GM's decision to pull advertising dollars from Facebook in favor of allotting greater budget for content creation and marketing may have ignited recent debate, but content marketing has become an irrefutable focal point for many global brands.

But it's not just about transforming marketing and sales collateral to drive a customer conversation and feign insight into his or her interests and needs, it's also about creating and publishing the right content—personalized, informative, and entertaining—based on digital behaviors in order to effectively build personalized customer relationships in ways that big splashy TV ads and repetitive radio spots can't. 

In fact, during the recent Facebook earnings call, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg seemed to support this right content message, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that content fits the channel. She offered this commentary: "When you think about the advertising experience on Facebook, it is complicated, and that's mainly because we're a completely new kind of marketing. We're not TV. We're not search. We're a third medium…." She continued, by saying "The right ad on TV or on search is the wrong ad for Facebook. Facebook marketers need to learn how to make their ads really a two-way dialog with consumers."

 

Developing right content

In many ways, it can be argued that traditional media doesn't worry too much about marketers. They're concerned about delivering the message in a way that benefits their outlet or channel, and in generating advertising dollars from marketers. They're less worried about delivering your message in a way that benefits the brand itself. By taking on the responsibility of owning communications themselves, brands can begin with the end result and work their way backward. Establishing a content strategy begins with asking basic questions such as: Which customers are you trying to reach? What are your content marketing goals? Is it retention? Upselling to current clients? Or is it just awareness of your brand?

Once those basic questions have been answered,  there are several core best practices to keep in mind in order to effectively leverage content as a tool for improving customer engagement and loyalty:

  • Authenticity–Content must be authentic; it can't focus just on the sale. Consumers don't want to be part of a community just to be the target of veiled advertising. If the content isn't informative, engaging or entertaining, then consumers will view the communication as an annoying disruption that negatively impacts their dialogue with the brand.
  • Frequency and Variety—To create a solid pipeline of fresh, engaging content, a mix of content types can be an effective approach – combining text, images and videos across topics including new product reviews, lifestyle tips, localized content, quizzes or open questions, and trend articles. As long as there is tangential relevance to the brand, the diversity of content keeps consumers clicking.
  • Relevance–Social media, email, mobile or a website are all effective tools to heighten interaction with customers. Who are your customers and what are they interested in? Content that speaks to them as individuals and relates to their everyday interests will keep them engaged and encourage them to participate in conversations.  

  • Transparency—Positive content and feedback is always welcome, but negative comments are inevitable. Brands that seek to cover up or hide those unpleasant realities, in the end, only do themselves a disservice. Instead, remaining transparent and showing other consumers how your brand responds to negative feedback and experiences provides a way to actually increase loyalty and positive sentiments. Transparency also touches copyright and plagiarism issues where brands must be up front about sources for their content, including text and images.

 

Mapping content to customer behavior

One of the best ways to develop a sustainable program leveraging the right content is to use digital behavioral cues than enable marketers to match communications to the buying cycle—not only identifying shoppers who are in the decisioning process, but also finding creative ways to continue the conversation post-purchase. The typical sales funnel reflects the stages of engagement, from awareness and consideration, to decision and purchase. The content that engages customers and prospects at each of those stages is often very different, demonstrating that a one-size-fits-all content strategy simply won't work.

Consider the automotive industry where local and hyper-local content delivered through channels such as social, mobile and email are extremely valuable to building the customer relationship, particularly at the dealership level. Using monthly email newsletters to deliver a mix of content, a study of one dealership's communications strategies found that within three months after making a purchase, customers receiving the newsletter were three times more likely to have their vehicles serviced at the dealership, and they spent on average 2.9 times more than those who did not receive the newsletter. 

The challenge then becomes identifying what types of content can best engage customers six to nine months post-purchase. Dealerships want to continue to engage with customers to drive service and parts revenues, even when another automobile purchase may be many years away. In an effort to map the right content to the longer-term customer lifecycle, dealerships often develop seasonal promotions to make offers as timely and as relevant as possible. These include seasonal tune-ups, coolant flushes, and air conditioning maintenance, oil and filter changes, alignments, weekend hours, and ladies-only promotions. Newsletters with helpful tips and lifestyle articles have been proven to be especially useful to influence sales and services revenues during slower volume months, like after the holiday season.

For many brands struggling with establishing a sustainable content marketing strategy that avoids copyright or plagiarism pitfalls, it may be worth considering enlisting the assistance of a third party partner that specializes in in content duration. Whether brands choose to partner or go it alone, there is no debate: Relevant, meaningful, authentic content is the key to keeping customers engaged, especially when they're out of their normal buying cycle. It's a means of building loyal relationships that last.