By Nancy Liberman published January 7, 2013

Content Strategy: 4 Tips for Communicating at Every Customer Stage

content marketing personalized, useful contentContent marketing has become an irrefutable focal point for many global brands. But it’s not just about transforming marketing and sales collateral to drive a customer conversation and feign interest and insight into customers’ interests and needs. It’s about using that insight on your customer’s digital behaviors to create and publish the “right content” — personalized, informative, and entertaining — in order to effectively build relationships in ways that big splashy TV ads and repetitive radio spots can’t. 

Developing the right content 

It can be argued that traditional media doesn’t worry too much about marketers. It’s concerned about delivering the message in a way that benefits each outlet or channel, and in generating advertising dollars from marketers, rather than worrying about delivering your message in a way that benefits your brand. By taking on the responsibility of owning their communications, brands can begin by creating messages that provide value to their audiences, and then distributing those messages themselves.

Establishing a content strategy begins with asking basic questions, such as: Which customers are you trying to reach? What are your content marketing goals? Customer retention? Up-selling to current clients? Or are you primarily concerned with raising awareness of your brand?

Once those basic questions have been answered, there are several core best practices to keep in mind in order to effectively leverage content as a tool for improving customer engagement and loyalty:

1. Authenticity: Content must be authentic; it can’t focus just on the sale. Consumers don’t want to be part of a community just to be the target of veiled advertising. If the content isn’t informative, engaging, or entertaining, then consumers will view the communication as an annoying disruption that negatively impacts their dialogue with the brand.

The most authentic type of content is true to the brand and customized to the reader, but a relationship has to be established with the reader before this is possible.

Zappos is one company that does this well. Its blogs contain a variety of content that is both interesting to its consumer base and authentic to its brand, such as this video on how to achieve a perfectly modern and bold lip for summertime, its post on “National Wear Your Lilly” Day for Lilly Pulitzer fans, or perspective from a new Zappos intern on what working at the company is like.

content marketing with Zappos

2. Frequency and variety: To create a solid pipeline of fresh, engaging content, a mix of content types can be an effective approach — combining text, images, and videos across topics, which can include new product reviews, lifestyle tips, localized content, quizzes, or open questions and trend articles. As long as there is tangential relevance to the brand, the diversity of content keeps consumers clicking.

For example, many automotive dealerships distribute monthly newsletters composed of a mix of dealer-specific content and relevant offers — such as coupons for an oil change — with destination content that is based on the dealer’s location, as well as lifestyle, entertainment, and general interest content based on the time of the year. The mix ensures that customers and prospects view the content being shared with them as a relevant “magazine” rather than a brand commercial.

For example, a customer who has two or more years left on a car lease can find relevance in opening a content marketing campaign email because they know that there will be information beyond new car details and test drive offers. Often, recipes and general interest content performs the best in automotive monthly newsletter campaigns — like Popular Mechanics’ post on the best vehicles for driving on the beach.

content marketing strategy, beach drives

3. Relevance: Social media, email, mobile, or websites are all effective channels that can be used to heighten interaction with customers. Your choice of channel should depend on who your customers are and what interests they have expressed. Content that speaks to them as individuals and relates to their everyday interests will keep them engaged and encourage them to participate in conversations.

Take, for example, Amazon and Netflix. Both use visitors’ historical behavior patterns to make recommendations on items they may be interested in buying. Content can work the same way. Take a newsletter program, for instance. If the newsletter provider tracks what articles have been read, links that have been clicked on, buyer signals that have been responded to, and offers that have been utilized, future content can be tailored accordingly.

content marketing visitors preferences

4. Transparency: While positive content and feedback is always welcome, negative comments are inevitable. Brands that seek to cover up or hide those unpleasant realities, in the end, only do themselves a disservice. Instead, remaining transparent and showing other consumers how your brand responds to negative feedback and experiences provides a way to actually increase loyalty and positive sentiments.

For example, when an unhappy customer has posted a complaint on Facebook or Twitter, having a brand representative respond shows your followers that your company recognizes the value of each individual customer, and does not try to hide customer complaints or negative feedback.

Transparency also touches on copyright and plagiarism issues, where brands must be up front about sources for their content, including text and images. Brands have to give the proper credit to the sources of things they curate, syndicate, or link to, in order to avoid taking credit for the work as if it was their own.

Mapping content to customer behavior 

One of the best ways to develop a sustainable program leveraging the right content is to use digital behavioral cues that enable marketers to match communications to the customer’s stage in the buying cycle — not only identifying shoppers who are in the decision process, but also finding creative ways to continue the conversation post-purchase.

The typical sales funnel reflects the stages of engagement — from awareness and consideration to decision and purchase. The types of content that will engage customers and prospects will likely be very different at each stage of the purchase cycle — a one-size-fits-all content strategy simply won’t work.

Consider the automotive industry, where local and hyper-local content — delivered through channels such as social, mobile, and email — are extremely valuable to building the customer relationship, particularly at the dealership level. Hyper-local content ranges from information around a dealership-based event or the sponsorship of a local sports team, while local content could be about a recall happening at dealerships across a county or at several dealerships that carry the same model car.

The most difficult automotive customers to engage are those who have just purchased a car or signed a lease. Yet dealerships want to continue to engage with these customers to drive service and parts revenues, even when another automobile purchase may be many years away.

For many brands struggling with establishing a sustainable content marketing strategy that avoids copyright or plagiarism pitfalls, it may be worth considering enlisting the assistance of a third-party partner that specializes in content curation. But whether brands choose to partner or go it alone, there is no debate: Relevant, meaningful, authentic content is key to keeping customers engaged, especially when they’re out of their normal buying cycle. It’s a means of building loyal relationships that last.

For more tips on content that will engage your customers, check out CMI’s guide on creating content.

Author: Nancy Liberman

Nancy Liberman is chief marketing officer for Dailybreak Media. She has extensive experience in branding, corporate identity and awareness initiatives, marketing communications, demand generation and sales support efforts, and budget management. Follow Dailybreak Media on Twitter @DailybreakMedia, or follow Nancy @nancy02129.

Other posts by Nancy Liberman

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottwayres Scott Ayres

    Great post guys. I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment “Relevant, meaningful, authentic content is key”. I think many forget that when pushing out content.

  • http://twitter.com/CajunCopy Jesse Lanclos

    Hi Nancy,

    Great points, especially about authenticity. Give of yourself and your expertise, even if you don’t get anything in return. I have found that caring about people (whether they’re paying you or not) makes people more likely to spend their money. You’re right – nobody wants to be a “target.”

  • GManSEO

    Hi Nancy,

    Very interesting post, thanks for sharing.

    As an SEO guy trying to learn the content marketing ropes I tend to be metrics oriented, and so I’m wondering how you came to the conclusion that Zappos’ blogs are “interesting to its customer base and authentic to its brand.”

    I spent some time poking around their various blogs and I did not see a single blog post that had more than 4 Facebook likes. All but one post had 0 comments, and the one that did have a comment was from a guy who was talking about Zappos’ service in general, not about the post itself. Also, I didn’t see a single post that had earned a link from an external site, although the blog home pages had some links pointing to them.

    What am I missing here?

    Thanks!

  • Nancy Liberman

    GManSEO -

    Thank you so much for reading my post and taking the time to comment. For me, at the core of what’s noteworthy about Zappos’ blog is that the posts have different angles, represent different voices from across the company (and from outside of the company via guest contributors) and speak to visitors to the website with different interests. This helps to keep it authentic. The blog has nearly 40,000 subscribers—subscribers who come back to read content that is tailored to their interests, and that speaks more directly to them.

    Social sharing is only one measure to consider, how many people read the posts, how long they spent on them and the effect that the post caused in terms of purchase patterns are several other areas to consider as well.

  • GManSEO

    Thanks Nancy! That makes sense.

    I’m realizing that a company like Zappos has very different goals for its content than a small business – they have a huge existing customer base they are looking to keep engaged with their brand, whereas the companies I have worked for are looking to engage large numbers of new customers, which requires different metrics and a different content approach.

    Any thoughts on tactics for leveraging content to get new customers for a small, little-known brand? Or is that a completely different post ;)

  • http://twitter.com/HannySocks Courtney Heard

    Authentic content is easier and more enjoyable to write anyway. No one really wants to write sales pitch after sales pitch. At least for me, informative posts are infinitely more fun.