahel Bailie published June 22, 2010

Don’t Think Marketing. Think Relationship.

The quest for the right mix of content on a corporate site is the holy grail for marketing groups. In a very common scenario, marketing  departments are given the budgets to develop content, and they create marketing material that is clean, crisp and clear. They plan content so that visitors are led down a compelling and attractive path to the shopping cart. It’s like coercing consumers down the aisle to a shotgun marriage.

Reality, however, is that consumer behavior doesn’t work that way. Much like the pick-ups lines don’t turn the head of prospective dates, marketing content isn’t always what turns browsers into buyers. Marketers may think they know what content consumers want, but it doesn’t address the real needs of those who are looking at the buy as the beginning of a relationship.

This post takes you through four common pitfalls marketers experience when trying to match content to customer needs.

The marketing side of your website is not the only place people look for information

The reliance on traditional marketing material to promote and sell a product can be short-sighted. What if customers are not using your marketing content to make their purchasing decisions? Just like rehearsed pick-up lines don’t always work, well-crafted marketing copy doesn’t always turn a buyer’s head, either.

Customers generally don’t come in through your home page, or meekly follow your path to the shopping cart. Instead, as shown in a user session of a usability study documented by Jakob Nielsen, consumers will determine their own path, and rely on alternate content sources, such as search, reviews, vendors, and retailers to eventually reach what they feel are informed decisions. Consumers won’t change their info-gathering behavior, so it’s up to you to anticipate their natural behavior patterns.

Takeaway: Do you know how your audience is getting information about your products, and are you accommodating their search patterns?

You’re focused on the sale; focus on the relationship

Converting a visitor to a buyer is a single-point focus. Focusing on the sell is a little like, to use a dating metaphor, focusing on getting to the altar. It’s the “strut your stuff” approach to win someone over. But anyone who is married knows that keeping a relationship going – the hard work of staying married – happens after the wedding.

Similarly, the work of getting new customers depends on keeping existing customers. A customer makes their first purchase only once. The maintenance of the relationship, to build enough brand loyalty to ensure repeat business, garner positive consumer reviews, and promote social goodwill, is where the work begins. Marketing may think “dating” content, but in reality, it’s “relationship” content that often converts browsers to buyers. What is the answer when consumers ask: When I need product support, can I find the content I need? Can I find what I need online, quickly and freely, or is it hidden and unavailable?

Takeaway: Does your website think about the sale, or are you thinking about the after-sale material they’ll investigate before they make their purchase?

You’re guessing at the content your customers need

Not getting to know your customer and what content they want is a toxic side-effect of focusing on the shotgun wedding, and not on the ensuing relationship. Consider this scenario that recounts a usability study for a company that markets power inverters: the site had white papers, testimonials, product descriptions, and case studies, but the test subjects looked for purchase-decision content by searching for terms like “1000 watt” and “surge capability.” In other words, they didn’t need to learn about inverters; they simply wanted to find the right inverter for their needs.

This knowledge triggered the company to include detailed product information and technical specifications. Instead of slapping some PDF files into an obscure folder, the site redesign included tabs for each product for things like Product Info and Specifications – a place where their relatively technical consumers could tell, at a glance, which of their products would best suit their needs.

An organization focused on the long-term relationship, not just the wedding, would know that for their prospective customers, the detailed product specification is the decision-making content. As Daniel Lafrieniere points out, it’s the consumers who decide what content is important.

Takeaway: Do you truly know what information your website visitors are looking for? And is it organized in a way that your readers can easily get answers to their most pressing questions?

You’re trying too hard to impress

There is a joke about how women find men more attractive when they do the dishes. In other words, it’s the comfort found in thoughtful, everyday gestures that makes someone good relationship material.

Matching the content to the entire customer lifecycle gives potential (and repeat) customers the information they need to make an informed decision about their vendor of choice. Likewise, the organization that pays attention to useful, everyday content – technical, training, and support center content that consumers need to assess a product – that ultimately has good relationship potential.

Takeaway: Are you only creating “shiny” content, or are  you also providing “nuts and bolts” content that your audience really needs?

What other pitfalls do you see in the content marketers develop for buyers?

Author: Rahel Bailie

Rahel Anne Bailie is a content strategist with a skill set encompassing content management, business analysis, information architecture, and communications. She operates Intentional Design, helping clients analyze their business requirements and spectrum of content to get the right fit for their content development and management needs, and facilitates transitions to new business processes, content models, and technology implementations. Follow her on Twitter @rahelab.

Other posts by Rahel Bailie

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  • jefflogden

    I love this post, Rahel. I'm in total agreement with the relationship angle and the fact that shiny content (a fancy sports car?) does not build a relationship. Your “washing dishes” analogy points to the power of little things.

    I believe there are 6 keys to success today. Simplify, Entertain, Educate, Serve, Share, Listen.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    President, Find New Customers

  • jeff_molander

    What do you think about marketers who use content that is irrelevant to their customer's needs — but clearly of interest. The general idea is to acquire long-term relationships with prospective customers by handing out candy. Then offer them occasional calls to action that either solicit a purchase directly or garner momentary “need state” information about them as part of a trade-off they're willing to make (ie. enter a sweeps). The actual case I'm describing can be found here (skip down to “The System Revealed” section).

    Many thanks for your critical thoughts. Your entry is hitting on a subject that very few people are talking about. It's different than what I'm describing — but related. I'm writing a prescriptive book wherein “content marketing” is one of the cures… so your entire take on how to best (thoughtfully) apply content has my interest. That is, viewed from a customer life cycle perspective.

  • Rahel Bailie

    Jeff M, your comment about “handing out candy” sounds like enticement, but is it entrapment? If the consumer wants a relationship, do you have to hand out candy to lure them? I'd wager it works when the relationship is ripe to happen and the candy is the tipping point. I must admit that I have 101 emails that come into my bulk mail account that I daily delete, unread, because I took some candy a long time ago. Now, I either can't get rid of my “stalkers” or can't be bothered. What would entice me? Uh, nothing. Either I, as a consumer, want an ongoing relationship with a vendor, or it was a “one night stand” and there's no further relevance. It's up to the vendor to figure out when a relationship is in order, and when it's not. For example, I may want to connect with a moving company – until my move. After that, I hope to not need them for a decade or so, and really don't need a relationship with them, no matter how badly they want me.

    Here's to opening up the conversation!

  • Rahel Bailie

    Jeff O, I might add “Personalize” to your keys to success. A friend once gave me the example of a travel service that sent email blasts for a family demographic (he's gay, no kids). The relationship failed because they couldn't/didn't figure out how to send him info on, say, gay cruises while providing family-friend cruise info to those with kids. The technology is there, but the will wasn't. When organizations provide both, magic can happen.

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