The Content Marketing Conundrum

Humans are naturally curious, and they value discovering information on their own terms. And with the influx of content, consumers are now able to find information that better informs their purchase decisions. 

While technology has enabled marketers to deliver the right message, in the right place, at the right time, the true conundrum for marketers is determining whether that message is actually the “right message”—one rooted in trust and one that truly addresses the needs of the individual.

Consider the following: This year 90% of marketers will leverage a content strategy, most likely in native formats, to reach and satiate consumers’ growing need for information.  And although they’ll be using persona-based approaches and one-to-one automated technologies, marketers will create 10-times the amount of content that they did in 2014. So, even if they have all of the data and technology in the world, it may still not be enough to meet content marketing’s biggest requirements: trust and intent.

We’ve all heard that customer reviews and peer recommendations are the number one factor in driving purchase decisions. After all, we all value firsthand experience and expertise and trust likeminded individuals. Then again, trust, in terms of purchase recommendations, is a futile thing. Take, for example, a recommendation for a new movie release. While a positive review from a trusted source will result in a positive reaction nine times out of 10, there is always that one that bombs and makes you think twice about trusting your next recommendation.

Clearly, trust is a fragile bond with multiple layers. We don’t blindly trust anyone or anything.  Just as we are curious, we are also skeptical, which creates varying degrees of trust in the information we consume. Maintaining trust can be one of the most difficult things to achieve and one of the easiest things to lose. To avoid losing this trust, marketers must think differently about the content they create, as well as about the processes and infrastructures that they need to maintain that trust. 

However, few brands understand content marketing and invest in the infrastructure needed to build a loyal following of consumers. Why? The answer is simple: Marketers are in the early stages of content creation and believe that creating more content in a variety of formats for a variety of personas is a way to check the content marketing box.  As a result, the output is often more product- and brand-specific content that, although it may have the best of intentions, rarely instills trust in the target customer.

Developing a trustworthy and value-based content strategy takes time, deep understanding of data, and a commitment to the brand that resonates with your core customers. The biggest challenge for marketers is to understand that what we want to say and create isn’t as important as what our audience wants to discover and what they will trust.

Ultimately, there are three things that marketers should consider when developing a content strategy with building trust at the center.

The customer is the star.

When developing your content strategy, ask yourself these critical questions:

  • When my audience consumes my content, do they see themselves in this content or do they see my brand?  
  • Does the story we’re trying to tell create an environment that our target customer wants to be a part of?
  • What distinctive advantage does my content provide that our audience can’t get anywhere else?

Brands like General Electric (GE) and Converse have done an exceptional job of creating an “in-the-know” content strategy—one that leaves audiences waiting to see what they’ll do next. From GE’s beautiful imagery of locomotives and jet engines to Converse’s Rubber Tracks recording studios, these brands have created a consistent flow of content that inspires and enhances the culture of the brand. The content is information that’s consumable by both the expert and the layman; yet it still drives interest with a broad audience.  

Both brands also give back to the communities that they serve by supporting the people who buy the companies’ products—whether its promoting an original song recorded at Rubber Tracks and making it available to Converse’s millions of Facebook followers or showcasing how GE’s engineers are making it possible to reduce the carbon footprint of consumer airline engines.

None of this content states why the brands’ products are better or why you should buy. In most cases, the content doesn’t even have a call-to-action to purchase. It’s simply designed to inspire and build trust. That trust, in turn, drives sales and confidence.

Less content is better

It’s impossible to be everything to everyone. The myth that content is easy to create and manipulate to reach broad audiences is simply false. The more we manipulate content, the more likely it is to perform at less optimal levels. This is the “multiplicity” effect. The more you try to architect an asset to appeal to a broader audience, the more likely you are to experience diminishing returns. Just as how Michael Keaton’s character in the movie Multiplicity became less effective the more it was cloned, the same is true for content. At some point, the fragmentation of assets will corrupt your message and break the customer journey.

By nature, marketers feel compelled to quickly get to the value proposition and are conditioned to believe that the “speeds and feeds” are what sell products. Unfortunately, their content often fails to recognize the problem and empathize with the customer. This poses a question for the customer: Who are you more likely to buy from?  The company that knows and understands your challenge or the one who assumes you have a problem they can solve?  

By leveraging less content that speaks to a broad audience on a familiar level, you can start to build that trust and create a content ecosystem that enables them to explore and inspires them to be curious about how you can meet their needs.

What you stand for matters more now than ever.

Consumers have changed.  Whether you’re a B2B or a B2C company, your customers want you to value the same things they do. They want to be inspired by how you help the community, the environment, and the future.  They want to feel good about their purchases and feel like their investment not only solves their specific need, but also have some impact on the world in which they live.

Additionally, consumers are hungry for what’s next. They want to be inspired by how your products not only change the world, but also their lives on some small level. It’s important to be a part of something.  Whether you’re committed to changing the way technology enables children to learn and access basic information or reimagining the next revolution in transportation, we inherently want to anticipate what’s possible.  We want to dream about what comes next and what the future holds.

We’re only at the beginning of this new content world, and what comes next is beyond our wildest imaginations. We’re exposed to new innovations at a pace we’ve never seen before, and marketers are challenged with understanding not only the opportunity, but also how these new innovations fit into their overall mix (as well as how these innovations produce potential pitfalls—e.g., livestreaming applications).  

Nevertheless, at the root of all content is an understanding of what inspires and creates trust: Trust that you understand me and my industry, what I need to be successful, and what I need to better serve my customers. 

Customers are getting savvier by the minute and they want the right content, at the right time, and in the right place. But more important, they want compelling content that makes them feel emotions, creates intent, and inspires action.

The sooner we shift mind-sets from content as a consumption effort to content as a belief structure, the faster we will achieve trust, higher brand sentiment, and a forgiving and invested community.

About the author:

Kevin Green is executive director of global digital strategy and innovation at Dell. He and his team are focused on next-generation marketing techniques and processes that drive Dell’s digital transformation and redefine the way that Dell connects with a broad, global customer base. Using an agile approach and design thinking methodology, Kevin leverages his 15 years’ experience in digital marketing, analytics, and communications to predict the digital behaviors and consumption patterns that drive engagement and action.

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