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Three ways to invent and improve automated content

Depending on whether they’re in the awareness, education or action phase, different customers need different content. Here are three tips for automating it.

It’s worth aspiring to construct your retention content strategy around real-time interactions. Certainly, watching customer behavior and automatically sending the exact perfect message at the moment of truth for each decision point is the ideal.

Recently, however, I’ve been having a lot of strategy conversations with marketers struggling to get off the ground. What is needed is a framework, from which we can start the engagement conversation, track activity and learn about what content and offers are most interesting.

A review of your content approach is worthwhile if you are just starting out or if you are going after a new market or segment. And if your automated content program has been running for a while, it may just be in need of an upgrade.

I like to construct this framework based on life stage. Start with three to six content experiences – which could be online, in your app, via email, on Twitter, in the retail store, even over the phone – based on what you know about your customers and synched to the kinds of problems that your offerings solve.

Watch how people interact and engage with the content. As you learn, and study your analytics for experiences you can add in between, you can trigger more of them for real time.

There are usually three questions at this point:

  1. Which life stages matter most?
  2. What content is most likely to resonate?
  3. When, and how frequently?

Regardless of topic, the answer to marketing strategy questions is always the same: “It depends.” (“Test it” is also a very good universal answer!) Customize your approach based on this simple framework that can work for nearly any audience.

Just as there are three questions, there are three major life stages and complementary content strategies:

1. Awareness

Usually, this is basic content to make an introduction and show a little personality.

Is your brand fun and whimsical? Stoic and serious? Whatever it is, be authentic, and let it shine through while you introduce your position in the market and your value to customers.

Refrain from either strong pitches or making it all about the product at this stage. Use top-of-the-funnel material to attract leads, not close them.

2. Education

Blog content works great here, since it’s usually the freshest material that addresses the unique trends and activity in your industry.

Customers in this stage are actively looking for information, so make that easy to find: online, in person and through your sales or customer service team. Being helpful and informed is most important at this stage; these are the activities which will lead to a sales conversation.

The hardest part is to stay in education mode until the customer is really ready. I think it’s OK to hint strongly – but don’t scare them away.

3. Action

You know when someone is truly interested. An action could be a download from your library of whitepapers, a first sale from a deep discount coupon or a newsletter sign-up.

The beauty of automation is that you can trigger a follow-up action immediately after each, which gradually brings your customer or prospect toward a richer relationship (and larger sales opportunities) with your company.

Content here still needs to be educational, but it is oriented toward the action. Always give people a chance to contact you directly in whatever ways you make available, be it a sales team, a retail outlet, customer service hotline or even online comments.

That leaves the question of timing. Again, the answer is, “It depends.” It’s hard for marketers to be passive about timing; we are so excited about our products and services that we often rush the customer with more information than they need or can consume.

It’s definitely frustrating to see a lot of people in the upper funnel who never go any deeper. While it’s always worth trying to increase the conversion rate from Awareness to Education, it’s probably a better use of time to concentrate on the move from Education to Action.

The operative word in constructing your content cadence is “respect.” The best marketing makes it all about the customer’s needs, and not about the product (or the hard sell).

It’s hard to build content that is effective at the Awareness stage because people are all over the place with their needs and intentions. Still, map out a set of conversations that you are willing, able and qualified to have with your customers, and focus on content that allows free interaction on those topics.

Often, this is about the problems your company solves, not about the product itself. Make it too broad and you risk building awareness among people who will never be your customers. Make it too narrow – “how to post a podcast in iTunes” – and you will limit your opportunity. (Unless, of course, your product is really only about posting a podcast, in which case, have at it.) The timing for how long you engage a customer during this first stage can be anywhere from one minute to one year.

The education stage cadence is usually most tricky. Start with two or three interactions that lead toward an action and see what the response is.

Tweak it from there: add in more content paths if needed to capture segments of the audience that think differently than you originally planned, or create more paths to the same action. For one B2B technology client recently, just adding podcasts built from previous webinars helped boost the number of interactions – and lead to higher conversation to action.

There is, sadly, no magic formula to marketing automation and content strategy, which perhaps means good job security for all of us. However, it is one of the most important strategic foundations of successful marketing and lead generation, and deserves constant nurturing and analysis.



by Stephanie Miller