- Connecting with customers now calls for brands to create a content-rich experience.
- Driven by data, personalised content experiences are the natural progression.
- PwC and Forbes Insights survey looks at how organisations are embracing personalised content – revealing large disparities between capabilities and appetite.
There’s a famous mantra among marketers that ‘content is king’. It comes from the title of a 1996 essay by Bill Gates, in which he posited that “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”
Gates was right. Content marketing became very much the mode ‘du jour’ for selling goods, services and above all, brand. Some argue that we’ve passed its glorious peak and are now headed for the ‘trough of disillusionment‘ – triggered by technology, the heady promises of content marketing have left some marketers struggling to deliver on inflated expectations. The important side-note to that argument is that those marketers have perhaps pushed campaigns, not conversations; they focus on their brand, not their audience.
I stand firmly on the side of glory: content marketing is in its prime. From cave paintings through to movies, every human is enthralled by a story. Content marketing is essentially a way to tell a brand’s story, bring its values, services and products to life. With the growth of digital tools and capabilities, those stories are more rich and engaging than ever before, reaching into more customer touchpoints and infiltrating further channels every day. The possibilities are incredible.
The story of storytelling
The content marketing revolution was kick-started by the internet and its ability to be a platform for anyone to become a publisher. Soon, the newspaper industry was on its knees, blogging became ‘a thing’ and brands found a new way to reach customers. In the early days, drums beat to the rhythm of quantity: produce regular content, no matter how short – without it, your customers will walk away.
From social media pages to blogs to video tutorials, more and more brands began to produce content. Inevitably, the digital landscape became more crowded. As eloquently explained in a famous presentation by marketer Doug Kessler, this level of ‘noise’ meant that content marketers had a greater need to distinguish themselves.
The user is no longer dazzled by a constant flow of messages – in fact, they’re tired of it. Quality has fought its way to the fore. Good content marketers recognise that if they want to build a relationship, they have to provide real value: to earn the respect, the trust and the attention of the user. Quality is a crucial factor in effective content marketing and it’s why companies started constructing thorough strategies and hiring trained, dedicated editorial staff.
In 2012, marketer Gary Vaynerchuk built on the Gates prophecy by saying: “Content is King, but context is God”. He was explaining that marketers were wasting their efforts if their messages were not contextually relevant. The ‘blanket approach’ was giving way to one that required an understanding of the user’s situation.
With the advance of technology, the increase in digital touchpoints between a brand and its customers and the inevitable rise in data, the next step is personalisation – going beyond just context to understand the individual with whom you communicate: knowing them, understanding and anticipating their needs, and tailoring your messages to create a unique, content-rich experience.
Driving growth through personalised experiences
PwC, in conjunction with Forbes Insights, has explored the rise in personalised marketing through its report Leading with customer-focused content: driving growth through personalized experiences, which canvassed the views of more than 250 senior-level executives at large companies. The January 2016 study discusses to what extent businesses are treating personalised marketing as a way to drive the next level in growth.
The report splits organisations into three categories according to content marketing maturity:
- ‘Trailblazers’, who make up 25%, are the businesses that treat personalised content as a critical element of their digital marketing strategy and intend to ramp up content investment by 25% or more in the next year.
- Most organisations (67%) fall in the ‘Explorers’ category, those who do recognise the value of personalisation and, whilst they enjoy some support for the notion from executive level, are not planning on raising their budget or treating it as an essential element of strategy.
- Finally there are the ‘Nomads’, the 8% that don’t think personalised content is critical nor content planning a priority.
Only 37% of overall survey respondents rate personalisation as critical. Of the Trailblazers, 100% thought it was critical.
Touchpoints and target audience: current state of play
Of the touchpoints that surveyed businesses use to personalise content, mobile applications come first. Residing on the customer’s individual device and with the inherent ability to access and generate data, mobile apps lend themselves well to personalisation, as does social media, which comes second overall.
Breaking these touchpoints down according to B2B and B2C, the adoption of personalised content is only just higher when marketing to consumers, with social media the preferred option.
The majority of organisations surveyed said that they personalise content broadly, using target audience. Trailblazers are more likely to drill down to create more tailored messaging. Over half of Trailblazers personalise by marketing persona, while 43% do so by individual, based on information such as purchase history and other behavioural data.
Personalisation at scale
Communicating on an individual level can start at the smallest end of the spectrum. Of the survey respondents that rely on mobile text messages to deliver personalised content, 80% are Trailblazers, compared to 17% of Nomads.
This form of personalisation can be as simple as a text message that includes the customer’s name, acknowledges their birthday and offers them a gift. It could be an SMS reminder of a soon-to-expire insurance policy, with a link to a form that acknowledges the individual. These are small but valuable steps to creating an emotional or trusted connection with your brand. (An important note here is that while SMS enjoys a high open rate, as with all personalised marketing it must be treated with respect. Mobile phones, particularly, can be considered more personal, and therefore intrusion felt more keenly.)
Moving up the scale, the range of ways in which businesses can create personalised marketing content to connect with their customers is huge. Some examples are:
- Navigating a website that is essentially created ‘on the fly’, with content elements pulled in to curate pages that are unique to the user depending on what is known about them already, feedback from their activity while on the site, and anticipated needs based on wider data.
- A ‘personal stylist’ experience via email or even in a virtual changing room, offering up suggestions for clothes or styling tips based on the user’s budget, browsing or purchase history, their body shape, style, or even known information about events they may be attending (such as a wedding or awards ceremony).
- Promoted content on social media that is aimed at the individual user – not just one advert rolled out across the board, but drawn from a selection of many adverts that each target a different audiences.
The rise of the ‘always on’ customer has opened up so many opportunities for businesses to learn about and connect with individuals. But it’s also unleashed a sea of messaging. Real-time, contextually relevant and personalised marketing is now less of an option, more of an expectation.
Being able to scale targeted marketing efforts presents a challenge, considering the amount of content required – exponentially more than ever before. Also challenging is the ability to stitch together all the different contact points to offer a consistent quality of experience for the individual. However, the mastery of these elements will create value that stretches far beyond the remit of marketing.
Businesses seem to acknowledge this. Investment in content marketing is on the rise, with 87% of survey respondents planning to increase spending over the next fiscal year. Over a third of Trailblazers say they will raise spending by over 50%.
Whether a Trailblazer or still finding your way as a Nomad, each step of the content marketing journey – however small – must contribute to taking your business closer to the creation of an integrated and relevant experience for the customer. Yes, you may be trying to push your brand, but you’re speaking to an audience. The more effort that goes into understanding who they are, what they want and what they need, the greater – and more valuable – that conversation will be.
To read more about engaging customers through content marketing, including the five key practices that distinguish leading organisations, read the PwC and Forbes Insights survey Leading with customer-focused content: driving growth through personalized experiences here.