Customer Experience, Content Marketing, Incorporating the Customer Voice in ContentDigital marketing is all about content -- any marketer will reiterate that content is still king. Your website, your SEO strategy, your PPC campaigns, your social media strategy, your customer lifecycle programs, your marketing automation strategy -- they all rely on content.

Typically when we approach content marketing with clients we begin with research and online listening. We identify the target audience, we confirm their content preferences, track content consumption patterns, evaluate points of conversion. We capture social channels and communities of interest that matter to the audience, and through social listening we learn what is important to the customer and what they’re willing to share. We conduct all of this research in order to build both the content strategy as well as the content itself. Our focus is on the customer the entire time.

However, we can take it one step further when creating content. Instead of creating content that should resonate, will likely be relevant, and that will hopefully be shared based on a global view of our audience, we can create content that is scalable and that can be meaningful to like-minded sets of customers. The more a customer can hear themselves, see themselves, relate to themselves in the content a brand produces, the easier it will be for the customer to engage. Taking the time to not only understand the audience but to incorporate their voice into your content will show that you truly know the customer.

The challenge is in deciding if you can accept knowing customer types rather than individual customers in order to build a scalable content strategy. All customers are inherently different, so how can you obtain scale in your marketing message while still delivering relevant content that includes the customer’s voice? Just as important, can this be done on a fixed budget that still achieves ROI?

Identifying the customer’s voice

Capturing audience information is a data heavy exercise. There are websites and social analytics that can quickly access large sets of explicit data to help build “standard” user personas and target audience profiles. However, when you begin to document what the 35-45 year old, primarily male, iPad using, director level professional who lives in Chicago is willing to share, you get a much more comprehensive picture of the audience and you can begin to define customer types.

Are videos a frequent content type this customer engages with? Are they "how-to" videos or interviews? Are they short or does he seem to have a longer attention span than two minutes? What type of graphics does the person comment on and share? What about articles? Does your target audience download and share articles? What is the focus of the article? Is it written by an influencer or thought leader, or does it come from peers?

By identifying customer types, you can still achieve a focused content strategy becomes you can create content for like-minded groups of customers.

Using social listening tools like Radian6, Sprinklr or Sysomos, marketers can capture, evaluate and prioritize content that is meaningful to their target audience and build a content strategy that incorporates the right kind of shareable, scalable content.

For example, if you are building awareness activities, we recommend bucketing content objects by customer type. This approach allows you to have the scale great marketing campaigns deliver while also customizing the experience as much as possible. If you are doing customer support, you need to deploy more one-to-one marketing ensuring the message is precise.

Most brands are struggling with this concept since marketing is designed to be deployed at scale and the amount of people required to address individual issues is a big investment. But it is an investment that will need to be made and many brands are experimenting by adding many one-to-one support services to their already existing call centers.

While some organizations are making one-to-one efforts, we don’t believe these interactions can be done at scale. “Scale” and “relevancy” are contradictory terms and in order for marketers to remain efficient and to implement scalable programs, marketing campaigns that can be executed to groups of customers are the most effective way to connect with an audience.

Content development with the customer in mind

Once you have a clear view of the customer types and their content preferences, you can create the right kind of content with the customer in mind. Our process is to develop detailed editorial calendars that map content themes, channels and content types to the customer lifecycle, audience segments, specific user behaviors and interests.

Leverage your understanding of popular topics among customers to create social posts, blogs, videos, infographics, cartoons or other types of content that allow you to become a part of the conversation. The intention is to publish content that contributes to the community rather than interrupt the experience. Whether the goal is to educate or entertain, the content must meet the expectations of the audience and relate to their own story.

You can also literally incorporate the customer’s voice into content which is an effective way to create and grow a loyal customer base, advocates and evangelists. User-generated content is still very much an important component to an integrated content strategy that is intended to engage and retain the customer. In fact, some brands have self-sustaining communities in which the customers drive almost all of the conversation.

When user-generated content is not freely shared, we have found success with any number of campaigns that can be used to solicit content from customers. Inviting customers to participate through story, photo or video submissions; customer service feedback surveys; service or product ratings and testimonials; contests and quizzes allows them to become a part of your brand’s story.

Our experience shows that taking a proactive approach to incorporating the customer early on into the content, as well as recognizing the value in messaging to customer types, will inherently produce more relevant and more shareable content.

Title image courtesy of kzww (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: For more tips on creating great content, see Robert Rose's Creating Content Experiences - Be Remarkable or Fail