Ben Langdon

Chief Executive Officer

A recent study by Forrester in conjunction with the Business Marketing Association and the Online Marketing Institute said that about half of marketers think their content marketing efforts are 'not creating value'.

A similar study by The Economist Intelligence Unit also showed 'a significant disconnect between what business executives want from branded content (substance, utility) and what marketing professionals are providing…'

Reports from the Content Marketing Institute confirm that many marketers don’t have a content marketing strategy, and struggle with the basics of creating relevant content.

You get the picture…

The funny thing (in a black comedic sense) about the solutions offered up by virtually all 'content marketing' experts is that they all make the same mistake – which is that they think brand before business, and story-telling before customer. As a consequence they put content in the hands of marketing people as opposed to those people in the organisation responsible for customer-centred thinking and design. Not surprisingly you get confusion, and waste.

Like the the cobbler and his shoes, content marketing experts also produce the worst content about their own industry. They talk about content marketing as if they’ve suddenly defined new rules for creativity. 'Good copywriting' and 'the need to resonate with the target audience' are apparently key… as if! They produce vanilla statements about the 'need for relevance', without defining what relevant content means and for whom. They talk about needing to 'create value' and 'meaning' without referencing the needs of the customer, or the business. They preach 'multi-media and multi-platform' without truly understanding how to prioritise media channels and platforms around customer need and the sales conversion funnel. And, most amusingly of all, they talk about the need for content to 'engage' without working out what type of engagement is required or desired by a customer at different points in their journey.

A customer-centred approach to content looks very different from its marketing-led equivalent. It starts with the identification of key customer segments and personas, and maps audience journeys along the sales conversion funnel. It produces a roadmap (or architecture) for content to ensure that relevant messages get to the right person at the right time, through the right channel. It then creates a measurement framework to ensure success can be measured.

With a customer-defined roadmap it's also relatively easy to audit a brand's existing content, review the producers of that content and set new rules for future creation and production – thereby eliminating content duplication, reducing wastage, and forcing content suppliers (and agencies) to focus only on content that contributes business value. In simple terms it's much easier to know where you are going if you’ve got a map to help you get there.

Armed with this tool, we've helped brands whittle hundreds of micro-sites down to a single global portal, re-organise their marketing and sales departments around the content needs of the customer, reduce their spend on media and content production and focus marketing investment on areas that contribute to sales growth. For example, during a recent engagement Seren was able to identify the core need of an Enterprise customer in terms of content – the need to influence particular stakeholders within his/her own business. What this business customer really needed wasn’t content of interest to them, but content that helped them sell their ideas to the rest of the company. With this simple understanding of customer need we were able to design a content framework and roadmap, develop the right content, ensure that it was well targeted, served through an appropriate channel, and measured correctly.

And where does brand marketing fit with all this? At the very epicentre of a content strategy. There's obviously no point in creating content that doesn't mirror brand values. It's simply that by thinking 'customer out' rather than 'brand in', we force clients to think about putting the needs of the customer first which in turn forces them to question how they spend their money, who they spend it with, and what they spend it on… before they start telling brand stories and painting brand pictures.

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