The New Customer Decision Journey Needs Content
by Ray Grady
Demand generation for consumer ecommerce sites used to be as subtle as a brick to the face, generally consisted of pushed spam with “Buy Now!” subject lines hoping to drive customers to landing pages with annoying homepage hero offers.
Banner ads further annoyed the consumer, chasing them fruitlessly around the web in hopes of wearing them down and finally getting a sale out of them. In B2B, lead gen models put registration walls in front of “white papers” in hopes of snagging a potential customer’s phone number so a junior inside telesales rep could phone them and read a script.
This early, crude, intrusive ecommerce marketing model was driven by the crude tools available to digital marketers: email, banner ads, and spam. Today’s customer is in charge of the marketing communications cycle. They tivo past commercials, send email offers to spam folders, and block banners with ad blockers. They want you to be responsive to them when they are ready to buy and the more intelligent you are about them, the more you will impress them in a world where their expectations of you are formed by brands outside of your industry. Amazon’s same day delivery. Zappo’s customer-centric business model. ComCast, Ford, JetBlue listening on Twitter. The bar isn’t being set and raised by your competitors, but by attackers in other industries.
While the new emerging model of customer communications is gaining a ton of faddish names ranging from “inbound marketing” to “native/content advertising” – the common thread agreed on by most progressive marketers is that content is indeed king when it comes to wooing a prospect and converting them into loyal customers. Starting with the need for valid content to be crawled, indexed, and ranked high by Google, the pressure is on marketing to establish a substantial body of SEO optimized content to assure the brand of a top screen position on the search engine.
Digital marketing continues to start with search – customers begin their decision journey with a keyword search, brands detect mentions by searching in back at those customer’s social declarations of need and intent to buy. Corporate content is expanding from the former world of marketing assets – brochures, sales support, in-store displays – to encompass video.
As digital displaying advertising continues to erode in terms of effectiveness – leading to the famous observation that you are more likely to die in a plane crash then click on a banner ad – and as users make AdBlock the most download browser plug-in, marketers are turning to “native advertising” such as Forbes.com’s “BrandVoice” program which opens up a publisher’s traffic to marketers who want to place some substantial and relevant content in front of readers rather than depend on video ads, retargeted banners, and other last ditch efforts to save the old CPM page view/click through marketing models of the past twenty years.
Developing and maintaining a library of marketing assets in this new world of content marketing is either a matter of juggling existing tools from Microsoft Word to tracking versions in a Google Docs spreadsheet. There are marketing content platforms which claim to provide everything from video editing to workflow management and social media hooks, but such marketing platforms are generally canonical in nature, a bit inflexible, and of course proprietary with the usual hopes of locking buyers down inside of the vendor’s environment. Proprietary cloud-hosted marketing suites are also being pushed as solutions, but rarely are they able to be integrated completely with the transaction processing engine powering the commerce function.
What is becoming apparent is there is a stark choice for CDOs or CMOs when it comes to managing ecommerce content. There is the catalogue management aspect, which supports the SKUs and is tied to the supply chain to better display inventory levels and manage customizable configure-to-order environments. These systems can offer a degree of production flexibility such as page template and content asset management, but spreadsheet imports remain the preferred upload model for most legacy systems that rely on a strict pagemap built atop a secure cart/payment system.
As organizations try to unify the pools of content divided throughout different functions – technical specs, user contributed knowledge bases in service and support; case studies in marketing; sales support and collateral in sales --- the ideal view of a dynamically served, relevant digital experience becomes all the more difficult to manage across disparate systems. Yet the customer isn’t going to assume the burden of compiling the information and assets they need to make a purchase decision. They expect your brand to sing from homepage to magazine ads, sales pitches to technical specifications and the burden is on you to unite it.