This article also appeared on CMO Essentials
“Content is king” has been a must-follow mantra for marketers since the turn of the millennium—shortly after Bill Gates coined the phrase in a predictive 1996 article. But almost two decades later, the market and technology landscape is entirely different, and the ways in which consumers engage with brands have drastically changed. The rise of the internet, the influx of mobile and the coming-of-age of a new generation have all contributed to the creation of an entirely new set of rules that marketers must follow — especially in content marketing.
In this new marketing era, content is no longer king. It still is—and always will be—critical, but it can no longer be delivered in a vacuum or on the marketer’s terms. Today’s consumer wants—and expects—a brand to understand who they are, what they like, where they are engaging and why. To deliver against this, marketers need to embrace a changing of the guard: Context is now king, and there are a new set of rules marketers must follow under its reign.
RULE 1: INDIVIDUAL PROFILES PROVIDE THE GROUNDWORK
If consumers are accustomed to on-demand, personalized content that reflects where they’ve been and what they like, marketers need to make sure they understand their customers inside and out. Much like you wouldn’t start a conversation with an old friend by introducing yourself, asking that person their name and making generic small talk, you shouldn’t engage a customer in a manner that suggests—or worse, shows—you know nothing about them.
This starts with building an individual profile of each prospect or customer. This profile should take into account every single touch point a person has with the brand—from a web visit to an in-store purchase—as well as demographics (age, gender, etc.) and qualities such as customer lifetime value. Doing so provides the necessary context to effectively communicate with a consumer, making sure content delivery aligns with previous interactions and appropriately guides the customer journey.
RULE 2: LOCATION MATTERS
Consumers no longer have to enter a physical location to engage with a brand. Instead, they can interact with brands through tablets, social media, mobile phones and other technology. “Location” is no longer defined by where, physically, a consumer is, but also what device they are using and through which channel they encounter a brand.
As a result, the marketing approach must shift to provide an optimal experience based on a specific consumer’s location — whether that’s in-store or online. Marketers are already taking note: according to Aberdeen’s March 2014 State of the CEM Market 2014 report, 99% of companies use two or more channels to listen to and engage with customers. That is a good start, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Brands are also embracing geo-fencing and iBeacon technologies, as well as advanced consumer engagement systems, to use to their advantage. Targeting a consumer with a relevant piece of content—be it an in-app offer, automated email or tailored website material—when they are in the most appropriate location can result in moving the customer closer to conversion.
RULE 3: OFFLINE STILL MATTERS
From websites, apps and social, to SEO and analytics, so much of a marketer’s world has moved online. And rightfully so: consumers are more digital than ever. While in theory this makes delivering contextually relevant marketing messages easier, it simultaneously can leave out a critical piece of the customer journey: offline activity.
Context is only fully valuable when all touch points – online and off – are linked and a truly complete profile of a user’s engagement with a brand is built. As more and more consumers blend their online and offline engagements, marketers must create an omni-channel experience, understanding a consumer’s full profile and targeting them with the appropriate context. For example, if a consumer was researching a TV on a retailer’s website, they should be directed immediately to that model (or others like it) when they visit the store. Acknowledging past preferences like this strengthens the bond between the brand and consumer.
Marketers not already doing this are behind the curve. Research from Aberdeen suggests that leading companies are combining traditional sources of data (e.g., transactions and CRM profiles), with real- or near-real-time signals (e.g., social, call center and web analytics data) to develop just-in-time marketing capabilities and the ability to market in the moment. The key is for the marketer to be aware of every touch point regardless of where and how it happens, which cutting-edge technology can help to track.
RULE 4: EMBRACE THE UNKNOWN
Delivering contextually-relevant messaging to existing customers is relatively easy – marketers know their name, what they’ve purchased and often a number of other qualities. But what about the random web visitor, the person who just downloaded the mobile app, or the many yet-to-convert prospects that engage with a brand on any given day?
Context is king for them, too. Technologies are continuing to evolve to help predict what any given consumer will do, even before they make a purchase. This can be incredibly helpful for brands trying to guide the unknown user to a known, converted customer.
Following these four rules can put marketers on the right path to successfully delivering the content they have now (hopefully) mastered within the context of their customers’ or prospects’ individual journey. The result? Better customer engagement and, ultimately, higher conversion rates that move the bottom line.
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