person with a disco ball where their head usually is, reading a magazine
PHOTO: Vale Zmeykov

As a profession, marketing is unique. Everyone has an opinion, it is constantly evolving, new technology and techniques suddenly rise and, in some cases, equally rapidly fall from favor. Many marketers have their head on a swivel, trying to look toward the next bright shiny trend, while still running on the hamster wheel of press releases, product launches and social promotion and drowning in a deluge of content telling them 10 reasons why they are doing it wrong.

Our current obsessions appear to be artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). In the past we’ve been obsessed with the digital experience, with relevancy and personalization, with social media, mobile and all manner of trends, channels, baubles and fun stuff — but when you speak to consumers, none of this is at the heart of what they want.

Dazzle With Usefulness and Wow With Authenticity

I was recently asked “what can people do to deliver a great experience without necessarily having the access (or the inclination) to use all the shiny AI bells and AR whistles?” This article is my answer.

In a nutshell, the answer is this: we pare back and focus on the needs of the consumer, do our best to satisfy them with what we have and build forward from there.

So, what do consumers want?

Well … it’s boring. They want useful content, conveniently delivered.

According to eMarketer, 60 percent want to be informed. Social Media Today tells us they crave authenticity and eMarketer also tell us, and this sends a chill to any creative marketer's heart, that often they often don’t want a story, they just want a coupon. They want something practical to help them to decide to make the purchase.

Content Is the Lifeblood of the Customer's Experience

Content is the heart and soul or lifeblood of the customer experience. Being able to launch a wonderfully personalized email campaign, with all the orchestrated loops and swoops of a cloud of starlings (or as I’ve learned, a murmuration) is going to be entirely wasted if the content is garbage. You will just be using this wonderfully shiny marketing machine to pump silage.

There is a drive within marketing teams that we must do something: we have a list, we must email this list, we have a social media tool, we must share, we must blog, and we must do all of these things to support our blog and continue to pump our contribution to add to the consumer's content overload.

We all have amusing stories of when personalization goes wrong (e.g. the website I use regularly: when I am in Germany, I'm not SUDDENLY fluent in German), so lord knows when our mainstream marketing tools give us artificial intelligence and chatbots, we will leap to fill the heads of our obedient machines with more of the same crap.

They say “the eyes are a window to the soul.” This is what an organization's content is. It is the digital equivalent of the sales guy's handshake, the barman who remembers what you drink, eyes meeting across room, maybe a first kiss. It is the first impression of you, your brand, product or service.

There are any number of fantastic stats to support this, but the cold reality is 67 percent of B2B buying decisions are now made digitally, according to Sirius Decisions. I suspect if you are pumping silage, that decision is not going your way.

Capture Their Hearts Before Hitting Them With the Dull Stuff

Write boring content that is the same as everyone else in your market and you will be deemed a commodity, you will be judged on those terms — by features, price, convenience or whatever the consumer rationalizes.

Create content that is different, that helps them, is useful, educates or tells a story that captures the heart and soul of the consumer and they will judge you differently, more emotionally, they will want to meet you, giving you a head start before the pricing, features, convenience dull metrics get added to the spreadsheet.

Try this (I did): cut and paste some of your content onto a slide. Now do the same for a few of your competitors. Remove all branding and product names and then ask your executives to tell the difference. If they can’t, you are a commodity.

The simplest way to avoid being a commodity is to develop a point of view. This needs to reflect the brand, it needs to be understood by everyone in the company, but it needs to be very clear. Expressing an opinion also underlines authenticity — you are putting yourself a little bit out there, it’s real. Of course, if you publish a point of view, not everyone will like it. That’s OK. Better to spend time with people that get you and have those that don’t disqualify themselves the moment they touch your site, rather than after a painful three-month procurement process where you finish in second place (again!).

Invest in Your Content as You Invest in Your Tools

Aside from creating dullsville content, too often we take a tactics- and tools-first approach to the often completely forgotten consumer's problem, as we wrap ourselves in what we want to do and not what they need.

We also feel the tools or the medium of the message is going to be a factor in our success in engaging the consumer. I recently read an analogy to modern marketing that said “if you email out your wedding invitation, not many people will show up” which, of course, is bollocks. If your wedding guests are engaged or love you as friends, the way they were invited is not going to be a huge factor in the number of people that show up. Unless, of course, old Aunt Maude is not on email, she might need a follow up call. But, if you have the means of communication broadly right, the content is what will determine the level of engagement.

Organizations make strategic decisions about investing in platforms. In 2017 Gartner predicted the Digital Experience Platform market will be worth a whopping $18.5 billion in a couple of years (unless you have a Gartner subscription and can see this link, you will need to take my word for that).

And, that’s just the software’s cost, what about the hours that go into its selection and the months of its implementation? Yet, how many marketing teams sit down and invest in the same way in their story? Or their point of view? Yes, it costs time, but I doubt it’ll collectively cost $18 billion.

So… back to the question that sparked this article “what can people do to deliver a great experience without necessarily having the access (or the inclination) to use all the shiny AI bells and AR whistles?”

My advice? Make it simple, create your story, a point of view, make your content great. And then work forward from there.