Now content marketers have latched on to the same philosophy, without fully appreciating an important distinction: Content marketing, unlike ad buying, generally assumes an active and intelligent customer who wants to educate him or herself (not simply a target for the right sales reminder at the right time).

Start with a Customer-Centric Framework

For content marketers, true customer-centrism comes from a two-part approach, including programmatic kinds of content targeting driven by customer data on the one hand and marketing strategies that start with the customer lifecycle on the other. The latter should be addressed first.

Currently, most customer-centric marketing strategies are big balls of duct tape (for those unfamiliar with duct tape, it’s a great way to fix just about anything, but is extremely ugly and short-lasting). Email marketers use rules in marketing automations to drive prospects relentlessly through an educational process. Or website content creators plop awareness, education and obstacle-clearing content on a product page, hoping manual links and sidebar elements will fix everything.

In order to put customers at the center of the design of a marketing strategy, marketers must adopt a customer-centric framework. Against this framework, they can then engage in content planning and distribution according to customers’ actual media and channel preferences.

This all starts with an intensive period of data collection to identify what customers are saying and in what channels, at each step of the customer lifecycle. For a recent Forrester report on content strategy, we presented that data collection process as an exercise in mining overlapping phases of customer activity.

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Match the Content to the Channel 

Once a marketing leader has an accurate and realistic picture of customer activity at all stages of the customer lifecycle, he’s ready to start designing a customer-centric marketing strategy. For the purposes of marketing organizations, this means associating specific customer activities (discovering new products, researching a solution or asking a question of a user forum) to the channels where the customer seeks to complete that kind of activity, and then building a content strategy to suit that path.

A few examples:

  • Natural search for category terms drives X percent of product and brand discovery for Brand X, and these have a given likelihood to become customers (of a given value). Marketers tasked with driving or supporting acquisition create a content strategy that applies SEO appropriately.
  • X percent of Brand Y’s customers return to the retail outlet with questions about its products, and the strength of the response leads to a measurable rise or fall in loyalty. Marketers tasked with customer relationships create a content strategy that supports this channel effectively.

Forrester's analysis has identified three layers of customer-centric activity: Reach, Depth and Relationships.

Reach corresponds to the channels, queries and activities that customers use to discover new brands and products. Subsequently, a customer-centric marketing strategy would focus on content planning that drove discovery across customers’ reach channels (classically, word of mouth channels, natural search and advertising). Typical actions here include a focus on valuable storytelling, steady content creation and enabling existing customers to share content.

Depth corresponds to the channels, queries and activities that customers use to explore brands and products. The strategy here would focus on content planning that helps customers explore through their depth channels, such as in-store, brand or retailer website and in email programs. Here marketers apply personalization and retargeting to deliver valuable experiences, and invite customers to create content.

Relationship corresponds to the channels, queries and activities that customers use to interact with known brands. Here marketers should plan content and activities to increase customer loyalty and value. Examples of activities in relationship channels can be as simple as product updates via a blog, Q&A content or enabling fans to express support for the brand.

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Once marketers have begun mapping their activities to customers’ actions, then this guides technology selection, organization and performance measurement.

This is the foundation of customer-centric content planning. And a lot better than duct tape.

Title image by Michael Bravo (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license