Listen to the full interview

You’ve no doubt heard experts advise marketers to deliver an “optimal customer experience” for their audience. But how often have you heard those experts lay out a clear vision of what that means – for content and for the business as a whole?

Regardless of how your brand interprets the term, less than half (44%) of enterprise marketers in a recent CMI study say their organizations provide it across the buyers’ journey.

I recently asked three marketing veterans to help establish a clearer view of what an optimal experience entails from a content perspective – and what companies need to do to provide one. They had plenty to say.

You can read a few (lightly edited) highlights here. To listen to the full discussion, hit play or download it in the player above.

Meet our panel:

Megan Gilhooly, vice president of customer experience at Zoomin Software, has made it her mission to change how organizations think about product content. Prior to this role, Megan spent two decades managing content teams, driving content strategy, and delivering stellar information experiences at companies like Amazon, Ping Identity, and INVIDI Technologies. Follow her on Twitter @MeganGilhooly.


Tim Hayden, president of Brain+Trust Partners, has two decades of experience leading high growth technology firms and marketing agencies. Before Brain+Trust Partners, he headed marketing at Zignal Labs, a real-time media intelligence platform. He is also former head of the mobile program at Edelman Digital in North America. Tim has served as a catalyst for transformational change in some of the world’s leading brands, including Dell Technologies, Bacardi USA, McDonald’s, ExxonMobil, Hilton Worldwide, Kraft Foods, and Walmart. He is co-author of The Mobile Commerce Revolution (Que Biz-Tech). Follow him on Twitter @TheTimHayden.

Buddy Scalera is associate director of social media solutions at Novartis. Buddy is a content strategist and digital pioneer with over 15 years of pharmaceutical multichannel marketing experience. He is an innovative team leader delivering excellence in digital marketing strategy, content engineering, website development, social media, distance learning, mobile marketing strategy, content creation, and enterprise content governance on component content management systems (CCMS). Buddy is an internationally recognized marketing speaker and author of multiple books on visual storytelling. Follow him on Twitter @BuddyScalera.


Optimal customer experiences are contextual

Buddy: As we’re recording this, we’re at the beginning of the coronavirus here in the United States. I’m scheduled to take a flight with my family. And right now, what I want is information. Just before this call, I was admiring the number of emails and touchpoints that I got from JetBlue as they try to get us not to cancel our flights and continue on our journey. I think during a crisis … that’s where companies shine or fall apart. Their social channels are right on it, their CRM direct to me is right on it. [But there’s] nothing on their homepage.

The ideal content experience when there's no emergency is different than the ideal experience when there is an emergency, says @BuddyScalera via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

What I want is content and the airlines haven’t adjusted to it. They are still promoting vacations and travel spots. And what I want from them right now is something deeply personal, which is to assuage my concerns before I get on a plane with my family or not. The ideal experience when there’s no emergency is different than the ideal experience when there is an emergency. And I think my expectation is for them to be proactively making content that addresses the efforts that they are taking.

That to me is part of my ideal experience. And I don’t think it’s too lofty at all for them to step up in contextually relevant situations and begin to take a lead with their content. It’s not just when things are going well, it’s when things aren’t going well.

They personalize to be helpful, not intrusive

Megan: I worked in addressable television 15 years ago. There’s a big difference in how it was done then to how we could potentially do it today. We used to personalize by addressing a demographic. Today a demographic isn’t good enough. If you’re addressing a demographic, people are going to see right through it and say, “No, I’m not just that demographic.”

But if you’re serving up content that is specific to a person’s behaviors, a person’s purchases, then it can be more seamless. You’re actually being helpful to them. And I think helpfulness is one of the keys to personalization.

Personalizing content to a person’s behaviors creates a more seamless, helpful experience than addressing them by demographic, says @MeganGilhooly via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

I often talk about helpful personalization as, for example, when Starbucks sends me a free drink on my birthday. That’s helpful because I’m addicted to my favorite drink at Starbucks. On the flip side, I got a happy birthday text from an eye doctor that I had taken my daughter to once – and I didn’t even really remember them. They had the capability of personalizing something to me, but it was frustrating because I didn’t know this person. If every person I’d ever gone to visit on a professional level sent me a text on my birthday, that would be really inconvenient, right?

I think the idea of helpfulness is something to consider – to make sure that you’re not being creepy. The second thing is segmentation. What are you segmenting to?

Let’s say I am working for AARP. There’s a specific demographic. If, on the other hand, I’m Netflix and I try and segment by age, I’m probably going to get it wrong. Just because somebody is older doesn’t necessarily mean they like something better. Or just because mothers like something doesn’t mean that I’m going to like it.

They’re unified (and potentially complicated) by tech and data

Tim: We have more data than we’ve ever had before. We’ve had more connection points. We have connected vehicles; we have connected homes. These are all extensions of a journey that smartphones put on overdrive starting 10 to 12 years ago.

[There’s a] rising tide of cloud management platforms and customer data platforms that allow you to unify data across the sea of tools you have in place right now to manage the multiple email addresses and multiple payment methods, multiple social networks, IP addresses/Wi-Fi addresses that people use to connect with a brand.

The big challenge in using AI to personalize experiences at scale is integration plausibility, not tech capability, says @TheTimHayden via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Those are enabling brands to build a holistic picture of every customer and do a better job with segmentation, which allows you to start to manage personalization at scale. I think the big X-factor in all this – and the thing that’s really scary – is that all of the respective tools and systems that you use with software as a service, whether it’s for managing email and marketing automation, or it’s for social media management, or it’s for payment processing, all of them purport to bring artificial intelligence into the picture to help you automate your operations. And the big challenge that we’re seeing is not that we don’t have what’s possible, it’s that I’m not sure most brands are employing what’s plausible.

You’re going to have artificial intelligence or machine learning coming from different tools, different systems within a technology stack that may conflict with each other. They have different business rules. They algorithmically have been designed differently to do different things.

When you start to combine these things, when you start to integrate systems for the need to have that full unified picture of customers to do better segmentation, to deliver personalized experiences, I think you’re going to start to see that there’s a bottleneck.

The big takeaways

Our discussion made it clear that there are lots of variables to weigh when determining what kind of experience your customers are looking for and how your content can deliver on their expectations. While you won’t find any magic bullet solutions to help you hit the elusive “optimal experience” target, there are a few primary considerations every marketer should focus on:

  • Your customers’ interests, goals, and unique journey – and how they might shift in response to different contexts
  • How to remove friction from interactions that take place across multiple channels and platforms
  • The benefits and challenges of using technology for audience segmentation, content personalization, and creative execution
  • Accessing data to evaluate current opportunities, predict future ones, and pursuit of those that make the most sense.

Experience the full discussion

These remarks capture just a small snippet of a broad conversation on the topic of optimal content experiences. Use the audio player at the top of the page to hear more of our panelists’ advice on delivering contextual relevance, taking an iterative approach to strategic planning, and gauging the marketing value achieved from your efforts, as well as their thoughts on the brand experiences we should all aspire to emulate.

Want to share your thoughts on this article or suggest additional ideas? Email us at [email protected].