Authentic content offers a means for brands to improve their customer engagement. It’s not the only means, of course, but it’s one of the options that marketers too frequently ignore in their quest for content that gets read or viewed and acted upon.

The role of marketing hasn’t changed . . . just how it’s done

A great deal of marketing articles over the past few years have been dedicated to dissecting how marketing’s new role is to profitably drive customer engagement. This is not really a new role, but merely a refinement and natural evolution of the practice of marketing, aligned with the increased use of data. It is, as SAS contends, a shift from Mad Men to Math Men.

Go back a few decades to the era of Mad Men. Mass marketing was the preferred choice of marketers, and hitting the most people with a push campaign was de rigeur. Successful customer engagement was measured in viewership versus dialogue. Interestingly, it is a practice still deployed by many brands, albeit across a more fragmented media landscape. Return on investment has steadily fallen for this technique due to challenges such as finding large audiences of interested customers who don’t fast-forward past your ads, and a tendency toward marketing fatigue with a one-size-fits-all message.

After mass marketing came the era of customer segmentation, with many brands investing in research and clustering analysis to find and market to slighly narrower definitions of customers by demographic or psychographic group. This phase, the heyday of direct marketing circa the 1990s, involved the first significant use of databases and database marketing techniques to hone targeting and messaging.

With the advent of and improvements in digital printing came more personalization: one-to-one campaigns that were affordable, and where incidences of testing increased to improve marketing ROI over defined time periods. However, the channels for marketing were largely confined to targeted media, direct mail and email. It still is practiced by many brands, albeit with some brands still opting for a push marketing approach to these clustered audiences—a curiosity, or perhaps a sign that the segmentation, while valid on paper, did not translate into meaningful differences in messaging.

Today, marketers are still pursuing techniques that profitably drive customer engagement, but many have recognized that the most effective are pull techniques, usually centered on a content-led strategy. The rise of social media has brought a dialogue-led approach, where customer views are amplified and where customers demand more content that is user-centric—and above all, interesting or entertaining. With more devices to access content comes increased demand to have consistency across communications. It’s a challenge many marketers still struggle with—for example, filling in details for an online credit or insurance application only to repeat the information with a live operator moments later.

Big Data, touted as the holy grail by left-brain-driven marketers, is seen as an unholy threat by more creatively focused right-brain-driven marketers. Yet the increased investment in marketing technology, offering the means to corral, interpret, and act on the deluge of data, suggests that the Math Men are indeed winning out.

Where authentic content is needed

This latest evolution of marketing brings a concurrent increase in the need for, and communication of, content by marketers. According to an eMarketer study, 60 percent of B2B marketers create at least one piece of marketing content per day. Over a year, that’s a lot of content. According to Trackmaven, while the volume of content is increasing by over 30 percent, the levels of engagment are decreasing by double digits. This poses a challenge for marketers: to stand out and engage meaningfully with customers and prospects in an increasingly cluttered content-led environment. The solution, in part, may be right under marketers’ noses. Or more accurately, sitting in a dusty box in the CEO’s outer office.

Authentic content, rooted in a brand’s heritage and experiences, is unique in that it can be used to tell a new narrative about a brand. It can supplement how your brand relates to customers and prospects and yet remain truly owned by your brand. There are three distinct uses where authentic content can help drive meaningful customer engagement.

  1. Educate those unfamiliar with your history and/or your marketing pedigree.

Stanley Marcus, former president and chairman of Neiman Marcus, once said “Consumers aren’t statistics, customers are people.” It is worth remembering, when looking at stats on your customer base, that many may have no familiarity with where you’ve been as a brand. Tang, for example, is well known to those in their 50s or older as the drink for astronauts. In talking with my 15-year-old about Tang, his first question was “What’s an astronaut?” It’s a reminder of how important it is to guard against letting personal experiences and perceptions guide judgments. Get to know consumers as people, and you’ll quickly realize that your assumptions about what they think or know about your brand may be outdated.

Authentic content provides a means to educate new and younger market prospects and customers about where you’ve been as a brand, and the values that you believe in. Most brand strategies include how to define the brand’s personality. In effect, we personify our brands so that we know how they should behave to be most attractive to our target audiences. Yet if our brands are “people,” then we need to remember that for many of our target audiences, they don’t know our background. They won’t know the ad campaign from a few years ago, or your track record of innovation since the 1950s. They’re effectively meeting you as a new acquaintance, and for many brands, that meeting is under the assumption that the brand is more famous and better known that it actually is to large portions of their audience.  You can’t take your reputation for granted anymore—they may not know your brand that well, especially if it’s in an infrequently purchased category. Use your authentic content to educate the values that you’ve used in your past for your new audience, and do so regularly as new prospects enter your market.

  1. Increase your trust quotient.

Authentic content provides a means to remind members of your audience who DO remember where you’ve been that you stand by your values and have grown over the years. Back to our personification of our brand, it’s the equivalent of your brand turning up at its high school reunion. Yes, it’s good to reminisce with those who knew you before, but it’s also important to talk about how you’ve changed over the years and evolved. By balancing content around where you’ve been and where you’re going, you can help increase trust by reminding customers you’re still the same old you that they liked back then.

A good example of this is Wells Fargo. The recent media campaign leverages authentic content as a reminder of where the bank came from before acknowledging how it had lost its way recently. The campaign announced a recommitment to the values that made Wells Fargo a trusted brand, a mea culpa that was needed to right the ship after the scandals of the past couple years.

  1. Help humanize your brand

Finding your brand’s voice, and making it more approachable, seems to be all the rage at the moment. Whether it’s the cheeky social retorts of Moon Pie  and Wendy’s, or having a retail presence like REI that promotes brand purpose, brands are responding and promoting with flair and a distinctive voice.  Achieving that human voice almost always warrants revisiting where your brand has been and how it spoke originally. This use of authentic content, contextualized for today, can be a powerful tool, as the Wells Fargo brand campaign clearly illustrates.

Of course, there are many ways to leverage authentic content to engage prospects and customers, in both big and small ways. The trick is moving beyond the statistics and defining gaps you may have with your customers. And then, as Stanley Marcus would probably have suggested, get real. Helping you find and leverage your authentic content is our bread and butter, and we’d love to help.