By Stephanie Stahl published April 18, 2019

Content + Tech: How to Create Better Audience Experiences

Better. It’s a deceptively simple word. Everyone always wants better. The next draft should be better; the next project should be better; the next reviews; and so on. Better indicates progress.

But the path to better isn’t always clear.

Better is a deceptively simple word. The path to better isn’t always clear, says @EditorStahl. #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

When we conceived ContentTECH Summit, we set out to offer a path to “better” areas where enterprise content teams struggle. Specifically, we wanted to help content professionals figure out the processes and technologies that let them provide their audiences with better (there’s that word again) digital experiences.

By the time the conference came to a thrilling close with an impassioned speech from punk icon (and so much more) Henry Rollins, attendees saw many practical signposts on the road to better.

I’ll come back to Henry’s ideas, but first, here are a few other highlights and useful lessons that should prove useful whether you joined us at ContentTECH Summit or not.

Strategy (not technology) drives better experiences

We love technology. The innovation in content tech is astounding. But if you look only to technology as the answer to delivering better audience experiences, you might be heading down the wrong path. Consider the statistics CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose shared during his opening keynote presentation:

  • Tech spending outpaces every other category in marketing budgets – including employees and agency support – eating up 29% of total marketing budgets, according to a recent Gartner study.
  • Yet only 16% of marketers in CMI’s soon-to-be-released 2019 Content Strategy and Management research say they have the right technology to manage content across the enterprise.
Only 16% of marketers say they have the right tech to manage #content across enterprise. @CMIContent #research Click To Tweet
  • Another 42% in the CMI study say they have the right technology, but they’re not using its potential. (Watch for the full findings from the new research next week.)

These symptoms describe the paralyzing tech debt Robert has written about, in which content teams end up stuck in perpetual selection or implementation cycles. The burden of this debt is profound. While tech should enable the creation of amazing experiences, constantly adjusting to new requirements and processes of seemingly endless tech mandates and purchases often hobbles marketers.

Getting to better

There is a way out. Robert says content teams should be able “to create owned media experiences at the speed of media buying.” That certainly comes pretty close to the big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) category, requiring long-term changes in the structure of marketing, content, and IT teams.

Whether it’s ultimately achievable, the agility needed to work toward a BHAG like that also promotes integration – a shared understanding of what’s to be accomplished and an agreement on how to get there.

To get there, though, you have to lead with the desired customer experience, not tech requests or requirements.

Lead with the desired customer experience, not tech requests or requirements. @Robert_Rose #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

Need proof? Take it from Shiva Mirhosseini, who led a massive revamp of the customer communications experience at insurance giant Aetna. Only about 20% of what she described as a Herculean task revolved around technology. The rest involved reimagining and mapping communication from the customer’s point of view.

Another way to achieve better integration with IT: Treat content initiatives like products. Products are continuous and iterative, says Amanda Todorovich, who leads the wildly successful Health Essentials site for the Cleveland Clinic. With this approach, there are no one-off projects, just a constant stream of testing and iteration ­– an approach IT teams use themselves.

Treat #content initiatives like products. @amandatodo #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

By making (and testing) steady changes to the Health Essentials site, the Cleveland Clinic team ended up with this enviable growth chart (without any major site redesigns):

The best part? The site’s mission and content strategy remain the same today as in 2012. They’re helping the same audience. They’re publishing the same amount of content. They’ve taken steady steps forward based on product-oriented testing and iteration to understand what works and when they need to pivot.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 4 Business Models for Content Marketing

Analytics (not reporting) lead to better outcomes

It’s almost impossible to improve anything if you don’t measure it. Without some kind of measurement, how would you know if changes you make lead to anything “better”? But measuring alone doesn’t drive change, as Andy Crestodina pointed out in his deep dive on Google Analytics.

It’s almost impossible to improve anything if you don’t measure it. @crestodina #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

Too often, marketers look at their analytics reports and have one of two reactions:

And those reactions are where their “analysis” ends. (I use the quotes because Andy was clear on this point: Reporting isn’t analysis.)

Looking at a report and feeling happy or feeling sad about the numbers doesn’t help improve (or even maintain) your content marketing results. Analyzing the results and deciding on a course of action does.

If “analysis” of your @GoogleAnalytics is a happy or sad face, you’re doing it wrong. @crestodina #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

Getting to better

Instead of looking at your Google Analytics reports, use them to figure out how to improve or evaluate an idea.

Andy offers this process for actual analysis:

  • Come up with a marketing idea (invest in a new campaign on a particular social media platform; create a new content piece; add or take away navigation items on the website, for example).
  • Ask a question that supports the idea (e.g., how much traffic does a given social campaign drive? What content does our audience find most compelling? How well does the site’s existing navigation work for visitors?).
  • Find or create a report that answers the question (campaign reports, traffic and conversion reports, navigation summary, etc.).
  • Use the numbers in the report to make a decision about whether to reject or accept the idea.
  • If you decide to move forward with the idea, measure the impact.

Here’s a handy diagram to illustrate the process:

Empathy delivers better experiences

It doesn’t take a deep analysis to reveal that everybody uses email. Marketers rely on it. Love it or hate it, audiences still engage with it consistently. And research shows it drives more results than any other channel.

But bad audience experiences threaten to kill (or at least maim) the proverbial golden goose, according to Michael Barber, who leads the creative team at Godfrey.

Bad audience experiences threaten to kill the proverbial golden goose. @michaeljbarber #ContentTECH #email Click To Tweet

In his informative and fun ContentTECH talk (Bloody Hell! The Convergence of Content, Email, and My British Mum), Michael recited a litany of bad brand behavior in the inbox, including:

  • Unfriendly sender names (does donotreply@yourbrand.com) convey the right message?)
  • Hidden or sneaky unsubscribe links
  • Creepy personalization (we’ve all experienced it!)
  • Unfriendly mobile layouts (seriously, no one pinches and zooms to read your two-column email layout or teeny tiny fonts on their phones)

Getting to better

An empathetic approach to your audience’s inbox will put you firmly on the path to providing better email experiences. Michael suggests a few rules of thumb:

  • Always begin with hello. It’s like an electronic smile 😊. Use a welcome email or series for new subscribers or customers.
  • Give people content options. The New York Times offers 17 newsletter subscription options. Readers can pick the kind of content they want.
  • Let your audience set the frequency. Instead of offering an all-or-nothing unsubscribe option, give frequency options. Your potential unsubscribers might choose to shift from weekly to monthly rather than to unsubscribe all together – but only if you give them that option.
  • Speak like a human. Don’t write vaguely scary subject lines that sound like the National Security Agency has the recipient under surveillance. You know the ones ­– you’ve probably gotten them after browsing products but not purchasing anything: “We saw you looking …” Instead, write from one person to another. Here’s an example from Hardgraft Michael likes for its friendly, helpful tone:

All these rules boil down to this life lesson from Michael’s lovely British mum: Be kind.

Rise above to deliver better

“This is a big damn deal.”

That simple phrase perfectly summarizes Henry Rollins’ views on content. More than 30 years after seizing the mic as the lead singer of Black Flag, the multi-hyphenate talent (musician, writer, publisher, photographer, actor, podcaster, motivational speaker and more) still travels the world, performing and meeting fans, and doing what he can to help causes he’s passionate about.

And everywhere he goes he hears personal stories of how his words, music, and messages saved someone – from loneliness, alienation, heroin addiction, depression, or another struggle. He heard these stories early in his career (while answering Black Flag’s fan mail) and that brought him to a keen realization:

“What I write better be good,” he said. “Because that person is sincere.”

When you have an audience, you have people who are listening to what you say. And that means you have a responsibility to use that platform for good. Henry feels and acts on that responsibility by doing benefits, donating a percentage of his publishing business to charities, and giving time to his fans.

Sure, it’s a way of giving back for all the support he’s received from the fans over the years. But Henry let us in on another secret of his content empire’s success.

“I am desperate for your attention and approval. You might think you like me, but I am obsessed with you.”

You might think you like me, but I am obsessed with you, says @henryrollins #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

Be desperate for your audience’s attention and approval. Be obsessed with your audience. Commit to making everything you create matter. Sounds like a recipe for better – possibly even best – audience experiences.

Join us at the next gathering of content marketers – Content Marketing World 2019 this September in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today. Use the code CMIBLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Stephanie Stahl

As General Manager of CMI, Stephanie leads the brand’s event, digital, print, and e-learning operations. Previously, Stephanie served as VP of Content Marketing for UBM’s Technology portfolio, providing strategic guidance on content development, content optimization, audience engagement, and go-to-market platforms for technology clients. Stephanie also spent many years as Editor in Chief of InformationWeek. Find Stephanie on Twitter @editorstahl and LinkedIn.

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