As marketers we spend a lot of time thinking about how to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.

But what does “right” mean?

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found, rather conclusively, that “when making decisions involving risk, such as an online purchase from a website, consumers tend to rely more on intuition than on deliberation.” Further, researchers found consumers not only made this judgment quickly but also that higher perceived risk made them more likely to decide based on intuitive trust rather than deliberation.

In other words, we might define “right” as more about quickly appealing to emotional and intuitive needs and less about delivering accurate information at an appropriate time.

This emotional dimension is at the heart of the Jobs-to-Be-Done framework, made famous by Clayton Christensen, Scott Cook, and Taddy Hall in their seminal paper. In defining the “job” the customer wants to get done – and that the marketer needs to understand – they say:

“With few exceptions, every job people need or want to do has a social, a functional, and an emotional dimension. If marketers understand each of these dimensions, then they can design a product that’s precisely targeted to the job.”

However, it’s fulfilling on all three of those dimensions – the social, functional, and emotional – that’s important. The consumer’s job to be done isn’t just about delivering the right emotion. Marketers must also deliver the emotion in the best context.

Robert Rose, CMI chief strategy advisor, explores the impact of context, emotion, and technology on content in an interview with CCO’s Jonathan Crossfield.

Delivering a valuable content-driven experience out of context is akin to an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo played in the middle of a candlelit romantic dinner at the finest restaurant. It may get attention, but it’s hardly going to be appreciated.

In other words, optimizing customer experiences – and the key to fostering consumer trust – is not just delivering creative and valuable content-driven experiences, but doing so within the context of where and when consumers expect to see them.

Delivering content out of context is like playing a Van Halen guitar solo during a candlelit dinner, writes @Robert_Rose, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Today’s customer experience is challenged by lack of trust

In modern marketing, this journey to becoming more relevant to the consumer is a well-worn path. At this point, marketers may very well be asking what more we have to do. Are we not already focused on context? Have we not already spent enormously on the development of contextual customer experiences? Hasn’t “the right message at the right time” been the mantra of marketing since digital began?

How do we square the herculean effort enterprise marketers already put into delivering the right message at the right time – powered by so much content, technology, and customer data – with the increasingly frustrating challenge to dig deeper, go further, and be even more “right” than everyone else?

By some estimates, two-thirds of senior marketers use “dynamic content generation” – content that adapts according to user behaviour and preferences – and 73% are using some form of “real-time chat.” And as the use of marketing analytics reaches its highest level in six years, Deloitte predicts the share of marketing budget spent on analytics will dramatically increase over the next three years.

In our experience at Content Marketing Institute, the progress and the frustration can simultaneously be true. It is very likely that investments in content experiences, technology, and data provide value in pockets of the organization. A focus on content marketing experiences has created a lead-generation engine. An effort to implement marketing automation has provided some segmentation capability and insight into content consumption. The tests of targeted content based on visitor behavior look promising.

However, incremental improvements like these can’t keep pace with the emotional and contextual requirements necessary to evolve customer trust. In most cases, at various steps along the consumer journey, marketers are highly skilled at doing either one or the other. In other words, the team has the capability to deliver either an emotionally satisfying experience completely out of context or a flat, factual, feature-based message mapped to some contextual behavior.

Developing trust in context is as much about understanding what experience the customer has just been through as what experience will be delivered next. It is a deepening conversation with consumers that takes place along their journey to solve a job to be done. Today, marketers may excel at optimizing one experience for trust only to see everything they’ve just built broken in the next step, which is managed by another team and technology.

In short: marketing manages the process in silos, and the technology is implemented only to meet the needs of each silo.

The unintended consequences of technology

Marketers have embraced technology to create ever-more efficient processes while automating more and more of the customer experience. However, this puts efficiency at the center of the strategy instead of the customer.

Ironically, this delivers exactly the wrong kind of experience to most people in the buying journey. Marketers strive to convert broadcast media audiences into visitors, visitors into leads, leads into buyers, and buyers into loyal advocates. Thus, anyone who remains at a previous stage is either forgotten entirely or forever labeled and delivered content as if they remain at the stage where they last engaged.

The truth is that these people’s unwillingness or inability to move to the next stage means that they should get a completely different kind of experience than the one that failed to move them in the first place.

And as marketing management technology has stratified over as many digital experiences, so has the data. Ad-tech-oriented technologies capture visitor information to better target advertising. Marketing automation systems capture email addresses and content consumption on websites. Web analytics capture the aggregate content consumption. Then, the CRM system captures and manages customer information and the products/services they purchased.

The result is that audience data across the entire journey is siloed in many different systems, meaning marketers don’t truly understand where any one customer is on his or her particular journey. And while integration between these systems is theoretically possible, few companies actually go to the trouble of attempting the inordinately complex project of doing so. Companies that do make the effort spend a huge amount of time in software configuration and implementation figuring out how to build a singular pool of data, instead of how to orchestrate the actual delivery.

How can a business solve these challenges?

Measure trust, not transactions

One approach is to put customers at the center of the process and see them as audiences looking for excellence in context. As they progress through a journey (linearly or not), they will engage in a deepening conversation with the brand.

To accomplish this, stop looking at buyers and customers as potential transactions that might be persuaded in the moment. Instead, view them as individual audience members moving backward and forward through a conversation that can be improved by continuously delivering specific and relevant value.
Stop looking at audiences as potential transactions that might be persuaded in the moment, writes @Robert_Rose, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

There are three opportunities for businesses to make moves in this direction.

1. Audiences first, opportunities second

With the right technology and processes, marketers can turn audiences into marketing assets. Marketers can then leverage and deliver value not only to those who progress stage by stage down the funnel but also to those who remain at a previous stage of their journey.

By continuing to deliver value to those who remain behind, the resulting data can provide a number of benefits. For example, Kraft Foods looks at the audience of its site as a valuable asset. From more than 100 million unique monthly visits, it collects more than 22,000 individual attributes, including flavor and product affinities. The company uses this data to optimize its ad impressions and create custom segmentation for more relevant and targeted advertising to both audiences and lookalikes.

2. Content targeting from a central point

Almost a decade ago, Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing The Chasm, encouraged businesses to look beyond the “system of record” and begin developing “systems of engagement.” It is time for enterprise marketers to begin wringing some sanity out of their technology acquisition binge. Marketers should simplify and centralize their methods for creating and managing optimization strategies for content-driven experiences. This is certainly a people, process, and technology challenge – but marketers must get out of the business of constant software implementation and configuration.

A wonderful example is what The Economist accomplished in its transition from an advertising model to a subscription model. Steve Lok, head of marketing at The Economist, knew that a subscription model requires readers to have a deeper level of trust in the brand than is necessary for readers to willingly view advertisements as part of their experience. Looking at a unified audience across the journey, the publication’s team understood there were specific segments that already had sufficient trust in the brand – they didn’t need to be sold as they would buy anyway. Some other segments would never have the level of trust required, would never buy, and would continue to read only free content. And, finally, there were audience segments that might be willing to buy if they received additional value to increase their trust.

The team created content conversations across multiple channels for this latter group and quadrupled subscription profits in four years, while maintaining a much more effective advertising spend.

3. The rise of emotional data

Data, and how quickly it can be acquired, has become the gold standard as well as a buzzword for many businesses. Every day, it seems new technology solutions promise to help marketers understand how to intelligently use all the data at their disposal. But the one attribute that technology cannot solve is the customer’s motivation for handing over data.

“The one attribute technology cannot solve is the customer’s motivation for handing over data,” writes @Robert_Rose, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The emotion behind the data may be the strongest determinant of its value – and its accuracy. Emotion in data lies in how and why it was gathered. The key power of trustworthy content, delivered in context, is that the audience provides insightful information in return. Consumers share accurate data in exchange for something they perceive as valuable, whether that be entertainment, engagement, or true utility supporting a job to be done. When one compares this to gating an asset behind a registration firewall or scraping data from an ad the consumer had no choice but to see, one begins to understand how the value of that data starts to increase. Emotional data is simply more valuable than data gathered through surveillance or an enforced approach.

The successful businesses of tomorrow are creating connected networks of highly specific, interactive content experiences across paid, owned, and earned media. These businesses are measuring their ability to create trust with audiences rather than transactions with buyers. They are creating content-driven experiences focused on what customers care about, based on their passions, questions, needs, and wants.

Marketers should first see the entirety of marketing as a means of building trust according to the preferences of people who make up their audience. Then they can begin using that affinity to develop better and more personalized experiences for the individuals in that audience. Then, and only then, will customers see more value from the marketer’s brand than from the competitor.