By Chuck Frey published November 13, 2016

How to Use Content Marketing to Enhance Brand Perception

enhance-brand-perception

As a director of content marketing for a digital agency, I’ve noticed a pattern as we bring on new clients: Their brands aren’t as strong or as differentiated as they should be. In addition, most of them do traditional product-centric versus customer-centric communication. Their customers have changed, but they haven’t.

As I noticed this pattern, I wondered: What would leading content marketing professionals recommend to help B2B firms strengthen the value of their brands? I asked 14 content marketers representing companies large and small, plus several agencies. Here’s what they had to say:

Deliver value — as defined by your customers

Practitioners must have a deep understanding of what matters most to the target audience — their problems, challenges, and aspirations. Admittedly, this sounds a lot like content marketing 101 — creating customer personas, understanding the buyer’s journey and how their information needs to evolve along it, and proactively answering their most important questions. Yet, according to CMI’s latest research, many B2B marketers still aren’t doing these basics.

As Jillian Hillard, director of brand marketing, small appliances, at Electrolux says: “For brands, it’s no longer a question of how you can use content to enhance the consumer’s perception of the brand, it’s a necessity. Content is the gateway into a brand’s soul, and when done right, it provides insights into the customer’s wants. It’s a brand’s job to understand the emotional needs of their customers and provide solutions that enhance their lives — not just sell them products.”

#Content is the gateway into a brand's soul says @JillianHillard via @chuckfrey. Click To Tweet

Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing, explains: “Your brand needs to stand for something beyond your product or service. So what is that for your brand? How can you reinforce it with expertise, opinions and more through various forms of content?”

Type A Communications’ Carla Johnson says the best way to enhance your customers’ perception is to deliver value with your content marketing. “Think of what your customer wants to accomplish. What jobs do they want to get done? And then use content marketing to help them do so.”

Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures, recommends creating a mental picture of how you want others to perceive the brand. He says, “How will you set your brand apart in the industry? How will your content be more useful and tell a better story than anyone else in your space?”

Give value to get value

Before you can expect to get value from your customers, you first must give value. In other words, to have a roaring fireplace, you add wood and kindling first. It’s up to you to supply the “spark” that starts the fire, figuratively speaking:

“First and foremost, you have to BE valuable. Create content that gets your prospects to think, ‘I can’t believe that was free.’ Secondly, you need the credibility that comes from people outside of your marketing department, most specifically, your customers, says Feldman Creative’s Barry Feldman. “Your brand will be perceived as valuable when customers share their experiences. Word of mouth marketing has and always will be the big dinger.”

Your brand will be perceived as valuable when customers share their experiences says @FeldmanCreative. Click To Tweet

CMI’s Chief Content Adviser Robert Rose says, “If we’re truly focused on delivering value through content — value that is separate and distinct from our product or service — then the experience becomes ‘enhanced.’ This enhancement is what will be additive to the customer’s perception of what that brand provides.”

Velocity Partners’ Doug Kessler says it’s a simple formula. “Before you can expect to get value from your prospects (in terms of time, attention, consideration, etc.), you must first give value (useful, smart, entertaining content that helps them do their jobs or live their lives) to them. It’s a win-win scenario.”

Deliver to existing customers

Often, B2B marketers become obsessed with generating new sales leads and increasing conversions of them. In all the excitement, they don’t invest as much time providing deep value to their best existing customers. If you do that consistently, they’ll reward you with exceptional word of mouth and compelling case histories that demonstrate the value you offer to prospective customers:

Monumental Shift founder Andrew Davis advises: “Set an appointment with your loyalty loop — the customers and clients you already serve. At the same time every week, send them valuable insight designed specifically to foster their aspirations. Before long they’ll think of you as a trusted partner for their long-term success.”

TechSmith’s Rachael Parker says her company develops content to empower its customers to solve their challenges. “But we don’t stop there,” she says. “We view all of our customer-facing teams as a channel within our content marketing strategy. We believe that if we can walk customers through what they are trying to accomplish at any step of the process that will build trust and loyalty with our brand, as well as increase word of mouth about our company.”

Develop #content to empower customers to solve their challenges says @DJRachael. Click To Tweet

Convince & Convert President Jay Baer says, “Many current customers must re-ratify their decision to buy from us every day, week, month, quarter, or year. Spend time talking with them to better understand their needs. Perhaps new product use cases? Maybe a spotlight feature on innovative customers? Maybe tips and tricks for advanced customers? All of these are viable, and they enhance brand perception among a key audience: people who have already given you money.”

Craig Coffey, U.S. marketing communications manager for Lincoln Electric, believes content marketing establishes customers’ perception of the brand. “Willingness to step outside of the transactional relationship and connect our subject matter experts with the people who are trying to become better welders has been foundational to our company’s success,” he says. “It started with our welding school, continued with our first magazine, the Stabilizer, and continues today with ARC Magazine. Our customers reward us for our content by being brand loyal, and forgive us for marketing to them because we provide them with useful content.”

Don’t think mediocre content cuts it

There’s no question about it: We’re in the middle of a content arms race. As more B2B marketers adopt best practices, buyer expectations continue to rise. They demand greater insights and information tailored to their deepest needs, not generic one-size-fits-all platitudes. That means you need to bring your A game.

Tim Riesterer, chief strategy officer for Corporate Visions, says, “For your content to flourish and enhance your brand value in this environment, you need to take edgier, more counterintuitive positions that challenge conventional wisdom and run against the grain of popular assumptions. And most importantly, you need to back your boldest claims with original, tested and proven research.”

For your content to flourish you need to challenge conventional wisdom says @TRiesterer via @ChuckFrey. Click To Tweet

As Marketing Insider Group CEO Michael Brenner says, “Just the act of committing to content marketing proves to your audience that you care more about THEM than you do about selling more stuff.”

Resist the temptation to backslide

“The problem is that it’s a lot easier said than done; after a while, most brands find their own needs sneaking back in to take over the spotlight, says Jesper Laursen, founder and CEO of Native Advertising Institute and Brand Movers. “The key to avoid this is to build a solid content brand with a clearly defined editorial mission that is aligned with but different than your business. Appoint an editor with one simple task to do: improve the lives of your customers.”

Build a solid content brand w/ a clearly defined editorial mission says @jesperlaursen via @chuckfrey. Click To Tweet

The common thread of the advice of these 14 content marketing leaders is quite clear: With the proper planning and execution, content marketing can definitely influence the brand perceptions of customers. That’s not to say it’s an easy task. Like any other aspect of marketing, brand enhancement requires you to make a long-term commitment to it — to go “all in,” as Joe Pulizzi has been telling us lately.

Changing brand perception demands extraordinary consistency in all parts of your company’s go-to-market strategy — not only in the content you produce and distribute, but also in the ways in which you convey a unified set of values and experiences in all of your touchpoints with your target audience, including sales and product support.

See how more of the best brands on earth are conquering their content marketing challenges. Download our e-book: Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Chuck Frey

Chuck Frey is the director of content marketing at Cultivate, a Milwaukee-based digital marketing agency. Prior to that, he served as director of online training for the Content Marketing Institute. He is also the founder and author of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the world’s leading website covering visual mapping. In addition, he blogs about creativity, productivity and personal development strategies on his personal blog. He has extensive experience in public relations, online marketing, content development and marketing, business strategy and creative problem-solving techniques. He is an avid photographer. You can follow him on Twitter @ChuckFrey.

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  • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/author/roger-c-parker/ Roger C. Parker

    Fine writing, as always, Chuck…love the mix of info and quotes.
    Roger

    • http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/ Chuck Frey

      Thanks, Roger!

  • http://www.skipmba.com Shawn Dexter

    Hey Chuck,

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been trying my hand at content marketing, and this post makes it glaringly clear what I have been doing wrong!

    ” It’s a brand’s job to understand the emotional needs of their customers and provide solutions that enhance their lives ”

    I’ve been focussing on ‘content’ at an educational level — not content that my readers can connect with on an emotional level.

    The only thing coming near that is my ‘About’ page (which in itself needs refining!)

    Gah! Back to the drawing board!

    • http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/ Chuck Frey

      Shawn, an integral part of content strategy is developing detailed personas for each of the audience segments you want to target. These personas go deeper than a cataloging of their demographic characteristics. You need to uncover their challenges, motivations and aspirations – which, naturally, have fairly big emotional components. Once you have that, you can craft stories that resonate with your audience/prospects on an emotional level, which can be very powerful!

      I recommend you search the CMI blog for relevant articles about writing effective “about” pages. The general consensus is that it needs to be couched in customer-centric language. What you do that can make their lives easier, solve problems for them, etc. Not surprisingly, most corporate websites have about pages that are the equivalent of organizational chest-thumping – it’s all about THEM, THEM, THEM. A lengthy writeup of corporate capabilities doesn’t usually connect with a potential buyer…

  • markarmstrong

    I smiled when I read Mr. Laursen’s observation that “after a while, most brands find their own needs sneaking back in to take over the spotlight.” So true.

    I loved his suggestion for how to combat that temptation: “…build a solid content brand with a clearly defined editorial mission that is aligned with but different than your business. Appoint an editor with one simple task to do: improve the lives of your customers.” Excellent.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    • http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/ Chuck Frey

      Thanks, Mark! Joe Pulizzi always recommends that brands adopt a written editorial mission – much like magazine publishers have. It becomes the “true north” that the magazine’s writers always look to – the mission or purpose they are charged to uphold. Mr. Laursen takes it one step farther by recommending a related mission statement for the editor, to maintain this commitment on a day-to-day basis.

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