Customer Experience Trumps Content Marketing

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Content Mind Map
Image by MindMapInspiration

More and more voices state that content marketing overhype has jumped the shark. They’re right. As a primary strategy content marketing is overhyped. Instead, brands should focus on customer experience marketing.

Before we go too far, let me say I love content, all forms of it, too, not just online, but events, print, and music, just to name a few. Brand developed content (cough, advertising) offers a great tactical toolset, one of my favorites.

That doesn’t necessarily mean content marketing should serve as every company’s primary outreach strategy.

Why not just make Facebook your primary strategy? Should we have that conversation again?

A better strategic approach focuses on marketing tools as extensions of the brand experience.

Customer experience represents the heart of any brand. Specifically, experience marketing uses tools like content to communicate expectations to customers, and extend elements of that product and service to the business, home or Internet. After the purchase, communications continue that experience.

In return, what customers say about that experience extends the actual product or service brand to their networks. This is word of mouth marketing assisted by communications.

When your customer experience delivers or surpasses customer expectations, every tactical toolset works better. From customer loyalty programs and grassroots social media to content and public relations, marketing resonates well.

And if the experience suffers, brands risk losing customers.

I spoke at Betamore this past weekend with a dozen entrepreneurs about marketing as an extension of their experience, rather than simply promote themselves. It was a fascinating conversation about inspiring grassroots advocacy from customers rather than simply publishing content at them. That’s what a great experience accomplishes. Content becomes a tool, a means to achieve the end.

Brands in Action

Am I making sense yet? OK, let’s dive deeper with some examples.

Red Bull offers a top case study for the content marketing company model. I love their content. But I still won’t drink that piss to save my life. Yuck!

Of course, you could say one man’s trash is another’s treasure.

I will counter that argument and say if your product sucks, if you have bad customer service, if you’re over priced, or your competition is better than you, then you better pray because content won’t save you. For me, coffee offers a superior experience compared to Red Bull, just saying.

Last week we discussed Tough Mudder‘s use of social to spread word of mouth. As part of their word of mouth strategy, they develop professional grade content of their customers going out there and being bad asses. Photos and videos, in particular. But reading that case study, you can tell content is not the strategy, rather a part of the larger customer experience.

Let’s go to another, more well known brand: Starbucks (yes, more coffee). Their primary content distribution is free songs via iTunes.

You can get your free songs in-store via business cards, via your iPhone app, or online via the web site.

But we all know that Starbucks goes well beyond content to market its products. They have great cause marketing, crowdsourcing initiatives, distribution, branding, media relations, advertising, employee and customer service programs, and on and on. Starbucks is the integrated marketer’s dream case study.

The Danger of Overplaying Tactics as Strategies

poker chips
Image by Matjkd

Whether a marketer believes in building great customer experiences through marketing as a strategy or not, I cannot encourage my colleagues enough to abandon tactics as strategies.

When we rely on singular tactics or general tactical brilliance to win the day, we make the mistake of campaign centric marketing.

That means — assuming a good product — our company’s success rises and falls with the creative resonance of the tactic or the product itself.

When you look at Motorola’s mercurial success over the decades, you have to think it’s because of this campaign centric approach that only works when the product is good, e.g. Razr, Droid, etc.

With content marketing, we have a tactic that was fresh until recently, but now that a few companies achieved success, the flood gates opened. Customers get bombarded by more and more content every week.

Consequently, the median creativity level drops as more marketers deploy the content tactic. It becomes harder and harder for decent content to come across as fresh or different.

What will marketers do next once the fad grows weary? The good content marketers will survive, as will the strong strategists who use content as a means, not the end.

The rest? Well, their hand will be played, and their chips spent.

What do you think about the content marketing boom?

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  • http://www.kaarinadillabough.com Kaarina Dillabough

    I think I need a coffee;)

    At the risk of being indelicate, I’ve told my clients and workshop participants for years…”be at the leading edge of a trend and not the farting end of a fad”. Fads are like firecrackers: up, down and gone. Trends are like waves that can be ridden much longer. In any case, it’s all about customer experience…what they see, feel, hear and get from their interaction with the company. And their experience is what matters. Cheers! Kaarina

    • geofflivingston

      It’s what bubbles are all about, the pile-on, and when you are on the back end, you are on the losing end of the deal, I think. I love the wave metaphor…

      Experience differentiates the great brands from the rest, I don’t know how else to see it. As you see it is all, it is everything.

  • Tarheelsonly

    Man, I share this with clients everyday! Very well stated and I second the sentiment.

    • geofflivingston

      Thank you, sir!

  • http://www.arielmarketinggroup.com/ Amy McCloskey Tobin

    Ha Ha Ha… I love your use of piss on here, although I’m sure Red Bull doesn’t.

    • geofflivingston

      I can’t help it. It tastes so bad!

  • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

    Thought-provoking post, Geoff! Way to get me thinking!

    You’re right – I think we as marketers have had a tendency to lean on content marketing too much. I know I often find myself recommending that as a go-to tactic for raising awareness, building authority, etc. It works, but you and Mark are right – people are getting inundated with content and it has become an overwhelming arms race.

    Building an experience is far stronger for sure. The harder part about that is that it may challenge the very heart and soul of the way a company does business. If their product/service sucks, the best marketing in the world can’t fix that. To create magical experiences, you have to look at every aspect of your business and be willing to roll up your sleeves to figure out ways to delight and surprise customers every step of the way. It’s a longer, harder haul for sure. But, definitely a worthwhile one.

    • geofflivingston

      Really good comment, Laura. I think it’s very tough for brands to rethink their marketing in this fashion, but it is the secret sauce for making a great brand experience that stands the test of time. And it is something that turns the whole company into a marketing organization as you noted.

  • http://www.cc-chapman.com/ C.C. Chapman

    Where is the AMEN! button when I need one?

    As I say in every interview I do about Content Rules, content marketing is nothing new but suddenly the world has woken up to the power of the Internet.

    That first caveperson who painted on a wall was telling a story. All content is part of telling your story. Start there and keep doing it and you’ll do fine.

    • geofflivingston

      LOL, no doubt, and in some ways, the most memorable part. Thanks for coming by, C.C.

    • http://www.businessesgrow.com Mark W. Schaefer

      Sometimes I feel the caveman has discovered that if he can paint his wall fast and cover it all up, it will block the other cavemen from sharing his wall. Maybe he even hires people to help him cover the wall in every direction. I guess the other cavemen need to find a new wall. That’s where the discussion needs to go I guess.

    • http://twitter.com/BeckyGaylord Becky Gaylord

      That’s just what I was thinking, C.C.
      Geoff, this is a thoughtful and really well-argued post. I totally agree with your points. But you make a very strong case, here — even for those who don’t. Well done! And thanks.

      • geofflivingston

        Thank you, Becky. I am glad you liked it!

  • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

    I love this line:
    The Danger of Overplaying Tactics as Strategies
    And I see the problem play out every day, from the case studies and anecdotes put forward as proof of strategic imperatives or best practice to marketers fixating on a tactic (like content marketing) and rallying around it as if it is their core strategy.

    Great post, thanks Geoff!

    • geofflivingston

      It’s amazing how many people catch shiny object syndrome. I think it’s easier to accept the tactic than to work through the strategy. Good point.

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    This is spot on. I keep reading posts about how incredible content marketing is but you are right to a certain extent it is limited by the quality of the product.

    • geofflivingston

      I think as writers we can appreciate this more than most. Content is the heart of what we produce, but in the end we hope the writing delivers an experience that can be extended beyond the page. I don’t know. Maybe I’m grasping on that one ;)

  • stanphelps

    Geoff – great post. Content marketing has its place. A place to tell your story. Truly great marketing though, is when your customer tells your story. That starts with customer experience and exceeding expectations.

    In the immortal words of Ted Levitt, “The search for meaningful distinction is central to the marketing effort. If marketing is about anything, it is about achieving customer-getting distinction by differentiating what you do and how you operate. All else is derivative fo that and only that.”

    Your are right. Brands like Starbucks get it in spades. The free song of the week, the clean bathrooms (a NYC godsend) and sampling are just some of the things that plus up their experience.

    Best,
    Stan
    @9inchmarketing

    “The longest and hardest nine inches in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer.”

    • geofflivingston

      LOL, Starbucks is very much an ambience company, and it’s interesting how that morphs in different states and countries. The clean bathrooms are a huge differentiator, and in that sense they at McDonald’s lunch.

      Love the Ted Levitt quote, thanks for offering this.

  • alexis

    It’s all about balance, so content marketing isn’t all bad but you’re right – customer experience is SO important! We try to drive that home to our clients, as they prepare to meet customers, and potential customers, in-person at events. (A recent blog on the subject: http://bit.ly/Tytzpu)

    • geofflivingston

      Absolutely spot on. Thank you for sharing this.

  • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

    Geoff…

    Good, thought provoking post – but at it’s heart I’m not sure I agree with the distinction. Great Content Marketing IS about creating great experiences.

    As you say: “Customer experience represents the heart of any brand. Specifically, experience marketing uses tools like content to communicate expectations to customers…”

    This is the heart of Content Marketing. Whether it’s delivered as a written piece of content, a wild Redbull skydive – and live video, or an amazing cooking class in the middle of the store – it’s part of “telling your story” (as CC said).

    If we disagree (and I’m not quite sure we do) I guess it’s that I don’t quite think of Content Marketing as a tactic – rather as an approach to delivering good customer experiences (despite the tactic).

    There’s no doubt that it sucks to try and create great experiences when your product sucks (been there/done that)… But I would also argue that creating a great customer experience (e.g. great content) can also give a bad product room to get better.

    Anyway – Just thought I’d throw my two cents in there.

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, I guess we disagree. I see content as a part not the whole, and that’s the primary differentiator. Content as the whole is great for publishing companies and bloggers, but even they tend to diversify into other tactics. But thank you for your differing opinion.

      • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

        Yeah, we definitely disagree on this then… I’m not arguing that “content is the whole” – in fact quite the opposite. I’m arguing, however, that content is what is at the heart of marketing’s ability to create great customer experiences… Of course they are not building the product… Marketing, itself, is part of the whole of the strategy….

        • geofflivingston

          I would counter that the product itself is the heart of the customer experience, and everything else revolves around it. Product marketing and research would certainly be the horse in front of the content cart in that scenario.

          • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

            And I would agree – for the most part… But I think there are excellent example where content – and the facile and compelling/engaging delivery of it – is becoming as much (or arguably in some cases more) important as the product itself. Red Bull is an excellent example of this. As you point out, the product is dreck (and here you and I wholeheartedly agree) but the content they deliver is part of an overall brand differentiation – and really contributes to the overall experience of Red Bull. Coca Cola, for example can’t even touch the product – or its packaging. It’s iconic. But as Mildenhall pointed out to me – he can use content to deliver a MUCH more emotional connection to Coca Cola consumers – and this absolutely helps him deliver against the brand promise of “Delivering Happiness”.

          • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

            I think you both need to try Red Bull with a little Vodka. You ain’t livin’ until…

          • Steve Birkett

            That exchange was pretty charged already, Joe… you really think they need to add heavily caffeinated alcohol to the mix?

  • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

    Hi Geoff…as the great Jay Baer has always said, all companies today are in two businesses…the business that they are in and the publishing business. Those brands that are not finding success with their content are looking solely at channels and tactics (most brands seem to start with channels instead of starting with a content strategy).

    All those wonderful examples you talk about have integrated content strategies, which is why their customer experiences are working so darn well. Red Bull is a great example of this. Red Bull is, in fact, a media company that happens to sell energy drinks. They have a paid content pool, a record label, multiple radio and TV networks and more. This is part of their overall business model, and one of the big reasons their customer experiences work.

    As for the content marketing hype, you may be right. It seems everyone has jumped on the bandwagon…after over 100 years. I’ve been in this industry for 13 years and remember the days when no CMO wanted to talk about content marketing. Now everyone does, but the term is misused and most marketers think about it tactically. From an education standpoint, we have a long, long way to go…especially as we are seeing the evolution of the marketing department transform into a publishing operation.

    Thanks for the POV Geoff!

    • geofflivingston

      Hey, Joe, I think the hype problem is a great one for CMI. You have a great opportunity to drive quality through your education efforts (and I know you do already). A quality problem in deed after 13 years of hard effort! Keep up the great work, sir.

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  • http://barrettrossie.com/ Barrett Rossie

    If content doesn’t contribute to customer experience, it all falls apart. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

  • Debbie Elicksen

    I think businesses forget what they are in business for in the first place, so when the corporate executives frown upon Internet media and content marketing, they are viewing their customers like they are their own market. Now there’s a recipe for success!

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