Five years ago, I stood up at Social Media Week in Copenhagen and made a prediction: that by the year 2020, brand content would always be highly informed by personal, transactional, behavioral and contextual data. I’m hoping there isn’t a video of that event floating around because, embarrassingly, that hasn’t really happened. Think about it: How often do you interact with brand content that feels genuinely personalized – not the sledgehammer of segmentation but something that feels unique and valuable to you? 

And it’s not the technology that’s fallen short; it’s the content. 

Systems and data have, in fact, unlocked incredible new capabilities for marketers. They can now continuously listen to customer signals and identify micro-moments that matter to each one of them. Every customer interaction is an opportunity for brands to build loyalty, encourage advocacy, drive purchases or create a value exchange for more data.  

Which is why the ex-CMO of Unilever Keith Weed noted: “We have an ambition to build a billion one-to-one relationships.” 

The ambition is noble, but the challenge for all brands is delivering the content to make those relationships valuable. It’s impossible to create a billion pieces of personalized content unless it’s all generated algorithmically. And it’s hard to have a relationship with an algorithm

So how do brands go about delivering on the promise of the technology and the data without spending millions on content creation and production? 

Rethinking the Brand Content Creation Process

This challenge is typically compounded by the internal complexities of content creation. Assets are often produced by multiple departments, and by multiple agencies across multiple geographies, with a lack of clear governance. This results in inconsistency in purpose, tone and quality, as well as unclear ROI. 

The upshot: Businesses with substantial investments in enterprise solutions such as the Adobe Experience Cloud or Salesforce Marketing Cloud often use only a fraction of their capabilities to deliver valuable, personalized brand content. It’s the marketing equivalent of spending millions building a massive, state-of-the-art football stadium and then only allowing pub teams to play there. (And to stretch the analogy: dealing with the problem of an empty stadium by repeatedly upgrading the facilities.) 

Making Sense of What You’ve Got

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way – and an appropriate place for a business to start on its content quest is in its own backyard. It’s likely there’s already a load of existing content sitting in long-forgotten social channels, tagged incorrectly in multiple digital asset management (DAM) repositories, or on the desktops of freelance writers who forgot to upload to the server. 

And some of this could be very valuable (and cost-effective) if it can be surfaced, evaluated, adapted, personalized. That requires a clear content strategy, an audit, a single centralized DAM, governance and guidelines. 

For example, we worked with a global sportswear retailer to develop a content strategy that supported the company’s aggressive growth targets on its e-commerce platform. The retailer wanted to deliver premium experiences for customers to improve love for the brand and desire for the products.

With the strategy in place, we established a “future content laboratory:” an agile data, insights and creative team that identified, tested and disseminated new ways of planning, creating and distributing content to deliver on the vision. Results included a 5% increase in conversion and 7% increase in add-to-cart on targeted areas of the website, and helped the brand report a 36% increase in digital sales in 2018.  

Content Is King & Queen

Over and above that, brands need to recognize the critical role content plays in delivering experiences. Successful businesses know that the time-worn marketing strategy of interrupting consumers’ experiences to try to persuade them to buy something is now hopelessly outdated. 

In a world of infinite media – where customers are in control of their own touchpoints – relationships are built when a business can enhance experiences: make them better or more meaningful, or create rewarding new experiences of their own. (Or as Mauro Porcini, chief design officer at PepsiCo, put it: “We compete with the latest song of Beyoncé.”) 

Delivering valuable experiences requires a combination of technology, data and creativity – and content is typically the output. 

If, then, a business can combine innovative systems thinking with creative storytelling, it can start to deliver the type of experiences their customers will value. That means analyzing and optimizing customer micro-moments, for example, by coupling Google Analytics user-flow data with landing page heat-mapping, or ascertaining blockage points within the mobile experience based on churn or fall-out. 

It means not just focusing on the production of content assets (videos, GIFs, podcasts, blogs and so on) but also the words used to navigate, the language that prompts users to take action, and the physical ways the content is displayed on a page. 

And it means content creators (journalists, designers, copywriters, videographers, front-end developers, VR artists) working hand in hand with technology architects, data scientists and strategists. 

All of this needs to add up to something coherent and credible – experiences that while informed by customer data, also feel distinct and unique to the brand and its view of the world. Again, this calls for a clear content strategy and governance.  

We worked with a global automotive manufacturer that wanted to drive higher quality leads to dealers by better understanding its customers and reaching them with targeted, personalized content. We developed an audience insight tool and a campaign reporting dashboard that allowed individual retailers to see where their immediate growth opportunities were, and ensure the flow of marketing activity into site visits, store visits, telephone calls, leads and sales.

This enabled our 50-strong creative team to work hand-in-hand with our data analysts and strategists to deliver highly personalized content to prospective customers. As a result, the automaker saw a 12% increase in leads and a 23% decrease in cost per lead in 2019, during a very challenging time in the automotive market. 

Brand Content that Means Something

By taking this approach, businesses can unlock the capabilities of the aforementioned content marketing environments and better deliver meaningful experiences. Because if the system is a cost and the data a prize, the value truly starts to accrue when content connects to customers. 

And let’s hope that in another five years, we won’t be lamenting the continued missed opportunities for businesses to deliver on that. 

Matt Simpson

Matt Simpson

Matt Simpson is a Senior Director at Cognizant and leads the consumer goods portfolio in the UK. He began his career as... Read more