Why Shopper Marketing NEEDS Content Strategy

I have been thinking a lot recently about the intersection of shopper marketing and content strategy. For the uninitiated, shopper marketing focuses on the actual conversion as opposed to top- or mid-funnel activity like awareness or arguably engagement. 

While not necessarily confined to in-store, retail activity, most agencies that specialize in shopper marketing focus on POS (point of sale). On many shopper marketing agency sites, you will see a lot about packaging, signage, displays, etc. Some work with or have bolted on a PR component to make further hay out of any special event. But I find few agencies that embrace a rigorous strategic component BEFORE diving into the in-store marketing. Of the top 10 search results that include "shopper marketing," only one ("shopper marketing research") contains an element of messaging or strategy. (Not definitive evidence, I realize, but illustrative at least.)

Content strategy can add a lot to shopper marketing; likewise, content strategists can also learn a lot from shopper marketers. I will get more into why shopper marketing agencies need to embrace content strategy later, but let's take a look at how user behavior has changed in the last decade as it will likely point toward how agencies must evolve to meet demand.

We Sure Don't Shop Like We Used To

I cringe at these citations, but bare with me. The wikipedia entry for shopper marketing cites several stats, including:

  • 70% of brand selections are made at stores (GMA Online, 2007)
  • 68% of buying decisions are unplanned (MediaBuyerPlanner, 2006)

These stats describe a free-wheeling retail experience which is unfamiliar to me, at least. Now, let's look at some more recent figures from The Zero Moment of Truth.

  • Consumers are viewing much more content online before making a purchase decision. In 2010, consumers consulted 5.7 pieces of content online before making a purchase. That number almost double in a year. In 2011, the average was 10.4 pieces of content. You can bet that the number of pieces is only increasing.
  • Consumers are spending more time with that online content. In 2010, 9% of a consumer's research time was spent online, pre-POS. In just a year, that almost doubled to 17% of research time in 2011. Again, bet on that figure only increasing.

So, if consumers are investigating pre-purchase more and more, why would many shopper agencies cede that territory to focus on POS? Short answer: they shouldn't. Enter content strategy.

Content Strategy <3 Education

Awareness and engagement are easy answers to the pre-purchase conundrum, but they are also vague. In my opinion, educational content is where shopper agencies should develop their offerings and content strategy is perfectly positioned to define educational content: what already exists, what consumers want to know, the type of content they prefer, channel of choice, content cadence, etc. (Educational content definitely hits awareness and can also hit upon engagement too, of course.)

Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy, had this to say on the topic (emphasis mine):

"If you have no real basis for comparing one product to another, the normal instinct is to buy what's cheaper. But if a store sets itself up to educate shoppers, even just a little, a certain number of them will spend more than what is absolutely necessary." (Updated version, page 190)

I was recently working with a big-name brand who offers home appliance repairs, digging into their content and investigating what leads up to this brand getting a call to fix a dishwasher, air conditioner, etc. After performing a content audit and mapping out the user journey, we were able to discern exactly where this brand was supporting the consumer through the funnel with educational content and where they were lacking. (This exercise alone will have a huge impact - they will spend their money more wisely producing exactly the content their consumers need with fewer editorial revisions and served up in multiple channels. This efficiency will save them thousands, if not millions.)

But, when combined with secondary research, we learned that a big problem was that a lot of these customers did not know how to be repair customers. They didn't fix things themselves, but a lot didn't regularly call for repairs either. We needed to illustrate what a repair service call looked like in order to put them at ease. Our job, through content, was to make them better repairs consumers. Truly fascinating!

Content Strategy In Action With Shopper Marketing

There are many ways content strategy adds value to shopper marketing efforts. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Use digital (educational) content to drive to in-store sales. Online orders only count for 11.6% of total retail dollars, but digital can still drive sales into stores. Content strategy can help define customer pain points and determine topics that will help snag the conversion - online or in-store.
  2. Use content to help make decisions (or up-sell) while in-store. With 80% of shoppers using their smartphone while in the store, digital couponing while in-store is occurring more and more. Content wrapped around those coupons help the in-store consumer make purchase decisions and provide the opportunity for retailers to up-sell. Content pre- and post-purchase - based on various data sources - would also be a powerful addition.
  3. Use content to convince and persuade through signage. This poster from the CDC and displayed in Walgreens is a great example of a seemingly innocuous decision that can be changed through educational content.
  4. Use content to way-find or ease the shopping experience. Ideas like a mobile concierge (page 5) would be popular to guide consumers to items they want (whether they are familiar with those items or not) or give location help while in-store. Content strategists could help advise what in-store problems people are expressing online as well as recommend other relevant products to promote.
  5. Use content to create a unique experience in-store. Kate Spade, in partnership with eBay, and others are playing around with digital selection experiences. A content strategist could determine not only user needs at the POS, but also assess criterion consumers use to make decisions to create a decision-making experience that is fun and playful. (TV shopping alone would never be the same.)

The Other Side Of The Coin

Naturally, integration between content strategy and shopper marketing could yield these and many more positive results for clients. I'm able to focus more on the content strategy side of things because that's the world I know. That said, content strategy could certainly learn from shopper marketing practices as well.

One element I would urge content strategists to learn from shopper marketers is that the buyer isn't necessarily the consumer. (Think about beer purchases and consumptions.) Content strategists spend a lot of time thinking about consumers and their needs, but they often don't pay as much attention to behavioral patterns and differences that may emerge. Or content strategists focus only on digital and sometimes ignore anything that falls outside of the digital realm. We can certainly learn those lessons from our friend specializing in shopper marketing.

Comments?

So, what do you think? Please feel free to poke holes in this argument. I look forward to all constructive criticism in hopes of presenting a more clear understanding of how these disciplines can learn from each other.

25 Content Strategy Blog Posts I'd Like To Read

You read Content Strategy for the Web or maybe just some blog posts on the subject. Maybe you attended the Web Content conference last week or just think content strategy could be for you. No matter your expertise, there's no mistaking: we need more intelligence devoted to content strategy. Here are 25 ideas for content strategy blog posts you should think about writing. How about tackling one this week?

If you do, feel free to link back to this post so your readers can get inspired too. In that respect, props to Chris Brogan and his post, 50 Blog Posts Marketers Could Write for their Companies, for inspiring this post.

Which post are you going to write?

For the content strategy newbie:

  • How did you first hear about content strategy? What piqued your interest that first time?
  • What are the top 3 benefits of a content strategy program, in your opinion. Or what 3 ways will it change the way you work day to day?
  • How are you educating yourself about content strategy? What blogs or books are you using?
  • How does your previous (or current) job prepare you for future content strategy work?
  • Some say that content strategy practitioners are to copywriting as information architects are to design. Have you found this to be the case in your position?
  • How do you explain content strategy to your closest co-workers? What metaphor aptly describes content strategy in your office?
  • From where do you draw your daily inspiration? This could be a person, place, experience, book, or feeling.
  • What do you most enjoy about content strategy? What makes you the happiest in your job?

For the content strategy journeyman:

  • What has been your most successful content strategy effort? What one thing helped it work?
  • How do you explain what you do to your grandparents?
  • What personality traits have you found serve you well? Which ones trip you up?
  • What's the biggest hole in your industry that content strategy can help fill? How is your industry in particular reacting to content strategy?
  • In the latest action movie you've seen, which character would have been most like a content strategist? Why? Is the content strategist the hero?
  • Having had some experience in the practice, what are you most looking forward to in the next year in content strategy? Where are the biggest opportunities?
  • How have you gotten involved in the content strategy community? Have you joined a Google group? Your local CS meet-up?
  • What's been the biggest internal dispute you've had this year regarding content strategy? How about with your client?

For expert content strategists:

  • What are you doing to promote content strategy in your organization? How are you a content strategy ambassador?
  • How has your agency or business implemented content strategy in the last year? What was the impetus?
  • How did your college degree prepare you for your content strategy job, especially since it's highly likely you did not major in content strategy? What path would you recommend to future strategists?
  • What are some new opportunities you see in the field this year? What stands out to make an impact in the next quarter?
  • Failure can often provide priceless insight. What have you learned from recent failures?
  • What's the first thing you do in the morning to prepare for your work each day? How does it help your content strategy work?
  • What processes have you set up in your agency or business to improve your content strategy? What's been your biggest hold-up?
  • How have you customized your offerings to match your client's needs? Did it make the end strategy result better or worse?
  • What leadership are you showing outside of your own organization? How are you expanding your influence for the betterment of content strategy?

Which topic will you take on? Please leave a comment on this post if you answer these, so the rest of the community can read your answer.

tweet thisTweet This Post!

*

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for updates via email or RSS. Also, please share this post on your favorite social media site.

What is content strategy and why should I care?

You've heard about content strategy, but aren't exactly sure what it is. And you don't know exactly how it fits into the agency process. It's OK. We've got you covered.

The video below tells you everything you want to know about content strategy, but didn't know you needed to ask. It's only 3 minutes long. And it uses Post-It notes. Quick and easy.

Check it out below or on the OnlineMarketerBlog YouTube channel. I hope it's helpful - I'd love to hear your comments!

Don't forget to stay subscribed to videos via iTunes. Thanks!

tweet thisTweet This Post!

*

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for updates via email or RSS. Also, please share this post on your favorite social media site.

The One Question Content Strategists Can Never Ask Too Much

Yesterday, I was in a tough meeting. We knew there was a problem. But we couldn't figure out the answer. (Sound familiar?)

We talked about capabilities, functionality, and process. Nothing was clicking.

Taking a recommendation from Switch, I asked a simple question that (for me) turned around the meeting:

If this problem was solved right now, can you describe what it would look like?

Immediately, the conversation changed. Once the goal was identified, all we needed to do was come up with a plan to get there. As strategists, this is our golden zone!

It wasn't until this morning that I realized why this was so important, especially in a creative agency.

Scott McCloud explains the six steps in the creative process in his (awesome) book Understanding Comics. The six steps are:

  1. Idea/Purpose
  2. Form
  3. Idiom
  4. Structure
  5. Craft
  6. Surface

For more details, just buy the book (you should - there's a ton of great theory in there). But creation process aside, just look at those words.

Remind you of an agency at all?

Account folks give form to our projects. Developers build the structures that hold our creations. Designers use their craft to create beautiful surfaces. (I'm taking some liberties with McCloud's list, but you get my drift.)

So where do content strategists appear?

We touch all points in the creation process, but our main impact is felt at the beginning of this process - shaping ideas from insights and determining how to satisfy users as well as the business objectives.

We all get stuck seeing only the trees instead of the forest from time to time. But strategists are required to see above the treeline and point the way toward the goal.

Asking someone to describe what a solution looks like in effect takes them from ground level where they worry about their position, their budget, their resources, their deadlines...and transports them to the end goal. Whew!

Once we imagine ourselves at the goal, it's much easier to turn around and figure out how we got there. There's less clutter. Less in-fighting. More solutions.

As the idea people - designers of the core content experience - it's incumbent upon us to guide the idea-creation process. And sometimes to take that first step, we need to just imagine being at the last step and then figure out how we got there.

What do you think?

Have you found that asking your teammates to describe success has helped guide your strategy? What hiccups have you faced along the way?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

tweet thisTweet This Post!

*

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for updates via email or RSS. Also, please share this post on your favorite social media site.

Image courtesy of Ha-Wee via Flickr

Why Content Strategy? And Why Now?

Inspiration often comes from strange places.

In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, author Scott McCloud examines how we receive different types of information and that process relates directly to design, information architecture, copywriting and content strategy.

"Pictures are received information. We need no formal education to 'get the message.' The message is instantaneous.

Writing is perceived information. It takes time and specialized knowledge to decode the abstract symbols of language." (page 49)

Anyone who's ever sat through a client review will understand this. It's not that images or art are less important; in fact, it's the art that usually solicits "ohhs" and "ahhs" from the clients, right?

McCloud is speaking more about our intrinsic speed of understanding. We get a feeling from a picture right away.

But we need to process words - to piece together abstract ideas. With words, it's incumbent that we create the images ourselves, in our own consciousness; we ponder meaning, ideas and symbols. Anyone who has read Roland Barthes' Mythologies knows that this process ain't easy.

What's This Got To Do With Agency Life?

Comics and literary theory? Why should marketers care?

In the same way that images are understood before words in the human brain, so too has the planning and creative process developed in marketing agencies. The halcyon days of 1997 were critical for information architecture. IAs became a staple of the creative agency, a bridge between the client's objectives and the designer's creative vision.

The same thing didn't happen for words. It was easy to understand why you'd want to plot out images. But it took another decade for us to plot out what was written on the page and why. (True, maybe astute IAs and copywriters filled this role until content strategy bloomed in recent years.)

So what's changed? Well, SEO (based on keyWORDS) has blossomed into the main way we find content online. Search engines are ever more refining the way they surface the most relevant content. Our tastes have matured: the internet is no longer the shiny new object - it helps us complete tasks in everyday life. We now use many, many channels to access information and communicate with brands. Findable, useful, contextual, and consistent across channels...online content is more important to our lives than ever before!

It then makes sense that content strategy - a plan for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable, relevant content - would guide many important choices we make as digital marketers.

What Good Is Content Strategy If People Don't Read?

I can already hear the Nielsen-ites protesting that readers don't actually read online. So why should anyone care about content strategy?

This assumes that all content is created equal which we know just isn't the case. Personally, I skim news articles, sure. But if I'm making a purchase, you can be damned sure I'm going to read everything, including the fine print. The quality and importance of the content is in direct relation to how much time we spend absorbing it.

As more and more transactions occur online, it makes sense that content becomes more and more important. After all, we're not marketing random blog posts; we're marketing watches and cars and insurance - things people want to read about.

And even Nielsen admits that more content is needed if you're trying to solve a user's problem.

"If you want people who really need a solution, focus on comprehensive coverage...But the very best content strategy is one that mirrors the users' mixed diet. [his emphasis]"

Your potential customers will engage with you, if you provide something useful and usable. It's a shame that is still so rare.

What Took So Long?

Words aren't easy. It takes a long time to create them and often even longer to process their meaning. Content is both a science and an art.

But it's not going away. Your customers want information...they're dying for it. But not marketing messages you want to push on them.

Consider your audience. Serve up the content they need. Help them complete a task. Your customers will entrust their time to you if you provide quality content to help them do what they want.

Remind me again why it took so long for content strategy to mature?

(Originally published at Experience Matters - my employer's blog. Thanks!)

tweet thisTweet This Post!

*

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for updates via email or RSS. Also, please share this post on your favorite social media site.

Is There No Way To Prove The Value Of Content Strategy?

I'm trying to convince non-creative folks about the value of content strategy. I need facts and figures. Bonus points for graphs.

All I need to prove is that the stuff on your website is valuable to visitors. That content matters.

But there is a serious lack of empirical research to prove this. Why aren't there studies done on the value of content strategy? Is the topic too broad? Is it just common sense?

Proving Our Value

As content strategists, we should be able to appeal to emotion, common sense, and hard logic to convince skeptics of our value.

Emotion I can do. We're solving user's problems and creating a great experience. Common sense is a little fuzzier, but it still works - after all, why wouldn't the content on your site be valuable?

But hard logic - numbers and graphs - I'm having a tough time here.

Melissa Rach from Brain Traffic gets the award for closest to the mark, but even this is too convoluted for an internal or client presentation.

Content Strategy, Not Social Media

I can show you a dozen studies - Forrester, eMarketer, MarketingSherpa - that prove social media's worth. The ROI of social media topic is so 2008.

But broader content - not just on a Twitter feed or blog, but incorporating all website text, metadata, videos, etc. - finding hard evidence for that is proving impossible.

Please Prove Me Wrong

I've searched on paid and unpaid professional research sites. I have worked the limits of my Google powers. But maybe you can help.

As a content strategist, how do you prove your value, in real, empirical numbers? What studies do you use? What have I missed?

I cannot honestly believe there has not been a study of this information (and if so, what a huge oversight!). Content strategists are in a battle to prove their relevance. We'll need research, studies, ROI figures, etc to do this.

I would love to hear what studies you've seen or learn how you are coping with this challenge.

tweet thisTweet This Post!

*

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for free updates via email or RSS. Otherwise, I hope you share it on TwitterStumbleUpon, or the other social media tools found below.

(Image courtesy of chrisbb@prodigy.net via Flickr)

Only Hardasses Need Read Halvorson's Content Strategy For The Web

Nevermind the title of this post. Forget it. Don't read this book. That's it - end of review.

(Are they gone? Is it just us hardasses?)

Let me be straight: Kristina Halvorson's book Content Strategy for the Web is not for marketing tourists. It ain't for folks who think a Twitter account equals any sort of expertise.

This is a handbook for content strategy badasses. Not sure if you're tough enough to join the club? This book can answer that question as well.

Honestly, I've been dying to review this book for awhile, but took so long because it's so filling. Like a shepherd's pie and Guinness (my lunch of choice incidentally), this book provides a hearty gut-punch of awesomeness.

THE Handbook for CS Success

Content Strategy for the Web covers everything  from the basic elements of process (audit, analysis, and strategy; page 35-36), to questions that a content strategy answers (there's a bunch; page 84), to ways to determine success (meeting users' needs and supporting key business objectives; page 15)

Most importantly, this book - more than any other out there - will guide you in creating a content strategy program of your very own.

Most people aren't interested in this. The same way they weren't interested in information architecture in 1997.

Those folks will keep creating websites with pretty pictures that lack useful, usable content. It won't help their search results, it won't help their customers complete a task, and it certainly won't move the needle for their profits.

And that's why any agency should be damn interested in hiring a content strategy hardass.

What Do These Badasses Do?

Well, that's sort of the point of the whole book.

But in short, they analyse what stuff is on your site, what stuff should be on your site (based on planner research, customer insights, and competitive research), the process to get that stuff on your site, and the schedule to keep that stuff relevant, factually correct, and engaging.

I hate sounding vague about this process since the book is so clear and precise. But it's necessary because this really is a guidebook. I can't explain the whole thing - but I can give you my expert opinion (not to sound pompous, but I'm one of the lucky few to get paid to do content strategy full time).

So What Do I Think?

I can honestly say this has been the most helpful book to help me define for others exactly what I do and why. It has changed the way I think about content strategy - solidified it, formalized it - and will have a definite, positive effect in how I do my job.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in content strategy, but most especially those already tasked with the job. If you feel push-back in your agency or find yourself defending your raison d'être, this book will help you immensely.

This is also a great book for unsatisfied library science scholars, copywriters, information architects, and others. If you have a niggling feeling that you aren't satisfied in your current position and think content strategy might be your next career step, this is definitely the book to help you decide.

Get Content Strategy for the Web and channel your inner CS hardass. It's not for everyone - but it could be the very thing you're looking for. It was for me.

tweet thisTweet This Post!

*

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for free updates via email or RSS. Otherwise, I hope you share it on diggStumbleUpon, or the other social media tools found below.

Who Guards Your Website Content - The Marketing Minute #1

I've just started reading Kristina Halvorson's Content Strategy for the Web (review forthcoming).

She contends (and I wholeheartedly agree) that a major problem with the current state of web content is that no one owns it (pg 19).

That sentiment inspired me to create the video you see above. If all goes well, I intend to keep filming occasional "Marketing Minute" segments. (So feel free to let me know what you think about it.)

One clarification I'd like to make, however: in the video, when I speak about the necessity of an executive editor, I don't mean literally.

You do not need to give someone that exact title. It doesn't need to read "Executive Editor" on their business card.

But my thought about the powers of that job remain the same. (To hear those, watch the video above or check it out on YouTube.com.)

What about you? Do you think I'm right on or way wrong? We would all love to hear your thoughs in the comments section below.

tweet thisTweet This Post!

*

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for free updates via email or RSS. Otherwise, I hope you share it on digg, StumbleUpon, or the other social media tools found below. You can also show some love by buying stuff from the nice people advertising to the right.

April Giveaway: Free eNewsletter Help

In this sixth full month of the OnlineMarketerBlog, I am presenting my first contest. During April, I am auctioning off enewsletter content and strategy assistance for the winning company or organization - all completely gratis. I will review the company's last few online communications, their website, their mission, and their current communications strategy. I will then present whatever I think will best promote the company and communicate their story to their members or customers - probably along the lines of 1-2 emails they can use and a write-up of the corresponding strategy.

If you're interested, email me at ireallylikerobots [at] gmail [dot] com. I will need the URL of your business and a brief description of your online efforts thus far. The deadline for entering the contest is Tuesday, April 15.

Judging the winner will be highly subjective, but I will take several factors into account, including mission (doing good for the world: good; corrupting America's youth: bad), need (non-profits over multi-national corporations), and friendliness. The content and strategy I write will be yours to use or not use as you choose. Everything will be free, with no strings attached. All I require is that I be allowed to write about the process. (Note: I have no problem "blinding" your company if you desire, but I will need to roughly describe it, at least.)

I will work on your enewsletter and strategy during the last half of April. I intend to deliver the final product in early May. (The work will occur during my nights and weekends, so please be a little flexible.)

You know my history with online communications from my About page, as well as recent posts about Threadless and Moosejaw. I know my stuff and I'm excited to put it to work for your company. Email me and let me know how I can help. Let's have some fun!

(And if you like what you've read here, please consider subscribing to the blog via Feedburner. Thanks!)