content marketing

Content marketing is shifting. Are you keeping up with all the new channels and devices? (Photo credit: maiak.info)

Capturing the consumer’s attention is a challenge.

The problem is that your customer is a moving target – both literally and figuratively. Technology has been on a forward march, and content consumption habits have evolved. New obstacles are emerging.

Things that haven’t changed are the need to be relevant and interesting. But this is not enough – the sheer amount of info and media choices continues to frustrate both users and content creators. All things being equal, more choices can be a good thing. Yet the average user can easily be overwhelmed. And a confused customer is not a good one.

What has changed is that we are now using a wider range of devices to access content. Apps are getting better, and the mobile experience is often taking center stage. While Web-based social media was all the rage not long ago, and continues to very important, many are saying that the growth in smartphones and tablets has thrust us into a post-PC era. This has important implications for marketers.

In this post I suggest ways to take your content marketing to the next level – to rise to the new challenges by going where the customer is, meeting them on their terms, and crafting content that draws them in.

It’s a Device, Device, Device, De vice World

There are so many types of content consumers these days: e.g., those that stick by print magazines and newspapers and watch network news, and then there are the multiscreen media jocks that flit between devices like over-caffeinated day traders – and everything in between.  You might be tempted to divide these types into young vs. old – however that neat grouping may not reflect reality.

But the numbers bear out the fact that we are seeing significant changes in how people are consuming content – and content and social media marketers need to adjust their strategies accordingly.

Kara Swisher of AllThingsD wrote about a recent Boston Consulting Group study that aimed to assign a value to media usage.  It found that consumers prize online media more than offline:

The report looked at seven categories — books, radio and music, U.S. newspapers and magazines, TV and movies, video games, international newspapers and magazines and user-generated content and social networks.

The largest… satisfaction came from UGC and social, such as use of Facebook and Google’s YouTube, which makes sense since the actual cost is nearly zero… {The] proliferation of a variety of devices {is} double from three years ago, with the average consumer now owning 2.9 devices, such as mobile smartphones and tablets. It will increase to 4.1 in three years, said the BCG report.  

An infographic with the article shows that adding more devices leads to higher perceived value of media.

Similarly, TechCrunch reported on the growth of multiscreen – and the power of multiple devices when used together:

New research … puts some hard numbers behind the often-noticed trend of how people in the U.S. are using a combination of phones, tablets, computer and TVs to consume digital content.

While each of these has a significant place in our consumption today, their real power lies in how they are used together — in combination, 90% of all of our media consumption… is happening across all four. This… has implications for how content is designed .. The research found that a majority of online tasks get initiated on a smartphone while being continued on another device — perhaps with a larger screen for easier use.

Content Curation and Shifting Poses Additional Challenges

Clearly, to be effective, content and social media marketers need to adjust their strategies for a world in which people access content from a range of devices, and sometimes use them together in unpredictable ways.  It is not just a matter of tweaking your content for different screen sizes and browsers.  The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) blog describes changes driven by content curation and the growth of content shifting:

… There have been major changes in the way audiences consume information. These changes are happening simultaneously on two fronts, one in the form of content curation and the other in content shifting…  Mobile devices are allowing people to break free from the computer desk and shift the environment and the time in which they read or consume content. As a result, content delivery is being shifted across platforms, allowing it to be viewed in a manner that differs from where it was originally published.

A wide variety of apps aggregate and serve up content based on user interests.  And there are a range of utilities – both browser and app-based – that end run Web designers and marketers by stripping away ads and graphics, to make content more readable.

Taking Content Design to the Next Level

Responsive Web design (RWD) has emerged as a way to adapt content for multiple devices.  As the Content Marketing Institute explains on its blog, in the post Is Responsive Design Right for your Content Marketing Strategy?

As more companies behave like publishers and rely on content to connect with customers, they must think about how to design an engaging content-based experience, from full-screen desktop to small-screen smartphone — without having to reinvent the experience with each new device that comes around….

… responsive-design methodology makes certain all channels are designed as one using clear content prioritization. Whether you see a web page on a laptop or a mobile device, the experience is consistent and optimized for viewing on each device, essentially, “different but the same.”  

So think about RWD when you are evaluating content management systems (CMS); refer to this Quora session, which seeks to identify CMSs that support RWD.

What comes after responsive Web design?  You might find the answer by checking out Citia, a new CMS company that I met at a recent New York Tech meetup, as I wrote on my blog Flack’s Revenge.  Their demo caught my attention because, 1) it was just damned impressive, just stunning eye candy, and 2) it was easy to see how their system creates compelling media experiences that pull users in and engage them across platforms.

I spoke with CEO Linda Holliday afterwards.  We discussed Citia, and how their system transcends RWD. Linda said: “RWD is necessary to reflow content designed for a one size experience to primarily smaller screens.  We’re designing a spatial navigation scheme that is intuitive and beautiful on every device.”

Perhaps the ultimate in responsive content is dynamic or smart content, a concept described on the HubSpot blog:

Also referred to as “dynamic” or “adaptive” content, smart content is a term for the aspects of a website, ad, or email body that change based on the interests or past behavior of the viewer. It creates an experience that’s customized specifically for the visitor or reader at that moment. One of the most well-known examples… is Amazon’s recommendation engine… Other forms, however, range from personalization fields in emails to entire images or offers on a webpage that shift based on who is looking at them.

Quick Tips for Surrounding Your Customer with Multi-device, Multi-Channel Content

These realities might seem overwhelming, especially for the smaller enterprise that does not have a vast budget for multi-device content design, or for teams that are just getting started with content marketing.  Many find that the job of cranking out quality content is enough of a challenge in itself.

The first step is to recognize these trends.  Then, begin to adjust your content strategies and tactics accordingly.

Visit the articles that I reference, which offer helpful advice and tips.  Not all of the tactics are expensive or challenging to implement.  I distill the advice from the articles and my own experience, and share these below.

Craft a content strategy that takes into account your customer and what you’d like to happen at different stages of the buying cycle.

Put yourself in their shoes, and take your best guess at how the content and tools you provide will assist them.

Use responsive Web design techniques to tailor content for different devices and viewing experiences.  Explore ways to go beyond RWD.

 Adopt a “mobile first” strategy

Design for the mobile user first. Taking this minimalist approach is important, as the small screen size and slower speeds force you strip your content to its essence.  While the smartphone or tablet might be the first stop on a long purchasing journey, it may also be the last (or only) one, as more people are buying on their smartphones these days – and the number will only grow.

 Master short forms and integrated communications tactics; share info in layers

For success, perfect the art of sharing information in layers; the path the consumer takes can start with a tweet or text message, and continue across a series of Web pages or multiple devices.    Think in terms of headlines – which words will grab the user’s attention and reel him or her in?

Incorporate calls to action directly in text

This can overcome problems created by apps and special browsers or readers that strip out graphics from the original content.

by Bob Geller