Trending: There's no con in content

The industry's latest buzzword may seem disconcertingly vague, but dig deeper to see how content can take the prospective buyer from one end of their decision-making journey to the other

Devon…‘The trick is to define [content] by having a clear view of what it’s for rather than by some generalising view’
Devon…‘The trick is to define [content] by having a clear view of what it’s for rather than by some generalising view’

Content. Yes, sorry, this is going to be about content. Fluffier than an Instagram kitten, more buzzwordy than a job-hunter’s LinkedIn profile. Except it’s not.

Content is critical. Thinking about content is essential. The trick is to define it by having a clear view of what it’s for rather than by some generalising and arbitrary view of its production quality or what it doesn’t achieve that "traditional" marketing does.

The average number of cars being test-driven before purchase is approaching one, with many not bothering to drive at all. The test drive is now about confirmation of a decision already made, rather than a means of choosing.

How has the buyer made up their mind? Content. A car magazine report, recommendations in a Mums­net discussion group, that amateur video review, the TV ad. Content.

At MBA, we’ve created a connected ecosystem model as a framework for the various roles that content can play in this digitally driven purchase journey and how we can influence it.

Our model is born of experience, McKinsey’s "purchase loop" and Google’s "ZMOT". It helps to define the purpose for specific items of content and gives a sense of necessary fiscal and resource expenditure. We’ve put it to good use with many clients, including O2, Avios and Neilson Holidays.

Let’s focus on the section of the model that surrounds people during their consideration phase. The content elements here should be "necessary and sufficient". This is a term stolen from logic and academia that helps to qualify specifically what is required to take the prospective buyer from one end of their decision-making to the other.

For Neilson Holidays, we’ve recently created a suite of "apps" to overcome barriers to booking and thus oil the purchase machinery. For example, "Pack it up, pack it in" helps someone choose between seemingly similar – but, in reality, rather different – beach clubs.

To get smart with consideration, content requires – unsurprisingly – data. Of the bits of content that are created, some will be more important than others in leading to sale.

So you need to build a propensity model that suggests what a prospective buyer’s "next best content" is. If we know that content items A, B and D are critical and the prospect has only interacted with A and C, then we need to encourage them to look at B and D. Build this model initially from common sense and research before optimising with actual purchase behaviour. Avios uses this type of model to drive dynamic e-mails for collection and redemption.

you need to convert your "unknown known" into a "known known". In other words, capture contact data with some form of value exchange.

There are two ways by which we can encourage people to look at the next best content. First, for people you don’t know personally – the "unknown knowns" – you’ll need to rely on cookie data. You’ll also need a web technology platform that can deliver personalisation. The next time the "unknown known" returns to the site, you can promote the content they’ve not yet seen.

This still leaves much to chance. A more reliable approach is to create a personal experience. To do that, you need to convert your "unknown known" into a "known known". In other words, capture contact data with some form of value exchange.

Easier said than done, I appreciate, and an entire article in its own right. We’ve succeeded at it with O2 by offering genuinely useful "Power Hour" webinars. Once you have "known knowns", you can implement a much more engaging and effective, multichannel, trigger-based customer journey that promotes the next best content.

To achieve this requires a connected data architecture connecting the various data pots; at its most basic, a CRM database connected to a marketing automation platform and the web content management system.

Not many brands have this in place yet and it’s an issue many marketing directors are trying to resolve as they make sense of this new connectivity. The future of marketing undoubtedly has a lot of APIs.

Is content four-minute ads? Yes. Is content the unboxing of a new purchase filmed on an old smartphone? Quite possibly.

Content is most usefully viewed as anything that a brand can create or curate to turn a prospective buyer into a customer. Viewed like that and with the surrounding comms ecosystem, it’s much less of a con.


James Devon is the planning director at MBA

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