Marketers have long sought to increase the value of their products and services to tip the scale in their favor, with innovation often being the way.
That’s now what consumers expect. And, the truth is, in most industries customers cannot distinguish between the offerings of different businesses or brands, so they naturally fall back on price to justify their decision.
In a world that wants to commoditize products and services, the most reliable way to achieve distinction is creating meaningful customer experiences that are not easily matched.
Every touchpoint with your business matters, starting from when buyers first make the discovery online to long after the acquisition and consumption of the products and services. A powerful way to enhance that experience is with content.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is the creation and distribution of valuable, relevant and consistent content that attracts, engages and inspires a clearly defined audience, with the objective to ultimately drive pro table actions.”
We used to promote products and services. Now we promote marketing that adds value to products and services at every stage of the buyer’s journey. One could say content marketing adds value that becomes part the product.
How This Works in The Real World
“In order to draw meaning from an example it doesn’t have to be from your world.” – Malcom Gladwell, New York Times Bestselling Author
During the late 1990’s the landscape architecture business I founded had enjoyed a successful decade and was entering another. The market was strong, but our success was attracting new competitors that were quick to copy our innovations.
Just like price points, innovation is readily imitated. We soon saw our growth leveling off and margins squeezed. After a few painful setbacks we decided to break down our marketing and sales process to design the perfect customer experience.
This was still early days for digital marketing, so there were fewer communication channels to manage. That was a blessing because it allowed us to focus on direct communications with buyers. It turns out that personalization is equally relevant to achieving digital marketing success today.
We decided it was necessary to help buyers understand what we were doing at every stage of their journey with our company. More important was pulling back the curtain to also help them understand why.
Our biggest breakthrough was revealing everything that is normally hidden to buyers, something social media does so well today. Experience had taught us that that most customers were confused and afraid, but they still wanted to buy. The reason for their confusion was part lack of understanding, but also the inconsistent practices that were prevalent in our industry.
In a nutshell, we designed a process to help buyers get to know, like and trust our business. We mapped out all of our content, including agreements, budgets, and stories, so that we delivered the right content in the right place at the right time, thereby taking the buyer to a place of trust.
You cannot build trust overnight, but you cannot take too long either. We determined it was necessary to have four interactions with buyers, which was about twice as many as our competitors deemed necessary.
The requirement to meet four times not only served to delight those interested in taking the time to design an extraordinary landscape, it also turned away the buyers that cared more about price than design.
When your marketing amplifies who you are, what you do and how you do it for a specific audience, it repels anyone that is not your ideal buyer.
Now, let’s take a look at specific actions you can take to design your experience driven process and bake that value into your digital and social media marketing practices.
Adaptive Content Adds Value at Every Touchpoint
The customer experience, in my opinion, is getting people to feel something appropriate for the stage of the buyer’s journey they are in. Think of this as a progression that starts with the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).
- Curious about your business because they’ve heard good things.
- Excited to meet you because they like what they’ve learned from that first interaction.
- Patient to give you the opportunity to explain your process.
- Confident moving forward because everything seems to make sense.
- Safe when you get into things that are challenging for everybody, such as budgeting, making choices, and committing to contracts.
- Trusting that you’ll deliver on the promises that you made.
- Hopeful that you’ll deliver even more!
Ideally that sequence loops back to the beginning as more buyers become repeat customers.
It’s important to study every touchpoint with your company to fully understand what buyers are thinking, feeling, doing and seeing, in order to create content that adds value to that experience. There is a simple tool known as an Empathy Map for accomplishing this. You can use a whiteboard to create one and attach sticky notes to it to capture ideas.
Buyers have different thoughts, feelings and needs at different phases throughout their journey, and will choose the business that seems to understand them, their challenges and worldview. In a word, the winning company is the one that is empathetic.
Accurate Buyer Personas Create Insights
After ten years in business we knew the pain points our company needed to solve, but we really didn’t know the depth of those issues. To intimately align with your buyers, it’s important to create descriptive and accurate buyer personas.
According to Adele Revella, founder of Buyer Persona Institute, the most relevant considerations that offer insights into their lifestyle, aspirations, and challenges are:
- Priority Initiatives
- Success Factors
- Perceived Barriers
- Buyer’s Journey
- Decision Criteria
This information can be acquired in a number of ways, including surveys, CRM tagging, and social media monitoring. Yet, the most valuable method is personal, one-to-one interviews.
You will be surprised at what you will learn when you conduct this exercise. This ideally is a collaboration that tells you what you need to know to earn the trust of your buyers.
(Get more content marketing advice from Content Marketing Institute’s own Robert Rose!)
Industry Blindspots Can Be Competitive Advantages
Most marketers place their greatest emphasis on customer acquisition, but that may not necessarily be right for you. As a landscape contractor we had little trouble attracting leads. Our challenge was keeping buyers engaged for up to six weeks to complete our signature process.
As Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute says, “Create the least amount of content with the most impact.” We carefully selected our best stories and other content to create impact during the vitally important phase that ultimately converted their interest into a customer relationship.
This proved to be invaluable marketing because happy customers talked about that content driven experience.
While I cannot speak for you, I’m going to suggest that the most important phase of the buyer’s journey for many industries is after a purchase is made, because this is when most companies are never to be heard from again. Make this blindspot your competitive advantage by dedicating your best talent and content marketing to it.
Buyers no longer need handholding, but immediate answers to their questions. If they do not get what they want to further their journey with your company, including upgrading to better solutions some time in the future, they will move on to your competitors.
At the very least, be sure to get customers on a subscription newsletter that encourages their replies. It’s one of the easiest ways to stay connected and have engaging conversations that keep you up-to-date on the pulse of your community.
Jeff Korhan is the author of Built-In Social and founder of Landscape Digital Institute. He helps organizations create exceptional customer experiences that drive business growth in a digital, social and global world. He is a trainer and coach for small business, and a keynote speaker for the associations and member organizations that support them. Connect with him on Twitter @jeffkorhan and learn more at JeffKorhan.com.