The phrase “content is king” has been a mantra for marketers and content strategists since Bill Gates coined it in his 1996 essay ushering in the new World Wide Web – and with good reason. In the years that followed, the internet transformed content production and consumption, algorithms rewarded prolific producers, and consumers did what they do best: consume.
As they did so, consumer insights and behavior became more measurable and more valuable to marketers, and algorithms for platforms like Facebook, Google and YouTube shifted from prioritizing the most recent to prioritizing the most relevant (as well as paid content). By the mid 2010s, as mobile device use skyrocketed, context demanded attention, and marketers sought to better understand the ways users’ experience of content changed based on where and when they engaged with it. As user experiences became more contextual, user expectations for those experiences shifted, too.
Recent years have brought unprecedented, accelerated shifts in all of it – platforms, devices, algorithms and user expectations – and in today’s content-saturated market, marketers must serve a new leader: connection.
Connection’s Reign in 2022
In a recent survey of more than 25,000 consumers worldwide, Accenture found that 72% of today’s consumers expect companies to understand and address how their needs have changed, and be there to help. In another recent survey from Qualtrics, more than 60% of consumers said they would buy more from businesses that show they care about them.
For marketers, opportunities to demonstrate care and add value through meaningful connection with consumers should inform every aspect of a content strategy – including where, when, and how to connect in ways that go beyond transactional, generalized, surface-level exchanges and convey more holistic understanding of your customer.
Where to Connect
Figuring out where to best initiate and deepen connection with your consumer involves multiple layers of consideration, starting with the platforms – where are your consumers, and where will they be most open to meaningful engagement with your brand? That second piece is important, and to understand where your consumers want to engage, you need understanding of platform demographics and trends as well as holistic understanding of your specific consumers, the value proposition you’re putting forth to them, and where they are most likely to be interested/open to that exchange. And note: for some brands, it may not be online.
The next layer marketers must consider is where their targets are in the customer journey, as customer needs and motivators change as their relationship with your brand matures. The sort of content and connection they value at the point of sale are different from those that will sustain brand affinity and loyalty after sale, for example. From the earliest stages of awareness, your customer needs to feel a connection to your brand, and it is incumbent upon marketers to plan smart content and experiences to nurture connection over time. Complicating this process is the fact that consumer journeys are no longer linear, a fact that reinforces the need for regular monitoring of analytics.
When to Connect
In general, you’ll see social media platform use spike before work, during lunch, and in the evening. And in general, the best time to send marketing emails is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday. These general rules of thumb are 101-level strategy – a good place to start, but only to start. A deeper dive into your brand’s specific audience behaviors, combined with A/B testing, analytics and optimizations, will drive a more sophisticated and effective connection strategy.
Additionally, marketers can maximize connection by understanding the moments that make the most difference – some call these “moments of truth.” A moment of truth is an instance in which a consumer feels a strong emotion, positive or negative, and/or has a pressing need that you can address. These moments are great opportunities for your brand to connect by offering help, alleviating a pain point or amplifying a positive experience.
Less discussed but no less important along the customer journey are moments of neutrality. These are moments your consumer doesn’t need anything specific from your brand and probably isn’t thinking about you but could still get value in a smart exchange derived from understanding their needs and preferences. Such moments offer great opportunities to surprise and delight, add value and reinforce a consumer’s feelings of connection to your brand – if handled correctly. For example, Artifact Uprising, a retailer for photography albums and accessories, occasionally curates email series and blog posts in which they share photography tips for iPhone users, simple photo edits that make a big difference, and other how-to’s and inspiration for the average person. These are not overtly tied to a specific promotion, product or seasonal uptick in sales – rather, they deliver value to their customers by providing useful information to improve their personal photos. By building that connection, the customer will have the brand top of mind when it comes time to display their new-and-improved photo taking skills.
How to Connect
To determine the correct way for your brand to connect requires a deep and holistic understanding of your consumer and the ways in which your brand adds value to their life at different times. By investing in research and gathering insights into your consumer you will be able to better define the ways in which your business objectives intersect with your consumers’ needs, and the challenge is to deliver an experience that moves the needle for both.
And you can’t stop there: Today’s marketers also need to understand and articulate where their brand’s values overlap with their consumers’ values. “Strong ethical values” were top consumer motivators in Accenture’s survey, and consumer research across the board shows increased attention to and prioritization of brand values.
With connection as the key, marketing content must be human-first and values-forward, meeting your consumers not with what you want them to hear/read/experience, but with content that demonstrates and honors your understanding of how, when and where they want it. Strong connection is a powerful tool to not just survive but thrive in the face of continually shifting algorithms, pandemics and global market shifts over time.
Is your content strategy driving meaningful connection with your consumers?