content marketing

Successful Content Marketing Starts with Research

Today it seems like every brand is doing it:  Content Marketing.  Gone are the days of simply taking out an ad with a product-as-hero picture and some expressively, and expensively, crafted benefits copy to sell.  Now brands need to tell stories about their products and what unique differences they offer to the customer.  So content marketing has become the medium to deliver the story message.

In this near-hostile environment toward advertising, brands need new ways of communicating with consumers,” says Alexa Steele

As a market researcher focused on the luxury market, I have always used content marketing to deliver research-based news brands can use to be more successful.  But I called it PR – public relations.

So as the world has gone digital and with the resulting need to tell my research stories more succinctly and with a focus on making the findings actionable, not just interesting, I turned to Alexa Steele, The Website Wordsmith  and also Mystique Marketing  to help me evolve from my traditional pr-focused strategies to content marketing.

Because Alexa has helped me immensely to give my research findings an actionable content marketing focus, I wanted to share what Alexa has taught me.  And as good a writer as she is, and as good a marketing strategist she has proven to be, she and I share one overriding principle to succeeding in content marketing, and that is “dedicating a significant amount of time and energy to subject matter research,”  as Alexa says.

Here are highlights of our discussion:

Q. Everybody’s talking about Content Marketing.  What does it mean in general and what does it really specifically for luxury brands?

There’s no doubt “content marketing” has become something of a buzzword in marketing and advertising circles.

There’s good reason for that. Savvy consumers are growing increasingly immune to traditional advertising. Not only are consumers harder to reach – ad-blocking, for example, grew by 41% globally in 2015 – they are less likely to be persuaded by ads – only 20% of Western Europeans and 25% of Americans believe brands communicate honestly with them.

In this near-hostile environment toward advertising, brands need new ways of communicating with consumers.

Luxury brands in particular can no longer rely on traditional differentiators (reputation, price point, exclusivity) to maintain their place in the market. They need to build a new kind of relationship with customers.

Content marketing  – the practice of providing written or visual materials that the consumer finds genuinely valuable – is an essential tool in building those relationships.

Q. How can content marketing reflect a brand’s unique selling proposition and keep it from becoming ‘commoditized?

As I mentioned, effective content marketing builds a relationship with the consumer. It is that relationship that cannot be commoditized.

Take Red Bull, for example. Few things say “commodity” like an energy drink, yet Red Bull has consistently set itself apart from the competition by creating an abundance of content that appeals directly to a particular market – the extreme sports subculture. They don’t just advertise to the extreme sports genre – they’re part of it.

The mistake many brands make with content marketing is using it to push a transaction. They are thinking only about what is valuable to them: the sale. If luxury brands want to succeed at content marketing, they have to understand – and reflect – their customers’ values.

Q. How must  market research be used to drive a content marketing strategy? 

There’s only one sure-fire way to find out what your customers value: Ask them.

Today, companies have access to enormous stacks of data: clicks, likes, shares, bounce rates, dwell times, yadda yadda. This data is often mistaken for consumer insights.

Data can tell you a whole lot of “what.” What are customers buying? What content is generating clicks? What landing pages have the highest conversion rate? Etc, etc. But Big Data is not market research. Because Big Data can never tell you “why?”

As a content writer, I am too-often asked to produce content based on what amounts to guesswork. And that’s a shame. Traditional market research can tell you why customers are motivated to buy this over that, and why they respond to one piece of content while ignoring another. These insights are invaluable in creating and executing a content strategy that delivers ROI. To a content producer like myself, market research is a gift that keeps on giving.

Q. What challenges do luxury brands face in creating an effective content marketing strategy?

As content marketing grows in popularity, the bar continues to rise for what constitutes “engaging content.”  In 2015 alone, the output of content per brand per channel increased by 35 percent, but engagement fell by 17 percent.

Demonstrating just how high the content bar has gotten, Rand Fishkin recently coined the term “10x content.” He proposes that it’s no longer enough to produce content that is equal to or better than your competitors – it has to be 10x better.

Luxury brands must pay attention to this 10x trend. Your customers are expecting more and more content of ever increasing quality and if you don’t deliver, someone else will.

Q.  How must content marketing adapt at each stage of the customer journey?

As we’ve talked about, a brand’s content should dovetail with the customers’ values. But what a customer finds valuable will change as they progress along the customer journey.

During the Discovery phase, for example, a customer might value a simple social media post or video that makes them laugh. Whereas, in the Research phase that same customer will be looking for more depth – a buyer’s guide or product comparison, perhaps.

This is why it is so important to have a documented content strategy backed up by solid market research.  Anything less is just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks.

Unity Marketing for Research, The Website Wordsmith for Content

I invite you to connect with Alexa Steele on LinkedIn where she regularly posts articles about how to build connections with customers through marketing messages.  And Unity Marketing can provide the research-based consumer insights that will power your content marketing messages with insights about what your customers and target customers will value.


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