2014-29-September-Comedy-Tragedy.jpgIn the world of the B2C retailer, a customer journey can be as simple as “ooh, I like that” followed by a quick virtual dash to click to buy. An experience that is satisfied by a relatively simple content strategy. You put related products they like close to each other, avoid screwing up by showing them a ski mask and black gloves because they bought a baseball bat once for their niece, and watch the uplift. 

OK, maybe it’s not quite as simple as that, but if you are in financial services, B2B or sell cars, your customer journey is not a quick dash, or even a stroll. It’s an emotional hike that consists of considerable debate, talking to peers, making the case, chatting with colleagues, researching online, getting approval and then maybe after all of this, a purchase is made.

No champagne corks, streamers or bunting at the finish line, we all lie on the floor relieved that the deal is finally done. Not just the vendor -- the customer is exhausted too. The anxiety of making the right decision has long since replaced the original euphoria of getting something new.

As content marketers how do we help with this?

Navigating a Minefield of Emotions

Along the customer journey a minefield of emotions confronts our brave wanderer. Content marketers need to understand not just their point in the buying process, or their profile that we sketched on a flipchart during the most recent marketing off-site, but that the “Eddie the Exec” profile has feelings too.

We need to dig deeper than a profile and into the persona of that buying community to find out the emotional drivers and empathize. If this is a nervous, cautious buyer, ensure that the case study comes quickly to hand. If it’s an excited, early adopter, tell them how groundbreaking this is and how smart they are for being on the bleeding edge. Smooth their path and reduce the emotional drain of the journey.

Saying we "need" to do this is easy, but today it’s real. We have the data that can take us from a rough approximation of the “Eddie the Exec” profile to hearing and analyzing a million social conversations that tell us verbatim how people really feel about engaging with our brand, products and services, to building real personas.

I've been working with a client where we broke down an industry standard profile into a set of four constituent personas that all had very different emotional and therefore different content marketing needs.

By having insight into the audience at this level, the client can make decisions about focusing investment on their target audience -- where the opportunity is. Along the journey we all have our tribes.

Be Useful

However much you invest in a story about how v 0.5 is scalable and robust, the technology laggard CIO is never going to buy it until version 3, when every one of his competitors is using it and it’s become a commodity. The fact that your 0.5 could be proven technically as scalable and robust as the old dominant vendor’s finest, his emotional need is never going to be met by that story. Better to focus on those early adopter CIOs who see an opportunity for innovation, of being a pioneer and hero of that industry.

Or imagine if you had insight that showed that the socially active persona who wears your sneakers would share content if it refers to sponsorship or fundraising. It would make you wonder what Wannamaker meant when he suggested half your marketing budget would be wasted.

Sharing brings us back to our weary customer journey traveller. We also need to encourage others to put an arm around their shoulder and coax them along the way

Cautious buyers need support from a peer, on top of the aforementioned case studies that make them feel safe and that you are a credible bet for this emotional investment. Seeing someone else sharing news about you, or their experience of making the same decision moves this trepid buyer along on the journey.

The key here (as has been said in a thousand articles about content marketing) is to be useful. I’m not suggesting giving away free stuff, or expensive content that does nothing to move the audience along the journey -- but a fair exchange, that provides them with something in return for being the bearer of your good news.

That something in return is often emotional: that active social sharer feeling good about promoting a fundraising event that you happen to sponsor, or the Twitter follower that wants to look smart by sharing a Gartner report that happens to mention your product. Emotion that is paid forward as your cautious prospect feels reassured that you are getting positive buzz.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” The customer journey certainly does that. And our content marketing needs to follow those changes too.

Title image by Tim Green (Flickr) via a CC BY 2.0 license