How to overcome institutional bias and build a customer-focused content strategy

Kate Pluth

21 November 2019

Does the content you produce engage your customers? Is it looking at the world through the lens of the customer? Or is it all about me/us, and what most concerns me/us?

Are the topics connected to solving customer concerns? Or about your own products or services? If you are focusing the spotlight on yourself, you’re unlikely to pique the interest of customers.

We work for many big brands, full of super smart people, all working hard inside different marketing functions. However, creating great content at scale remains a particular challenge for large organizations.

When it comes to great content, invariably we all agree what good looks like. But too often an institutional bias kicks in and skews the end product. Layers of internal stakeholders need to be assuaged. Once sales, product, PR, compliance and legal—have each rinsed the drafts, content is very often left content free. Or possibly worse, is tuned to satisfy internal audiences rather than real-world customers.

Strategies to keep customers in focus

Marketing’s objective is to understand how to best to engage and influence decision-makers by offering mutually valuable content to increase conversion rates (at Metia we popularized the term A Fair Exchange of Value to describe this basic principle). This requires a customer-oriented content strategy to help focus on resonant content.

Delivering mutually resonant content at the right time and via the right channel, while relating it to the broader customer journey, is an objective that all marketers should aim for. When determining content strategy, incorporate these seven steps to set the foundation for content creation and management.

1. Document your business goals.

What end outcomes are you trying to achieve, and do you have areas where you think content can help?

2. Really know your audience.

Start with an outside-in approach to knowing your customers. Go beyond limited sterotypical descriptions of personas and use actual data to answer key questions.

  • What do they care about?
  • What are they trying to achieve?
  • What are their pain points or frustrations?
  • What are the emotional ups and downs that they are dealing with?
  • What are they already having conversations about?
  • What answers do they need?

There are multiple ways to conduct this research, and it can range from something as simple as interviewing a handful of customers, to global surveys, focus groups, and social listening. The data can be any words, pictures, or numbers that reflect what the customer is experiencing or wants to experience. Our Insight and Analytics team does this by analyzing linguistic and visual datasets, which help to understand the voice of the customer in their own words and context.

Using Metia’s proprietary Content Resonance System (CRS), large volumes of audience conversational data can be analyzed to pinpoint and quantify the overlap in what brands are saying, and what audiences want to discuss. This helps avoid assumptions of what customers want, and gathers information to help brands more naturally join in customer conversations.

3. Chart the journeys audiences take when they encounter your brand.

Use your research to understand each customers’ Moments of Truth. What journeys do they take? What is their emotional landscape as they navigate it? Follow it all the way from before your brand is on their radar, through to being loyal customers and advocates. Move beyond the generic “Learn, try, buy” funnel to establish the specific questions and stages prospects will move through.

4. Establish content objectives for each stage of the journey.

Content objectives put helpful guidelines around the true purpose of content for the brand. What does the content need to do to support the customer? For example, if someone using business intelligence or analytics tools wants to understand the skills they need to progress, then the content needs to build awareness of M, R, and DAX, the coding languages for advanced analytics. This way, the starting point for content lies in what the customer cares about and the questions they need answered at specific stages in the sales funnel. In this exercise, establish not only what your content needs to achieve but also the emotion it should evoke, considering the audience’s goals and current emotional state.

5. Make a content map.

Once you know the role of the content in achieving customer goals and needs, develop and map content topics and formats which deliver on the objectives. Taking the example of analytics again, that content objective could be translated into a blog post like “Five ways R can make your charts better” and a step-by-step training video that shows ‘how to’. At the end of this process, you will have a full matrix of the why, what, and how for content across the customer journey: why it should be created (the content objective), what it should be about (the content topic), and how it should be packaged (the content format).

6. Invest effort according to the content strategy.

From this map, you can prioritize where your biggest gaps, opportunities, and areas of need are for content. Resist the temptation to inject purely self-serving bits of content.

7. Test and iterate.

When using data to inform your content and the form it takes, make sure the matrix holds up in the real world, too. Use A/B or multivariate tests for your content, messaging, and calls to action to see what delivers the best result. If it worked for some targets, you will have more confidence that it will work for many.

Getting a customer-oriented content strategy right takes commitment and collaboration. At Metia, we use our own Strategy QuickStart methodology to help clients solve integrated insights and content strategy challenges. Once you’ve adopted a customer-oriented approach you can discover triggers that spark emotion to make your content more effective and prompt action.