By Marcia Riefer Johnston published November 30, 2017

How to Adopt a Customer-Centric Strategy for Your Content

adopt-customer-centric-strategy-content

Does your company look at content through customers’ eyes? Here’s one way to tell: Look at your marketing content. For starters, riffle through some titles. Do the words typically convey customers’ concerns? Or do they mostly call attention to the things you sell?

If products hog the spotlight, you’re missing opportunities to build customer relationships and, ultimately, revenue. You’re also missing opportunities to streamline your content efforts throughout the organization, including distribution, management, and reuse.

If products hog spotlight, opportunities are missed to build customer relationships & ROI. @marciarjohnston Click To Tweet

The content team at Red Hat found this out first hand. A few years ago, the team took a hard look at the company’s content and found that it was heavily oriented toward what Red Hat sells (IaaS solutions, PaaS solutions, Linux solutions, and so on). The team discovered loads of diverse content that was hard to find, disorganized, difficult to reuse, and, most importantly, not customer-centric, says Red Hat’s marketing content curator and librarian Anna McHugh.

After the team looked at the content through the customers’ eyes, the path became clear. They created a framework around the audience’s challenges, reorganizing and tagging the content accordingly. They then decided which content to retire, which to refashion, which to create, and which not to create.

The content now better serves people inside and outside the company.

The results? “Promising,” Anna says. Although it’s impossible to tie the content overhaul directly to the company’s financial performance, she believes that the new focus on customer-oriented content contributed to Red Hat’s highest first-quarter revenue growth in four years. Revenue specific to emerging technology (including app development) ­– an area related to the top customer challenges that Anna’s team helped identify and address­ ­­– grew year over year by 41% in the first quarter and 44% in the second quarter.

You don’t have to work for a technology company to adopt the Red Hat approach. What has worked for it could work for any company in any industry. Here’s what the team did:

  1. Identified the business challenges that keep its customers up at night
  2. Adjusted the content framework to reflect those challenges
  3. Tied the metrics to the adjusted framework
  4. Audited the content for gaps and filled those gaps

Drawing from emails with Anna and from her Content Marketing World talk, Beyond Traffic Reports: Using Data, Organizational Messaging, and Passion to Reinvigorate Your Content Strategy, this post sums up how the Red Hat content team did all this and how you can, too.

1. Identify the business challenges that keep your customers up at night

Before you can organize your content in customer-centric ways, you must identify your customers’ top challenges. For starters, Anna says, learn what you can from your sales team: “Sit down with them and say, ‘OK, what are you consistently seeing and getting questions about?’ That input helped us flesh out our customers’ business challenges and the use cases that fall under them.”

Identify customers’ top challenges before organizing #content in customer-centric ways. @amchughredhat Click To Tweet

Based on conversations with Red Hat salespeople, customers, and partners, a cross-functional team (including the content team) evaluated the company’s buyer personas and came up with the top four challenges facing their customers and prospects. As Anna explains: 

The evaluation was all about getting real-life feedback from potential Red Hat customers rather than relying on the formal personas to decide what to create and distribute. Our research also helped Red Hat refine and deepen its understanding of the personas and flesh them out.

Today, the four challenges inform not only the way the content teams plan and organize the content but also the way Red Hat’s sales and marketing teams talk with customers.

When people visit the Red Hat website and click “Technology,” they can quickly find content that will help them because they can navigate based on the challenge they’re facing.

red-hat-website

If you wonder how a company can narrow its customers’ top challenges to four, keep in mind these are high-level challenges. Each contains a range of use cases. For example, within the challenge “build more modern applications,” the use cases vary. Startups and multinational enterprises, for instance, have separate issues related to building apps. “We create different content for each use case,” Anna says. 

Organize your #content by customers’ challenges AND by product categories, says @amchughredhat. Click To Tweet

Anna isn’t suggesting marketers abandon product-oriented content. Every company needs to inform people about its products and services. Her point, she says, is:

For your sales and marketing to succeed, demonstrate empathy and understanding of your customer’s problems, and then kick off conversations with them about how you can help.

2. Adjust your content framework to reflect customers’ top challenges

After you determine your customers’ top challenges, align your content framework accordingly. By “content framework,” I mean the way your team thinks about your whole collection of content at the highest level, including the metadata used to categorize and otherwise tag content.

I’m talking about the behind-the-scenes way your team sees your content hanging together, the buckets it falls into. Before this initiative, Anna says, Red Hat had no metadata strategy to help people find useful, customer-relevant content:

It became clear that it was not just the content itself that needed to become more customer-focused but also the mechanisms and structure for creating, sharing, and reusing that content.

Anna emphasizes the importance of labeling content such that it helps employees, customers, and prospects find or analyze the content they care about. Whether she uses the term “taxonomy,” “tagging,” or “labeling,” her main takeaway is: Identify topics with metadata that enables everyone to easily discover groupings and relationships between pieces of content.

Give your metadata as much attention as your content. Otherwise, your company doesn’t get full value from its content as a business asset.

Give your metadata as much attention as your content, says @amchughredhat via @marciarjohnston. Click To Tweet

CMI’s recent content management and strategy research confirms that while 92% of respondents say their brands view content as a business asset, few marketers have the processes and tools to make this a reality. Key to those processes and tools is strategic use of metadata, including taxonomy.

Anna’s experience supports this observation:

Sometimes when I talk about taxonomy, people’s eyes glaze over. Sometimes they understand – aha – it’s about how we label all those pieces and how we find the ones we want and link them together.

A thoughtfully designed, well-executed taxonomy (here’s one example) forms the backbone of all the analytical work Anna does. It enables her to say, “OK, I want to see all the content related to this product and this topic and this persona and see how it’s been doing and see what we need to improve.”

To use and analyze your #content profitably, tag it thoughtfully, says @amchughredhat. Click To Tweet

While Anna avoids adding to the Red Hat taxonomy whenever possible – taxonomies can get unwieldy quickly – she decided that the top four customer challenges merited new tags. And each piece of content needed one or more of those tags to indicate which of the four main customer challenges it addresses. As Anna explains:

Adding the new tags to all our existing content meant tagging a lot of pages and a lot of collateral. I drank gallons of coffee and knocked out the job in a couple of days.

Thanks to Anna’s caffeine-aided dedication to applying metadata to thousands of pieces of content, people can now browse the Red Hat site under the subject of “technology” by clicking around in four categories that reflect the highest level of the taxonomy: product line, topic, industry, and customer challenge.

red-hat-technology-categories

Red Hat has other categories for internal use, but these are the ones it exposes on its website today.

Anna’s team took time to roll out the new framework across the company and the investment paid off. Sales and marketing, for example, now know where to find content that addresses customers’ pain points. When the team puts together email campaigns, for example, they know when to reuse what they have and when to create content from scratch.

As your content framework takes shape, look for ways to apply it to every type of content decision you make: what content to create, what content to repurpose or update, how to present that content, and so on.

3. Tie your metrics to your adjusted content framework

The adjusted content framework, with its rigorous approach to tagging, enables the content team to glean new insights through the measurement tools across all platforms. These tools include Adobe Analytics (not all that different from Google) and internal tools used by Red Hat’s salespeople to pitch content and collateral.

The content team can now look beyond web traffic and downloads to see how their own salespeople use the content. As Anna says,

We have a slick tool, Highspot, that shows us who is pitching the content to which accounts within Salesforce. We call our instance of this tool the Red Hat Content Hub. It enables us to merge all that data and look at a report that says, ‘OK, this is how we use this content internally, and this is how people use it outside of our organization.’

A shared understanding of the top customer challenges can help “slice and dice your content performance data to get a fuller picture of a prospect’s needs, which helps your sales representatives create a unique relationship with them,” Anna says. For instance, if a customer researches more than one challenge or investigates several related use cases, sales reps get a better idea of that person’s needs.

This shared understanding of people’s challenges also helps teams align organization-wide messaging and optimization. At Red Hat, marketing focuses on quarterly editorial themes, most of which are derived from or directly related to the customer challenges. “By watching engagement data for specific themes during a set period,” Anna says, “we’ve gained additional insight into the customer challenges, and we’ve built on that by optimizing assets that did well when featured.”

4. Audit your content for gaps and fill those gaps

After you identify your customers’ top challenges, you want to know how much content you have that addresses them. You also want to know what content gaps you need to fill. To learn these things, inventory and audit your content.

Now that Red Hat’s content team knows what they have and how to find it, they spend a lot of time repurposing and curating content. “When you come up with a new framework like this, it’s tempting to create a bunch of new content related to it,” Anna says. Red Hat didn’t have to do this. The team found it had hundreds of pieces of content that already addressed the challenges.

For example, if someone asked the team to create new content on customer challenges related to using containers, they could point to their 55 articles on that topic.

Red Hat’s new framework ­– based on its top customer challenges – has helped the team see what content they needed to weed out and what new content they needed to create, including pieces like this:

  • Vendor-agnostic guides
  • Conversation guides
  • Sales presentations
  • Marketing collateral

Here are three examples of marketing collateral developed by Red Hat to directly support the customers’ challenges.

red-hat-marketing-collateral

Click to Enlarge

Look closely at these three titles, and you’ll see parallels in the phrasing of the top four customer challenges.

  • “Integrating Modern Infrastructure and Services” addresses the second challenge (integration).
  • “Answer Digital Demand With Cloud Infrastructure” addresses the third challenge (cloud infrastructure).
  • “Optimize IT to Help Your Organization Grow” addresses the first challenge (optimizing what you have).

red-hat-by-challenge

These new pieces of collateral have proven especially helpful to salespeople and to the marketing and events teams, Anna says.

Conclusion

For all the time and coordination it takes to pivot from a product-centric to a customer-centric focus, the benefits are worth it:

  • Stronger empathy for and alignment with the customer, which transforms transactional relationships into holistic relationships and leads to more sales
  • A clearer sense of purpose for the organization, which feeds innovation and collaboration
  • Purposeful, transparent content creation, distribution, and reuse

Is your company taking steps to make its own pivot? How’s that effort going? Tell us in the comments.

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by the sources, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Make plans today to learn in person to boost your knowledge about how to implement a customer-centric content framework. Register to attend Intelligent Content Conference March 20-22 in Las Vegas.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

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