3 Sustainable Ways to Build a Customer-Focused Content Strategy

We’ve all seen umpteen studies proving Content Strategy (correlating) that the more content you publish on your blog, the more visits and leads you get. Marketers take this finding at face value and race to publish more (and more visible) content. Everywhere, “experts” and “thought leaders” are spewing advice on the latest tools, technology and strategies that will purportedly have your audience consuming your brand content with tears in their eyes.

The result is that every day, over 3 and a half million blog posts are published, not to mention the countless social media updates posted. While there’s a lot of well-researched content in this haystack, much of it is conjecture and outright replication.

In order to stand out from the overflowing stream of new content, marketing teams often fall into the trap of chasing every tactic that comes their way or “borrowing” from the content created by famous brands or industry experts and “adapting” (read, rehashing) it to fit their own content strategy. Instead, they should be gleaning lessons from big brands’ innovative content strategies and keep looking for ideas – from the most commonplace to the most implausible sources.

Let’s discuss a few ideas to ensure your content strategy never goes out of style while matching the pace of your content production with your audience’s propensity to consume it.

Collate Industry Data and Visualize It

From a used car salesman to an apparel website, everyone has to resort to statistics and facts once in a while. This was earlier done with presentations, charts, and tables. However, we’ve long needed respite from these boring and confusing ways to present numerical data.

Credit: Marketoonist.com

Thanks to Edward Tufte and his four classic books on data visualization, data and visualization came together like two long lost brothers uniting after a long time. Tufte had faced many problems in his career because of poor data representation tools. So, he revamped data presentation by adding images to data. The New York Times called him the “Leonardo da Vinci of data” while Business Insider referred to him as the “Galileo of graphics.”

Interestingly, research by Nielsen concluded that readers will pay closer attention to relevant pictures included on the page, as our eyes are naturally drawn to images. However, they will ignore visuals included just for the sake of imagery.

But, it wasn’t until the availability of infographic-making tools that this method became mainstream. Today, visualization is the basis of content marketing, and isn’t going away any time soon. Whether it is social media posts or blog articles, the simplest way to catch your customer’s eye is with pictures and videos, which get far more engagement than text-heavy content. This holds true across all digital and traditional platforms and channels.

A survey by Venngage built upon this with empirical evidence that engagement depends on the type of visuals used in the content. Infographics and original illustrations perform the best, followed by charts and video. “Trendy” formats such as stock photos and memes actually receive the lowest amount of engagement.

The survey brought to the fore an interesting finding: the only format that did not figure in answer to the question, “Which type of visuals did not help you meet your marketing goals?” was – video. Video works. Every. Single. Time. Ok, mostly. Content Strategy marketers have NO excuse not to use video; over the past few years, it has become increasingly easier to create video clips, starting with simple online tools that allow you to build a video by fusing together a few images.

The lesson here is that numbers are boring, but you can’t avoid them forever. You must take a cue from Edward Tufte’s data visualization strategy, and revamp their content to include lots of graphics and short video clips – even better if they are emotive and interactive!

Lastly, where there is data, AI is never far behind. Today, AI-based tools can run complex algorithms not only to create visuals, but also to extract the proverbial thousand words from images to generate research-based content. For example, Instasize shared a visual content case study that describes how Vertical AI (AI trained on a particular subject) extracts ingredients from images of food on Instagram and helps create recipes – which food bloggers could then post as articles on their site.

Share Success Stories

The best lessons are learnt from other people’s experience. Strangely, many marketers ignore this fact, even though every customer knows it.

Very few companies package their successes into case studies that they can easily use to appeal to a wider audience and acquire more customers.

Don’t make this mistake. Always be on the lookout for case studies – they don’t necessarily need to be yours if you don’t either have enough or relevant experience. Analyze industry examples thoroughly to gauge your potential customers’ intent, challenges in targeting them or doing business, and how these challenges can be overcome. Don’t frown upon any content format – whether it is detailed whitepapers, listicles, or good old FAQs. Make sure your content marketing plan or content strategy provides solutions to all your customers’ woes with actionable advice.

The ecommerce platform BigCommerce has dedicated a whole section of their website to showcasing retailers’ (in both the enterprise and SMB sectors) success stories as well as case studies. The best of the best get their own feature pages, but the showcasing doesn’t end there (Hey, this is the best in digital merchandising we’re talking about!) – BigCommerce even hands out their own annual awards to the merchants who provide a great user experience and innovative ecommerce solutions to their customers.

These case studies are sorted by industry or topic, and include advice on entrepreneurship, retailing, advertising, media, and pretty much anything related to doing business online. This content has no obvious CTA or tangible conversion value that you might expect, but despite that, it is worth its weight in gold due to the brand credibility it portrays and the information it delivers to the audience.

In a CMI survey, B2B marketers swore by the effectiveness of case studies as a non-contact marketing tactic (just behind in-person events and webinars). People trust real examples more than branded content. Most people (and by extension, organizations) will look at what others are doing and how they are doing it before they make a final decision.

Use this psychological tendency as a base on which to build personalized content – the stories that each individual customer identifies with help you provide the right response that matches their intent at every interaction. Taken on a larger scale, it helps you map and improve your customer journey touchpoints.

Combine your case studies with visual testimonials to drive home the value of your product. Video is a great way to deliver a memorable message about the joy your product brings to the lives of real users, while demonstrating to others how it can help them make pressing problems go away. The video conferencing tool, Zoom, used this strategy to feature one of their largest clients, Zendesk:

Instead of using a quote from the top management like most testimonials do, this clip features sound bites from people across the organization. It shows the product in actual use by people in different roles, and how every one of them is happy to use it.

Focus on Educational Content

CMI’s Content Marketing Benchmarks report revealed that 77% of the most successful B2B content marketers nurture their audience with educational content. An overwhelming 96% believe that building trust and credibility is what qualifies them as thought leaders in their industry. Therefore, delivering useful information to your audience, leads, and customers is easily one of the most effective ways to succeed with content.

Make no mistake – “informing” the customer isn’t just googling your topic, lifting stuff from the first half dozen articles, and spinning them up into a so-called piece of “skyscraper” content. If you want to rise above the noise and acquire – nay, GRAB – customers from the competition, providing actionable insights from in-depth research is your best bet.

Take the example of The Zebra – an online marketplace for insurance providers. The auto insurance market is saturated to the point that few companies bother with content marketing – they slug it out on Google Ads with keywords, such as “compare vehicle insurance” costing up to $280 per click! And yet, The Zebra differentiates itself with first-hand research on topics, such as how to shop for the cheapest auto insurance, revealing insider information such as how to find cheap insurance after meeting with an accident, being booked for DUI, hit and run violations, driving with a suspended license, and so on.

Who would customers trust – an ad that screams “Fill up this form now!” or a 4,000-word post that tells them exactly which company is best for a person with their driving history?

The biggest advantage of customer education is retention (which again drives sales at the lowest costs). Another market leader that takes customer education (and retention) seriously is Ikea. From alternate uses of its products to showcasing how customers have creatively used Ikea products to taking their lifestyles to the next level, Ikea’s Inspiration section is a design buff’s delight.

Finally, an example of a company that aces both user acquisition and retention with one fell swoop: Google Analytics is so ubiquitous today that you’d think they didn’t have to care about users adding their little piece of code to their sites, right?

Wrong. Google does not take its unassailable position as market leader in web analytics for granted. With a dedicated Google Analytics Academy that offers how-to guides, training courses and even certifications to existing Google Analytics users, Google holds their users in an iron grip.

Over to You

Drawing and keeping your customers’ attention in this fast-paced marketing age is difficult. Whether it’s your product or marketing that is great, there is someone out there who is doing it better than you and vying for your share of the market. You must constantly attempt to stand out and remain relevant by relentlessly improving the usability, quality, and effectiveness of your content strategy.

Riding current trends could get your content some short-lived buzz, but it is important to stay focused on pursuing long-term relationships with your customers by creating and publishing content that speaks directly to them.

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