Shifting Focus: A New Strategy For A New Buyer’s Journey Jennifer Taylor March 29th, 2016 Who knew that my search for a good book to read would result in the purchase of a new set of prescription glasses frames? What seems like two totally unrelated events are actually part of a smart content marketing strategy and a not-so-unusual buyer’s journey. A few months ago a quick Google search for a good book recommendation led me to the Warby Parker blog. The online prescription glasses brand writes blog content around activities you might need glasses to do (like reading). Here I stumbled on a visually stunning post full of great book recommendations. So, after finding a ton of great books to read I started following Warby Parker on Tumblr to keep up-to-date on their blog (and inadvertently learn more about the brand). When it came time to replace my glasses the choice was a no-brainer - I returned to Warby Parker.If we’ve learned anything from this anecdote, it’s that the buyer’s journey is changing, and naturally, marketers’ strategies are going to have to evolve if they want to keep up. Despite the fact that I was bombarded with advertisements from other glasses brands, I ended up making the purchase from a company I’d come to trust through great content. When marketers focus on creating valuable content for each stage of the customer journey, they’re rewarded with new opportunities for engagement, sales, and retention.In our latest report, industry expert Rebecca Lieb explores why marketers should be focusing on customer-centric strategies that rely more on valuable content and less on interruptive advertising. Based on input from 17 industry leaders, Rebecca uncovers how marketers can optimize their efforts by prioritizing content in the digital sphere. Last week we sat down with Rebecca to talk about some of the report’s major themes including creating a content strategy, omnichannel marketing, building a successful marketing team, and why Snapchat's ephemeral nature is valuable to marketers.Banner Ads Just Don’t WorkI got started by asking Rebecca what factors have contributed to this change in the buyer’s journey and the declining effectiveness of advertising.Rebecca begins by pointing to the shift in the agreement between publishers (broadcasters) and consumers. Traditionally this agreement involved providing consumers with content occasionally interrupted by advertising. This was the price audiences paid for consuming content at little to no cost. However, digital media has changed that bargain. The new formula puts customers in control; “If they don’t like ads they can block them, if they don’t like content they can switch very quickly from one screen to another. So this whole idea of linear programming and mandatory advertising has pretty much gone out the window,” explains Rebecca. This is also compounded by the diminishing effectiveness of advertising. This isn’t “just about customers disliking advertising, but their ability to completely disregard it,” says Rebecca. The Pew Research Center released the first study, which was then corroborated by many other studies, indicating that banner ads are just plain ineffective. “You know the majority of people have never clicked on one,” says Rebecca, and other studies indicate that if people do click, it’s almost entirely by accident.Rebecca is quick to note that this does not mean that every ad and media campaign is ineffective. However, “it is important to note that traditional banner advertising is proven to be increasingly ineffective.” As much as publishers would like to deny it, you only have to look at the diminishing cost of advertising to see that linear programming is no longer effective. “It’s getting cheaper and cheaper. If digital advertising was truly as worthwhile as the people selling it to you would like you to believe, the price would increase, not decrease. It’s a marketplace economy. So while digital advertising is never going to go away, and will always continue to work to some extent, the balance of what’s effective is shifting and moving towards ‘opt-in’ channels of content,” explains Rebecca. We’re now moving towards a ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ types of communication.Tackle Every Step of the Buyer’s JourneyIn an industry moving towards ‘pull’ communication, how can content marketers transition from paid push media to a "content ecosystem"?“Well the content ecosystem is enormous and it’s growing by the day, by the week, and by the hour,” says Rebecca, “because the content ecosystem doesn’t just include digital and mobile channels in what we might call the ‘traditional sense’ such as computers, tablets, and telephones. But increasingly, the digital content ecosystem is everything - it’s beacons, it’s censors, it’s the Internet of Things. It’s location, time, and place-aware,” explains Rebecca.“So marketers increasingly must consider content not just in terms of what websites customers might be visiting, but in literally every step of the customer journey.”Rebecca uses the example of MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas to illustrate this new customer journey. “What hotel are they checking into right now, for example, and what did they do the last time they were at the hotel?” MGM Grand gives it’s customers a mobile key card and uses this to track where you are on the property. “Content and advertising are attuned to you based on your location on the resort, your purchase patterns, or your loyalty cards,” explains Rebecca. Do you like seeing shows or eating in restaurants? Depending on your past activity you might be offered coupons for dinner or tickets to a Cirque de Soleil show.“Content is becoming a huge part of the customer journey both onscreen and off. So developing a strategy is of course, the biggest challenge. “But what’s really essential to consider in this increasingly complex customer journey is consistency.” Rebecca is referring to the voice, tone, look, and feel of a company’s messaging. “Customers are seeing your brand and your brand’s messages across so many screens and channels and media that you risk getting lost in the shuffle if there isn’t a strong thread that runs through all of your marketing.” The key to finding your footing in the omnichannel world is consistency.“The brands that are the most effective at content marketing produce content that always ladders up to one theme, idea, or value,” says Rebecca. IBM and General Electric are Rebecca’s favorite examples because they’re large and complex companies, begging the question, “what could possibly unify all their products and services?” At IBM everything they do ladders up to the idea of a ‘smarter planet,’ while at General Electric, everything they do, from semiconductors to light bulbs, ladders up to the concept of ‘eco imagination’. “It’s very difficult to arrive at that big idea, but I think in developing their content strategy, it’s essential that all marketers ask themselves ‘what’s the big idea.’”Make A Plate, Not A FeastIn this new content marketplace, where more companies are becoming publishers and adding their voices to social media, do brands need to produce more content at a greater pace to remain relevant?“There is no such thing as ‘more is better,’” says Rebecca right off the bat. “That’s kind of a crazy strategy. It’s like saying we need to make dinner so let's make as much food as we possibly can.”“Brands have to arrive at the right cadence. For some brands that might be more content and for some brands that might be less content. Or, it might be higher quality content as opposed to more frequent content,” explains Rebecca. This is where strategy comes into play. You need to investigate your potential customers, find out what their wants and needs are, and then create a content cadence based on their preferences. “No two brands are going to have exactly the same answer,” says Rebecca.Throughout her research Rebecca has noticed a discrepancy between what marketers say they want and what they say need. When asked what they wanted, marketers overwhelmingly replied that they wanted technology “that helps us make more content. We have to feed the beast.” But when asked what they needed, marketers said they need better audience targeting and better metrics. For Rebecca, these answers reveal a fundamental misunderstanding. “It’s like going to the store for bread and coming back with eggs.” More content to feed the beast isn’t the answer, smarter content is the answer. “And sometimes smarter will be more, but not always."For Rebecca, it’s about finding relevant content that connects with the audience. “You have to do the homework, you have to do the strategizing before you just start creating as much content as you can possibly create.”Reap the Rewards of Real-Time ContentSo if more content isn't necessarily the answer, what strategies can marketers use to earn their audience's attention?“My research, as well as everyone else’s research, points to the fact that real-time can make brands seem more relevant, more involved, and more in tune with customers,” says Rebecca. Real-time content can be very helpful or relevant. Rebecca references the Starbucks campaign that uses seasonal drinks to target customers with iced teas in the summer or pumpkin lattes in the fall. Other organizations do content marketing around news events and disasters. Airlines can get messages to customers very quickly that aren’t just marketing-focused, but also relevant and useful in specific situations. “In an era of time-shifting, and ad-skipping, and ad blocking, real-time is going to actually get you those eyeballs,” says Rebecca.“People are paying attention in real-time. I think this is one of the reasons why Snapchat - at the moment - is such a popular channel for marketing.” Snapchats are temporary, and demand a laser-focused attention to consume before they disappear forever. However, “Snapchat is a different type of real-time,” explains Rebecca. Snapchat’s content is not necessarily tied to an external event like the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Emmy’s, or a big sale. The real-time aspect is tied to the fact that the image is expiring. “Snapchat gives you an image with an expiration date on it, so when you’re looking at Snapchat you’re looking with your full attention because it’s not going to be there later.” This isn’t necessarily going to be a strategy for every marketer or every type of product or service, explains Rebecca, but in a very cluttered media landscape where a consumer’s attention is torn between multiple screens, multiple devices, and time-shifting, real-time can help guarantee eyeballs.No Strategy Is Set In StoneHow do you lay the foundation of a customer-centric content strategy?“So, a content strategy is really bipartite,” explains Rebecca. “The first element of a content strategy is goal setting. It’s not ‘we need to create content,’ it’s ‘what do we want to achieve by creating content.’ And once that goal has been achieved, what do we actually want to do?The second part is figuring out how you’re actually going to do the first part. What people, resources, and tools do you need? What is your channel strategy? Who’s your audience? What are the personas or segments in that audience? And how will you measure it? How do you know if you’re successful?“Over 70% of companies do not have content strategies. They’re just committing content tactically without any formalized goals or documented strategies,” says Rebecca. “I think one of the things that hinders companies from actually documenting a strategy is this sort of subconscious belief that once we write it down it’s chiseled in stone tablets and we can never ever change it. Which is, of course, a fallacy! You can change it, and you probably should change it!” For Rebecca, “without getting strategic, it’s almost like saying ‘let’s build a house without having a blueprint.’ It’s just kind of crazy talk! You really need to plan, and you really need to know what kind of house you’re trying to build.”A New Skillset For A New Content StrategyIf the buyer's journey is changing, and content strategies are evolving to meet those needs, is the composition of marketing teams changing with the shift from push-media to content ecosystems?“It’s absolutely changing,” says Rebecca. “Initially we saw lots of brands hiring journalists for content marketing. And content marketing was overwhelmingly limited to written forms of content such as blogs.” However, today a successful content marketing team requires other skillsets beyond journalism. “Increasingly, content needs to be mobile and responsive, visual and audiovisual.” With the rise of video writing skills aren’t enough in terms of the creative skills needed to execute successful content marketing strategies. “People need producers, videographers, and directors. Not just writers.” Although writing skills are still crucial, they also need people who understand metrics and who understand social media strategy. Also, because content feeds paid advertising, they need people who can repurpose, recycle, test, and optimize content and then be able to put it into different channels and formats. So paid, owned, and earned media are all working together and brands need to hire people who can work across those three differently formerly very siloed buckets of operation.”To learn more about the evolving buyer's journey, customer-centric content strategies, and the eclipse of online ads, download the full report here.Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, strategic advisor, and author covering digital advertising and media. In addition to her background as a marketing executive, she has published a significant body of original research on topics ranging from content marketing, content strategy, and converged media.