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Know Thy Customer: Content Strategies

Kevin Nichols
Know Thy Customer: Content Strategies Kevin Nichols

In less than 10 years time, the internet has changed the face of communication and become the "global village," a mechanism for global communication -- democratic in nature -- with the ability to penetrate various cultural contexts simultaneously.


Within this village, a star such as Sandi Thom was created. Sandi was a relatively unknown musician who marketed herself with nothing more than a webcam and a podcast in her basement and gained more than 40,000 viewers worldwide in her first week, elevating her to the status to that of an international superstar.


Ten years ago, this organic marketing strategy was inconceivable, but today the global village has never been more evident. Anyone can post information and have it consumed via numerous distribution channels or mediums worldwide. So the question of how to deliver the right content to the right user at the right time and have it viewed or heard becomes critical.


But regardless of all the options out there, and all the information flowing through them, a successful content strategy is not impossible. The basics of marketing still apply, despite the medium or format.


The following four best practices illustrate how to create an effective content strategy in today's digital interactive age:


1. Know thy customers (or content consumer): First and foremost, any enterprise needs to understand who its customers are. Within today's digital world, different customers rely on different channels to obtain information.  Some may use their cellphone or PDA, others may turn specifically to blogs or personalized sites, whereas others may use search engines. Many use all of those things and consume (or desire to see) content presented differently in each one. It is possible to conduct user research to determine who your customers are, which content they consume, and where and how they consume it. For the marketing professional, segmentation models, personas and customer profiles are key. If you know who your customers are and how they behave, you can determine which customers need content via which mediums. Instead of saturating several distribution channels with unwanted information, you can select strategic mediums to channel specific content to your users.


2. Use the gatekeepers: Search engines were the first gatekeepers of content on the internet and they remain so today. They determine who sees what and even whether something will be seen at all. As search engines evolve, businesses need to keep adapting their content strategies to ensure that search engines drive traffic to their sites. Although the technology has increased in search engine marketing (companies can buy space there now), and the rules for results rankings have evolved, the search engine is still the internet's gatekeeper for content. Therefore, a comprehensive search engine marketing and optimization strategy is crucial to the success of your overall content strategy. Regardless of the medium -- blogs, wiki's or YouTube -- search engines continue to drive people to an end result.


3. Synergize and differentiate: Synergy protects the integrity of your brand, while differentiation allows you to meet specific customer needs.  Here's why: There are more mediums out there than ever before and each serves a different need. Content on different mediums should not be the same but should be complementary. Your print campaign should augment your online campaign and vice versa. Different channels online should work together to create a cohesive, informative and customer-centric approach. If you use banners on search engines, YouTube-like or micro-site campaigns ensure that all aspects of each external communication tie back to your overall service, product or website and offer something unique to the user.
Personas and customer research should inform marketers who to design for and what content to offer in what platform.


4. Test, test and test again: Continually test and evaluate the efficacy of your work. This means test the content against the needs of the customer.  The global village is in constant flux, which means that your user base is continually offered new ways to receive information or different styles within any given mechanism. Therefore, staying abreast of their needs is crucial to driving the right content to them.


These four best practices illustrate that the key to each content distribution channel is to think of the channel as a mechanism to reach the customer.


Once you understand that it is not the technology but rather the communication that is the focal point in the relationship between you and your customers, it becomes a matter of mastering the dialogue between the marketer and the customer. A little diligence goes a long way and ensures marketers what the global village is really promising: communication in its most relevant and virile manner.


Kevin Nichols is a senior consultant for Molecular, Inc. .

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