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Becoming Customer-Centric – The Evolution of Content Marketing

Brands are in a revolution and fighting on several fronts – to stay relevant, to beat off the digital disruptors as in #FinTech, and to be able to truly know how to move beyond the mantra of becoming customer-centric to being able to make it happen. A key element of that move is in having integrated digital platforms and a component of it is in being able to effectively deploy content via a social workforce.

People trust official marketing and corporate channels less

It’s not news that people trust information from other people more than brands and crafted “messages”. A brand still remains a promise of the value you’ll receive, but the further the recommendation from the “brand engine” the higher the perceived credibility of that promise. Creative advertising remains at the centre of the “brand engine” while the new content strategy moves to the edges.

The art of creative advertising is to try to jump that gap of mistrust using themes that connect and resonate e.g. BUPA,  and I guess the mechanics of value-based advertising is to place a very simple “proof-point plus offer” in front of people on as many appropriate occasions as possible e.g. TPG. It’s said that creativity remains the last and most enduring competitive advantage. Perhaps it’s culture, but nevertheless it could well be creativity. The weakness of that argument for 99% of businesses is that their “creative” advertising is hardly creative, in fact it’s often boring.

Creative advertising requires a large budget and the constant flow of new campaigns, and value-based advertising requires a very clear point of difference, often lower price or more for your money.

For most businesses life is more complicated, and that’s where the role of content marketing comes in.

Content marketing, as opposed to brand promotion, is also not new, although it is not widely being executed well or comprehensively or at scale. Although content marketing is still something many businesses are struggling to adopt, the source of brand power today has already moved on to require a more intimate relationship between content, employees, customers and other stakeholders.

Companies like Dell and EMC have been motivating and enabling expert staff to write and communicate directly with their outside ecosystem for a long time using social technologies, along with IBM for example. More recently IBM has moved on to deploy a very focused large-scale program to enable employees to advocate in their own style using a wide range of content including their specific expertise.

In this move to employee and stakeholder advocacy, on a large scale, the usual concept of content marketing has become just one piece in a larger jigsaw puzzle of advocacy and customer-centricity.

We know that advocacy drives business, and advocacy at scale drives more business. This simply cannot be achieved by outsourcing more Marketing-led content production to ex-journalists or copywriters.

The answer lies within the passion and purpose of employees and the extended social networks and stakeholder networks, and in developing social media strategies which specify the relationships to be nurtured and the expected business value expected to accrue from those relationships.

The new objectives are to help employees with their brand storytelling, and to facilitate participatory storytelling by all stakeholders.

Data is the new creative

Continually having to come up with the next feel-good emotive campaign is challenging, expensive, tiring and never-ending.

In contrast, in the world of brand storytelling the content is real and inspiring and constantly springs from the well of employees and other advocates. Of course this does not happen on day one, it is a process. Those that are moving down this track know that it is quite a long process as it is more about culture than content per se.

What underlies the journey are two vital pieces of infrastructure:

  • Firstly, data capability. The ability to research data from the web and social and search and competitors to come up with the underlying brand narrative. The data to say what content is working and not working, and what content is working for competitors. The data to know which stakeholders are performing well and what lessons that provides to others. Data provides the source of new ideas and the facts for course correction. Indeed, data is the new creativity.
  • Secondly, process capability. The infrastructure to support collaborative content production, and asset management e.g. images, videos, documents. The infrastructure to apply workflow, scheduling and governance. The infrastructure to monitor and respond to content engagement. And, the infrastructure to report and compare content and participant performance and to adjust course as necessary to develop better advocacy.

These two pieces of vital infrastructure are related. If the data is only available in disparate social and content and marketing systems then it will be inefficient and perhaps not possible to view the necessary performance data.

Digital Customer Centric modelThe rise of complete integrated platforms, like Spinklr, is an answer to the need for digital customer-first strategies which are driven by complete and insightful data.

Along with infrastructure a sound methodology is needed, and such methodologies are not so common. KINSHIP uses the following phases:

  • Phase 1 – Developing the Digital Narrative
  • Phase 2 – Digital Channel Strategy
  • Phase 3 – Participatory Storytelling (as in brand story syndication with employees)
  • Phase 4 – Content Performance Analytics
  • Phase 5 – Activating Stakeholder Advocacy (enabling employees, customers and partners to tell their own stories)

Ultimately the biggest challenge is in the culture and in building a web of trust with employees and business partners. But integrated infrastructure and data are tickets to the new game of social employees and brand storytelling.

Reading: The Most Powerful Brand On Earth (2013), How Social Employees are the New Marketing Channel (2016)

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Walter Adamson
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