If client-centricity is your holy grail, content should be your chalice

For many of the most successful organizations, becoming more client-centric is the holy grail. Think of Zappos, The Four Seasons, Starbucks, even Apple (arguably). These organizations have realized that it’s not about their products or services – which have often become commoditized – but about the client’s/prospect’s needs; “the market” is not looking for your product or service but rather a solution to a problem they have, the ‘ole “don’t tell me about your grass seed, tell me about my lawn.”

As a member of the C-suite (CEO, President, CMO, etc.) or the VP coterie looking to make your marketing efforts (and organization) as client-centric as possible, and get the best possible long-term return on those efforts, content marketing should be one of your key vessels, if not the key vessel, to deliver those returns.

The reason is that, when done well, content marketing is about understanding the higher order needs/challenges/knowledge gaps of your clients and prospects, and creating/distributing content that will address those needs/challenges/gaps in the most direct way possible – client-centricity is inherent in the best-in-class process, as I’ve often talked about. Many organizations, however, tend to focus exclusively on how best to position their new product against the competition or how to spin their current product features into benefits. Both are important exercises to do, but both are really about your company, not the client.

The more successful alternative to being client-centric is…(and this shouldn’t be surprising)… to get a deep understanding of the key needs of your market! This requires a little more investment in acquiring that knowledge but will always result in more insight into said client. When this insight is applied by using great content, it often results in a longer term relationship with the client/prospect and higher level of trust because they see your organization as a source of valuable information that they return to over and over. And if your content is deemed valuable, that will increase the probability of being included in the consideration set when a purchase decision is to be made because your content is top of mind.

And this doesn’t even consider the benefits strong content offers on a tactical level. When you have a problem, what’s the first thing you do? You probably Google it and the results that are featured are generally those that many others have found to be the most helpful/valuable. To be the most helpful/valuable (i.e., client-centric) you need content that is judged as such, which is where the research comes in since your content should be guided by it – an approach that, as I previously mentioned, is inherent to the best content marketing programs.

By creating and distributing content created based on deep insight into your market, your level of client-centricity should soar and, from a brand and business growth perspective, your cup should runneth over. Here! here!

The best content marketers are servant leaders

When done well, content marketing is about helping clients and prospects. You can think of the role it plays as filling a knowledge gap or helping to solve a problem or need experienced by the audience (preferably, a higher-order need). It is one of, if not the, most client-centric approaches to marketing/business.

To help maintain this approach in practice, many content marketers think of themselves as educators or problem solvers vs. marketers or sales people. This frame reminds them of what their ultimate goal is – to educate or solve problems, not to sell products or services (although this is what naturally results when done well). In this same vein, the concept of being a “servant leader” can also be a useful concept to use.

A servant leader (or one who practices servant leadership) is defined by its originator Robert Greenleaf as one who “…focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid…” In other words, a servant leader puts “the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” Traditional leadership may achieve this same goal but it would be seen as a means to a leadership end or a by-product, whereas servant leaders consider it the end itself.

It is this definition of servant leadership that aligns almost perfectly with the best content marketing. Both have an audience first perspective; both are focused on helping that audience and consider helping the end itself, not just the means; and both often see organizational success (whether it’s leadership or selling) as the natural by-product of their efforts.

So if you want to become the best content marketer, start thinking of yourself as a servant leader.


Clear as mud: content marketing in a nutshell…for my sister

“Hey, I read your blog today,” my sister said to me one day.

Stunned silence. I’ve got to admit, I was a little confused. I didn’t think anyone read my blog. I needed to clarify.

“What do you mean?” I finally asked, my in-depth investigative reporting techniques coming to the fore.

“I mean I read your blog today,” she said.

That definitely clarified things.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“It was good,” she said, as a sort-of cloudy look came across her face – the look that I took to mean, “I don’t get it – this whole content marketing thing. It’s about as clear as mud.”

And I realized that I hadn’t made the case, so to speak, for what content marketing is and why it’s a valuable marketing approach. So here, for my sister, and anyone else reading that’s still unclear about what content marketing is and why it’s valuable, is content marketing in a nutshell.

Let’s start with the environment in which we all live (and buy) in, and consider these facts:

  • some claim that the average person is exposed to more than 5,000 brand messages a day, either through print, digital, audio, or video. At this point, we’ve all become masters of filtering out ads – most of us don’t even see them anymore
  • Google search is quickly becoming the number one tool people use to solve their problems, whether the problem is finding a great restaurant, figuring out how to waste five spare minutes in an entertaining way, or learning about the different options you can have in a new car
  • “consumers” have so many products to choose from, and there’s so much messaging around them by sellers, that they’re getting burned out hearing about your product – they don’t care. What they care about is solving the problem they currently have, whether it’s an eating problem, a boredom problem, or a transportation problem

So, what these stats point to is a consumer tired of “interruption advertising” and being sold to AND who increasingly is using online means to solve their problems. How is a selling organization supposed to behave in order to align with cultural norms yet still sell stuff?

That’s where content marketing comes in to play. Content marketing is a very customer-centric approach to marketing where the customers/prospects and their problems are the centre of everything – not the organization’s products or services – and solving those problems becomes the raison d’etre of the selling organization. As a result, the selling organization doesn’t promote itself or its products, it stays focused on trying to help customers/prospects fix their problems. If done well, this will create a positive feeling in the customer’s/prospect’s mind towards the brand offering the valuable information. As well, by offering this valuable problem-solving information on a regular basis, it also keeps the brand top of mind so that when the customer/prospect is ready to buy a solution to their problem, the positively-associated, top of mind brand is automatically included in the consideration set.

As an example, think about one of the most successful brands using content marketing – Red Bull. Red Bull, for those living in a cave for the past 10 years, is an energy drink and focuses much of its marketing efforts on developing and distributing awesome videos (as in, videos that create a feeling of awe) about extreme sports. None of them mention the drink or the benefits of the drink – the leave that to other forms of marketing (like advertising). Red Bull’s content (in this case videos) is intended to create a strong and positive association between extreme athletics, a feeling of awe, and its brand so that when someone is considering buying an energy drink, they remember Red Bull’s videos and the feelings they inspired, and are inspired themselves to buy the drink over the competitors.

Or consider a small consulting business that’s trying to grow. Using the principles of content marketing, they identify a common problem in their target market that that have the capability to solve, and invite some of their clients, prospects, and subject matter experts to discuss the issue at no cost to the participants – they don’t present their products or services but only act as a normal participant. The group has a productive and engaging half day, during which someone from the consulting firm has been taking notes about what was said. The note taker later reviews the notes and packages up the most valuable points into a whitepaper that is given to the participants for free, as well as to other clients and prospects. In this way, the consulting firm has gathered valuable information that addresses a commonly shared problem and provides it to their target market at no cost. The recipients, having gained valuable knowledge, start to develop a positive association with the consulting firm, and if this process is regularly repeated, the consulting firm stays top of mind as a potential solution for the discussed problem as well as other related problems. When a prospect or existing client organization has a problem that the consulting firm has positioned itself as being able to help fix, the consulting firm gets included in the consideration set for purchase, which represents potential business that may never have presented itself without content marketing.

This same approach can be used by any company regardless of size or market to sell any product or service, regardless of B2B or B2C. There are, of course, nuances to it that vary by all these factors, but as an approach, it works equally well for all organizations.

And that, in a nutshell, is what content marketing is all about and why it’s a valuable approach.

Clear as mud, sis?