Content Is Dead and We Killed It

Content is the lubricant of customer engagement. Buyers are attracted to brands with content that enables them to make a more informed decision. Valuable content keeps them coming back. Or so the story goes. The reality is we are all sick of content. Brands are burned out from producing rivers and oceans of content. Customers are fatigued by the barrage of irrelevant and often low-quality content. In fact, according to the Economist Group, 71% of buyers/readers said they were turned off by content that seemed like a sales pitch. And CMI & MarketingProfs found “only 54% of B2B marketers are using content to 'delight' and build loyalty with existing clients/customers.”

3 Causes of Content Burnout

Three things contribute to the demise of content: Inside-out content strategy, a plethora of channels and content-centric lead generation. Most content is developed from the inside-out. Various internal teams each believe the customer "needs" to have this or that information. The CTO has a white paper they are passionate about, product marketing insists on a data sheet, the CEO wants a blog, and the list go on. What starts out as a genuine desire to communicate differentiated value turns into a political football — it’s easier to just create the content and get on with life. Lost along the way is meeting the buyers’ needs. Second is the overwhelming number of channels and their constantly evolving efficacy. Determining which channel and format for each asset and for which audience is enough to give you a migraine. Sure, omnichannel marketing is the remedy, yet stitching the systems together is hard and having the necessary clean, complete data is even harder. The third uses content as the tip of the spear. Buyers are looking for more in the moment, contextually relevant ways to learn about brands. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing to reach customers.

What Is the Buyer Trying to Accomplish?

In the thousand-plus journey interviews we’ve conducted, buyers and customers want information that helps them achieve specific tasks. They are unwilling to settle for content that misses the mark. As a result, buying teams increasingly rely on word of mouth, independent third parties/influencers, industry forums and peers to get the information they need. You can start to fix the content challenge by asking a question — what is the buyer trying to accomplish at each micro-moment? Answering that question requires outside-in insights best obtained by interviewing customers and prospects. Keep in mind it’s not about your content but everyone’s content they look for. By broadening the inquiry, you’ll quickly learn if your brand is their ‘go-to’ resource or if that honor goes to someone else. A manufacturing organization mailed out high-quality product catalogs to customers and prospects on an annual basis. We learned from journey interviews that 90% of those catalogs went directly into recycling upon receipt. Customers didn’t want anyone’s catalogs and some thought it made the manufacturer appear old school and out of touch. It’s easier to search and order online. Another client developed YouTube product videos to promote their products. We discovered companies were actually using them as employee training videos without buying the product. According to Sitecore, the true cost of content that misses the mark is poor customer experience, missed revenue opportunities, lost internal productivity and inability to scale. Ironically, companies tend to kick the can down the road. The result is a mountain of assets that aren’t inventoried, are out of date, and in channels that have been forgotten about long ago.

How to Turn Your Content Strategy Around

Here are four quick steps to turn your content back into powerful customer enablers:
  1. Conduct a content gap analysis between your outside-in journey map and current marketing/sales processes to identify what content buying teams are looking for but not finding from you.
  2. Delete content that is not sought by members of the buying team. Same thing for content channels. If buying teams do not use a channel(s), drop it. (This is a good project to outsource.) Don’t fall into the FOMO trap of being everywhere with everything.
  3. Develop persona/micro-moment level content strategy that clearly defines how each asset satisfies the buyers’ objectives, the preferred channel and how to measure success. (Detailed journey maps make this step a breeze).
  4. Repurpose existing valuable content that is in the wrong format. For example, buyers might be looking for statistics or listicles instead of long-form text. There are sophisticated tools available, like SDL’s Content Assistant that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to parse existing content into preferred formats, from tweets to blurbs.
“Where do buyers go to learn about new products and research vendors? Social media. What’s the fuel for social media? Content. So a poorly thought out or executed content strategy can turn off buyers on your products, services, and brand … at the very beginning of the customer journey,” said Carter Hostelley, CEO of Leadtail, a B2B social media agency. Once your content strategy is back on track, keep it aligned to the ever-evolving buyer needs. That means more than just updating your journey maps annually. Look to machine learning platforms for help in tagging assets with metadata to better organize content and AI to automatically assemble new content tuned for specific customers and journey steps. There will never be a world without content. It will look different from today and be delivered in new ways but the content is what informs, inspires and incentivizes. Successful brands will move away from thinking about content as individual assets to managing content as pools of multi-use information elements that buyers have identified as valuable. Those brands that use journey maps to assemble and align information elements to enable buyers to achieve micro-moment target outcomes will win customer preference. First published in CMSWIRE.

Customer Experience Is A Culture Problem

Customer experience has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past four years.  Beginning as a new software category promising to help companies delight, convert and retain customers to where it is today, a business discipline, focused on aligning culture, strategy and processes to audiences’ lifecycle expectations. The road has been a bumpy one. The software category matured, fragmented and is consolidating as vendors and users, alike, tried to achieve the promised ROI – revenue growth from customer loyalty.  Companies ran into multiple roadblocks mostly from employee fear, resistance to change, lack of internal competences and mistaken belief that software could bypass change management. Vendors, on the other hand, introduced a steady stream of features at a cadence that outpaced the capabilities and understanding of the most sophisticated users. An impasse has been reached.  Frustrated users are taking a step back to evaluate why delivering the experience customers valued was so hard.  Robert Tas, chief marketing officer of Pegasystems, a strategic applications vendor for marketing, sales, service, and operations, summed up five key barriers as:

  • Companies structured around products instead of customers,
  • Treating digital experience as a ‘check the box’ and not understanding what it means,
  • Line of business-centric funding model that doesn’t benefit anyone else,
  • Disconnect between employee expectations with them being treated as consumers and how they ultimately treat customers , and
  • Not closing customer feedback loops and being transparent.
“Customer experience is not a technology problem – it’s a culture problem,” states Tas. Breaking the culture paradigm requires different perspectives. “Customer experience is a disruptive business phenomenon,” shares Tas.  “As companies become more data, customer and digital centric, the speed of change will reduce barriers to entry and obsolete organizations.” Customer experience is in the process of being redefined. It’s not software that automates engagement or predicts which customer an employee should or should not pay attention to.  Customer experience is about all-inclusive strategic alignment between the customer’s engagement expectations, brand promise and the company culture behind the brand.  To win, CEOs must be maniacal about that alignment. One company that has taken this to heart is Qumulo, an enterprise data storage vendor.  Karim Fanous, vice president of customer success, implemented a three-prong strategy to align the company to key customers and their lifecycle expectations:
  1. People – empower front-line employees to do what is right to meet customer expectations. Fanous takes a different approach to hiring customer success managers. He hires seasoned practitioners, storage and system administrators, that have scored high on empathy skills. These employees have the maturity and experience to make the right decisions and serve as advisors to customers that add value to every interaction.
  2. Engineering – is required to ‘man’ the customer support center and answer support calls. Having the employees who design the product address customer complaints, questions and concerns results in better designed products that can be produced with fewer defects.  In short, they take more care in doing their job because they are directly accountable to customers.
  3. Automation – to remove complexity from the user interface of products. Fanous found that the ease of product use directly correlates to repeat purchases and higher NPS scores. Ease of use, however, cannot come at the expense of missing product features, value add or differentiation.
Other best practices that Qumulo has adopted include a dedicated Slack channel for every customer that is accessed by all employees; monthly check-in customer calls by sales, customer success, engineering and product managers; and full transparency on company business decisions and performance. The CEO of Qumulo, Peter Godman, is equally maniacal about customer alignment. He mandated a customer-first policy across and up and down the organization. Godman openly engages with all employees to reinforce the importance of Qumulo’s customers and celebrate the successes.  Achieving cross-organizational customer alignment didn’t happen overnight. It took two years and Fanous will tell you that the job is never done. Customer alignment is still a nascent discipline with evolving best practices.  Practitioners are just starting to understand the role behavior, emotion and cognitive marketing have on the intersection between customers and brands, B2C as well as B2B. That’s not to say that CEM/CX software is going by the wayside. Software plays a part in analyzing data to discern intent and context which enables companies to make more effective strategic decisions and interactions to sustain alignment.  CEM, CX, MA, CRM and analytics vendors are not there yet in terms of understanding their role in this evolve discipline.  One thing is for sure, customer experience is not a marketing or customer service ‘thing’.  It is deeply rooted in your business strategy and touches every corner of the organization. If the ROI you sought from embracing customer experience hasn’t been something to write home about, it’s time take to take step back and assess your approach.  Don’t be afraid to hit the reset button on your customer alignment initiative and come at from a fresh approach.  Start with first deeply understanding the customer from the outside-in, aligning company values and culture to, and define your business strategy around the customer. The advice I give clients is simple: Focus on employees first, then customers, followed by simplifying processes and institutionalizing it with technology.   First published in Forbes on May 9, 2016

Sales and Marketing Alignment Begins With Your Customer

50 percent of B2B sales staff keep missing their quotas. It’s a problem as old as business itself.  The culprit, according to sales, is the quality and volume of leads from marketing. The marketing department may be quick to snap back that sales is ignoring their leads or not trying hard enough to close them.  When the squabbling causes the revenue pipeline to become even more unpredictable, that gets the CEO’s attention..... Read the full article on Forbes.

Customer Experience: Is It The Chicken or Egg?

Companies are starting to see the light. They are embracing the principles that Apple, Google, and Philips Electronics have been advocating for a long time – differentiate yourself based on the experience you deliver to customers; not on the products you sell. According to a CEI Survey, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. But only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations. These statistics highlight the magnitude of the growth opportunity before us. What if you just increased the percentage of consistently happy customers by 5%?.... Read the full article on Forbes.

14 Articles Every CMO Should Read

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post “The Myth that Marketing Automation Reveals Buyers’ Journeys” that explained there was increasing consensus among analysts, academics and consultants about changes in the buyer’s journey and the mandate for vendors to adapt to those changes in order to grow. Consolidating the research in one place demonstrates the flood of voices urging vendors to align with the customer, break down silos and bridge marketing and sales departments. Below is a collection of reading materials every marketing executive should sift through. Customer Centricity • A study by Booz & Company found that companies that offered valuable customization in a cost-effective way outperformed their peers in revenue growth two-to-one and had profit margins 5 to 10 percent higher than competitors. • A Forrester report on content marketing emphasized that the right content “requires a deep understanding of the buyers, their information needs, and their content sourcing preferences.” • An article in the International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management recommends an approach where “all business processes and all individuals are focused on identifying and meeting the needs of the customer.“ • Forrester has published a wealth of research aligned with the recommendations we give at New Business Strategies, including reports like “Transform To An Experience-Driven Organization” and “Become Customer-Centric, Service-Focused, And Automated.” • Forrester analyst Ronald Rogowski wrote a post urging readers to improve the digital customer experience. Forrester has also written reports about webinars, social media and other aspects of marketing and how to align them with the buyer’s journey. Marketing & sales alignmentHubSpot wrote a good post about overcoming the blame game between marketing and sales with open communication and more accountability. • One of my own blogs last year offers three metrics to measure the degree of sales and marketing alignment within your organization. • A report by Oracle says the friction between marketing and sales has gotten “cliché” and found that a lack of communication was at its heart. • Research by CSO Insights and IDC have identified four problems with a lack of marketing and sales alignment: longer sales cycles, missed quotas, lower productivity and less sales efficiency. (source) • A study by The Red Herring found that sales and marketing alignment was ranked a nine or ten on an importance scale of 10. (source) Breaking down silos • According to an article in HBR, executives identify silos as the top inhibitor of innovation, but silos can only be overcome if executives can embrace change. • Businessweek provided an overview of silos and some common approaches to overcoming them. • Forrester’s 2012 Tech Marketing Planning Guidance noted that marketing hasn’t made the drastic changes that are needed, because each year’s plan is based on last year’s marketing strategy. • IBM’s 2012 State of Marketing Survey called upon marketers to expand our role in the customer experience and break down silos.