When buying products from an average brand, most people probably don’t consider the customer experience they’ve had. Customers will buy a product and use it with little to no thought as to the branding of the company that supplied it. This is a problem for brands trying to build loyalty in a competitive space. When the customer experience is delivered properly, however, it can bridge the gap between the product or service and the brand, and content marketing can be the starting point.
At the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit last October in London, Alan Granger, Global Marketing Manager at Sports Interactive, gave a presentation that explored the relationship between content and the wider customer experience, explaining how he views the former as intrinsically part of the latter. Sports Interactive are responsible for one of the world’s most beloved sports video game franchises, Football Manager. And the game is popular essentially wherever soccer is popular. Both China and the US are huge emerging markets for the game, which already sells around 2.5 million units each year as new iterations of the game are released.
Gaming is a ripe area for customer experience insight, given that users (or, in the case of Football Manager, we’ll call them fans) will simply stop playing if the experience doesn’t match up to their expectations. If it does, then a significant improvement in each user’s playing time will reflect that. The series, which was born in 2004, has an average playing time on desktop per user of 250 hours. “Customer experience for us is absolutely key,” Alan says. “The way we approach it is that we don’t make the game that we want to make, we make the game that they want, and that they tell us that they want, that the insights tell us that they want. Because we know that we need to at least maintain or better the average play time every single year. The way to do that is to be completely customer centric.”
Alan focused on content marketing strategy, which he sees as one of the most challenging areas for marketers to worry about, but one with the most potential. He believes that most brands are looking at content marketing in entirely the wrong way. “Companies, however, in terms of how they approach content marketing, they say: ‘Let’s make the content, people will visit the content, and then they’ll buy our product’ and that is just not how it happens. It is not how it happens, and if you think that’s how it happens then you’ve got to speak to your finance team about pulling back some of your investment in content marketing, because it’s just BS, total BS.”
What actually happens, Alan explains, is far more organic. He uses the example of a barber shop in Shoreditch, London. Scrolling through Facebook, he stumbles across an article related to beards that he finds interesting. “There was no engagement, no like, no comment, no share,” he explains, but weeks later his girlfriend asks him to trim his beard. Days later, he gives in, and he remembers that he read something interesting related to beards weeks ago. As 80% of potential customers do when making a purchase, he uses Google to find the publishers – Murdock barbers. He is presented with a well-designed, clear, responsive website that gives him information that is otherwise potentially a pain point: exact pricing, who will be doing the cut, how long it will take, etc.
When booking the cut, he is asked for an email address and a password, following which he receives a confirmation email that is as aesthetically well-designed as the website. To Alan, this suggests that the positive experience will carried through every touch point with the brand, and fittingly the shop itself was equally pleasant to visit, and in keeping with the design of the site. After his visit, he was prompted quickly to offer feedback via email, which included a link to the shop’s Facebook page, which he then liked. This, coupled with the offer of a loyalty scheme that made his sixth haircut free, meant that he well and truly part of their ecosystem.
“It’s genuine engagement,” Alan says. “People talk about engagement but that is genuine engagement. I’m spending more time on site – they’re learning more about me. I’m visiting more pages, so they can build more of a profile on who I am, what I’m about. I’m potentially sharing on social, I’m at least commenting, I’m definitely recommending friends, and I’m signing up to their loyalty scheme… That’s how content marketing actually works. What it’s about is patience, and it’s about covering the different touchpoint across the journey. It’s about building relationships, being useful to your prospects and existing customers in case they might want to come back to you. But what will bring them back to you is experiences.”
It’s this joined-up thinking, from initial touch point to in store visit, that Alan sees as the truest form of content marketing. It cannot be as simple as ‘get users onto the site, present them with a CTA, convert the sale’. The process of building relationships with consumers is far less direct than this. Content exists to increase the visibility of your brand and offer value to consumers when they do come across it; it’s the initial experience that, for the best results, should be in line with everything your brand does.
Brands looking to harness the potential of content marketing could benefit from taking this kind of holistic approach. It’s not enough to publish content and expect audiences to click through and purchase your products. This may work for some customers in the short term but, to build up long-term engagement and trust, brands should view content as part of a much wider customer journey, from initial interest to becoming part of the ecosystem. If a barbershop can provide such an impeccable digital experience, so can you.