It’s time for me to face a hard reality: content marketing might not be the only way to success. I know, cue the gasps and looks of outrage, maybe a violin or two.
That’s a statement I never thought I’d write. Me, a die-hard Content Marketing Institute groupie, who may as well put posters of Ann Handley and Neil Patel up in my bedroom. Before you start thinking I’m just trying to stir the pot, which I guess I am a little, let me explain.
The fundamentals of content marketing aren’t wrong: be helpful, provide content people are looking for, publish regularly, optimize for search engines, promote and distribute…all of that is still relevant and effective. But, is it sufficient to drive growth, like real, substantial growth, for your business alone?
The truth is, that for many brands, content marketing alone isn’t a recipe for sustainable growth (I repeat: on its own). Not because it doesn’t work in all of the ways that it’s supposed to (it does increase lead volume, and it absolutely does increase organic traffic). But, there’s a weird tide hitting the shore with consumers; their expectations of the content brands should deliver are changing rapidly and content marketing isn’t checking all the boxes in a typical buying process. It was never meant to!
Which is where the concept of content experience marketing comes into play…
What is content experience marketing?
Content experience marketing is exactly what it sounds like: it is the art and strategy behind what content you deliver to your prospects, leads, and customers throughout every stage of their buying process with your company (B2B or B2C). It involves mapping common experiences your customer base goes through when purchasing your goods, products or services to relevant content that can supplement those experiences.
Why are experiences so important?
Recently at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, 25 CMOs from top brands globally got together to talk growth. Growth and profitability are what we all aim for as marketers; it’s how our value is measured—but beyond that, it’s the one goal we all share and can build a community around. Which was what warranted this meeting, and the greater focus on the concept of growth, and ultimately how to get there.
What really resonated with me most based on AdWeek’s recap of the event was that the recipe for growth seemed to all center on one thing: human experiences.
HP’s Anthony Lucio commented of the discussion “We’re moving into the experience age. No matter what category you’re talking about, consumers are expecting you to create curated hyper-relevant experiences—as long as they consent and as long as you provide a sense of wonder.”
He wasn’t alone in this view; LVMH’s Mathilde Delhoume stated the importance of bringing human experiences back into marketing as well stating that brands should look to: “Reinvent retail and make the product an experience. Experience is not just about solving pain points but about reigniting desire for our brands. Create delight. Create desire.”
I know what you might be thinking: This doesn’t apply to my small to mid-sized business. Or even: Easy for them to say, they’re working with some of the biggest marketing budgets out there. That’s okay, I thought the same thing at first too!
Then I started bringing this concept of “content experiences”, and content experience marketing down to earth for those of us without multi-million dollars to spend per year on branding and marketing. It’s not about the technology or the expensive aesthetics. It’s about bringing excitement and personalization back into your marketing efforts and branding.
Which is why experience marketing and content marketing must now intersect. Take, for example, the many steps of the buying experience your customers have when working with you; how are they being supported by content experiences that wow customers at each stage?
First, what is a buying experience?
A buying experience is a branded path your prospects take through their sales lifecycle with you. This is the biggest differentiator between traditional content marketing and content experience marketing; content experience marketing doesn’t end when a lead has been generated; it includes everything that happens thereafter too. It also doesn’t shy away from being “brand-forward” and sales forward. Let’s take a look at some common experiences your customers may have with you.
In the pre-purchase experiences stage, customers might…
- Read reviews about the product or service
- Read an article or product information page
- See a social post or ad
- Click a paid search ad
- Be referred by a friend
- Watch a video you’ve created
- Attend an event you’ve sponsored, hosted or spoken at
- Read a blog post
In the purchase experiences stage customers may…
- Have a conversation with a sales representative
- Get a presentation of the product or service
- Receive a demonstration or walkthrough of the product or service
- Sign up for a free trial offer
- Get a coupon via email or direct mail
- Receive a proposal, quote or statement of work
In the post-purchase experiences stage, customers may…
- Open or engage with packaging and information
- Have a product delivered to them
- Go through an onboarding process
- Use the product or service
- Ask for customer support
- Pay through a monthly, weekly, or yearly billing cycle
- Leave feedback or reviews
- Take a training course
- Talk to their support representative or account manager.
- Manage their account
I wish I could say that the above experiences were linear, or that you’d be able to identify the exact path customers will take each time. But, consider if any of the above experiences apply to you and your business model. Are you doing everything you can to optimize and create relevant, exciting content experiences?
Are you sending proposals in black and white with plain letterhead? Why not spruce them up with a branded template with visuals?
Do you not have a way for your customers to contact you with customer support questions? Why not add a form to your site for a faster communication loop?
Are you not seeing leads come from your social media efforts? Why not promote some posts, or focus on formats with the highest engagement (visuals, video, etc.)?
Notice that you’re prospects are losing interest or “ghosting you” after your first sales touchpoint? Why not set up some automation and re-engagement emails to close the loop with them? You can elevate things further by creating video check-ins personalized to that contact, or brand your emails to the contact’s company.
Most of the gaps in your customers’ buying experiences don’t need to be filled with super expensive, high-tech solutions. In most cases, some duct tape and creativity will go a long way for your businesses growth plan and content can play a key part in every stage to keep your spend under control while elevating your customers’ buying experiences.
So how does content experience marketing really differ from content marketing?
In truth, the similarities likely far outweigh the differences but there are some key differentiators that create two very different processes when approaching content strategy for each.
|Content Experience Marketing||Both||Content Marketing|
|Includes offline experiences like events, brick and mortar experiences, onboarding, packaging, demonstrations and sales collateral.||Include content strategy and creation||Functions primarily in the digital space, without tentacles in offline channels.|
|Has a role in pre-sales, sales and post sales process.||A mix of branded, and non-branded content for users.||Most often only involved in pre-sales experiences, and aimed at demand generation.|
|Focus on content experiences that consumers both want and need before and after making a decision.||Focus on information and content that consumers need before making a decision|
So, which is better then? Neither. It’s isn’t a one or the other recipe for success. They should work in tandem. Content marketing can be a wonderful way to drive long-term, sustainable lead volume for your business. Lead generation alone isn’t enough to sustain growth, however, which is why creating a strategy around content experience marketing is essential to successfully closing the loop and growing your business.