Customer Experience Trumps Content Marketing

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?