Building Engagement Into Your Content Strategy, Part 2

In part one of this two-part series, we explored ways to build engagement into your content strategy on a tactical level—with actionable tips and best practices to create content that will resonate with your target demographic. 

In part two, we’ll look at how brands can influence people along the customer journey with different types of content. What kind of content works best at the beginning of the journey? What resonates most with someone nearer the end? We can think of our possible approaches in three distinct buckets: conceptual, purposeful, and featureful—each of which makes sense at different phases in the purchase funnel.

Conceptual Stage: Selling an Idea

There are so many brands selling so many “solutions” that it can be completely paralyzing—especially when the consumer doesn’t recognize a problem. And for marketers, it’s tremendously challenging to attract enthusiastic attention in our content-flooded world. When consumers begin the customer journey, they need an idea to convince them to continue down the path. This portion of your content strategy is all about building awareness. 

This content should be highly branded—selling the big idea behind your product or service, as well as the emotion you want your audience to feel. To define what that big idea should be, go back to your vision or mission statement and brainstorm creative ways to demonstrate it. 

This is not the time to sell all of your benefits (more on the danger of that in part one). Instead, think of it as an awareness play at the loftiest level, showing how your brand can improve lives. This is the time to pull on your audience’s desire to be a better version of themselves and live aspirationally. Consider the recent FitBit campaign “What’s Strong With You.” Here, FitBit challenges consumers to find their inner strength, aligning with their mission “to empower and inspire you to live a healthier, more active life.”

At this point in the journey, Fitbit refrains from any mention of products or services; instead, they focus on the big idea of recognizing your own strength to instill a sense of motivation and encouragement with consumers, setting the stage for product marketing later in the consumer journey. This approach allows them to cast a wide awareness net, building their case with consumers as they continue down the purchase funnel.

Purposeful Stage: Answering a Specific Need / Exploiting an Opportunity

As they move along in their journey, consumers should now know about your brand or a solution that your brand provides. They get the big idea. They are inspired and poised to take action. Here, they simply need a little convincing to take a strong step toward purchase. In this case, they might even have entered the customer journey a little further downstream, perhaps from the recommendation of a friend. This portion of your content strategy should be designed with a certain level of specificity to solve a problem, or exploit an opportunity.

However, your content and the message it carries should still include a healthy dose of your brand. With Old Navy’s “Bodequality” campaign, the international clothing retailer promises consumers a fashion revolution in the form of size inclusivity.

Aidy Bryant serves as a spokesperson, offering a brand-forward message that solves a multitude of sizing problems for consumers “because you deserve it.” As an accessible, affordable fashion brand, this campaign ladders up to Old Navy’s mission of “imagining a place where everyone feels like they belong, and all the clothes are made with love”—communicating a critical benefit without offering info about specific products.

If conceptual content is all about awareness, then purposeful content is a unique proposal that invites the customer to become a part of your brand in a more specific way.

Source: Old Navy's BODEQUALITY Initiative

Featureful Stage: Selling Value

Once your content pulls customers in, it’s time to close the deal and keep them in the loyalty loop. At this point in the customer journey, you’ll want to develop content that creates repeat customers and brand advocates.

The strategy here hinges on a combination of your brand’s DNA and a strong understanding of your customers, which you should have when they are this far down the path. Are you a value-based organization, like Patagonia? You’ll probably want to express those values repeatedly in your content to remind your audience that you care about the same things they do. Do you constantly innovate? You’ll want to consistently show your customers all of the features and achievements in your products, no matter how small.

At Apple, their brand advocates are artists, creatives, makers, and sophisticated tech-forward consumers. What is Apple selling with their latest product release, the iPhone 13? “Oh. So. Pro.” The new Macbook? “Supercharged for pros. The most powerful MacBook Pro ever is here. With the blazing-fast M1 Pro or M1 Max chip—the first Apple silicon designed for pros—you get groundbreaking performance and amazing battery life.” This is content designed to give consumers the information they need to believe and invest in the latest innovation. The aim is to be so well-aligned with their audience that they will never consider a different brand.

Third-party validation also matters at this stage in the journey. Testimonials, reviews, and influencers can make a real difference in the minds of consumers. Make sure your featureful messaging is as relevant to industry thought leaders as it is to your target demographic.

These days, the customer journey is seriously fragmented (more on that in our next post). But one thing remains true across every experience and every platform the modern consumer uses: content drives them down the path. Ultimately, your opportunity lies in having the right mix of content for each and every step.

How to Build Engagement into a Content Strategy, Part 1

There are few topics as hot as content marketing in the digital marketing world right now, and for good reason—great content sells. But it can also be a trap. Too often we see businesses creating content simply because they’ve been told they should do it. Without a strategic plan, businesses can spend huge amounts of time and resources on content that never resonates and never makes an impact on the bottom line. That’s a tough call to answer when marketing budgets come up for discussion.

Our solution (and opportunity) is to build engagement into content strategy right from the beginning. You want content that has a goal for the business, a purpose for the consumer and a clear roadmap to get there. With that, here are five ways to ensure your content strategy has engagement built in.

1. Content's Top Job is to be Useful

Let’s start with the obvious but most important point: Your content should help solve a problem, spark an idea, ease a burden… anything that your audience will find imminently useful in their lives or business. Of course, we all want to be helpful. But it’s not just an altruistic goal—consumers who read a brand’s educational content, for example, are 131% more likely to purchase from that brand.

The key is to understand your audience and their needs and desires. Do research, ask them questions and produce varied, targeted content, then look at the analytics or just plain ask them if they found it useful. Pretty soon you’ll find a few sweet spots. And when you do, you’ll reach the point that makes content soar—sharing and word of mouth. 

2. Great Content is Unpredictable

This might sound counterintuitive. After all, you should always meet the expectations of your audience, right? Yes, and no. 

It’s true that your content should be useful, as noted above, to the specific needs of your audience. But it’s also true that people crave variety in their content. It’s best if they can satisfy some of that variety with your content, rather than finding it somewhere else. It’s also a great opportunity to show your audience that your brand is a living, breathing, multi-dimensional being—just like them. Besides, how many times have you visited a store with a list in mind, only to see something new on the shelf that you just had to have? Content is no different—it’s why Netflix works so hard on their “suggestions” algorithms.

Seek to find the balance between the content that your audience wants and expects, and what kind of useful distractions they enjoy, and that adds depth to your brand.

3. Take the “Red Thread” Approach to Content

If we understand that content needs to be useful, meet expectations and also be unpredictable at times, how do we maintain consistency? 

Think of a great tapestry on a wall woven together with various shades of blues and greys. Now picture one red thread running through it, end-to-end. Even with just a quick glance, you'd notice it. The same goes when producing multiple types and themes of content—something throughout each piece of content should be recognizable. Commonly, this is the main value proposition of the brand itself. For example, Disney produces a ton of varied content and storylines but one thread runs through all of it. “Magic.” For that reason it’s impossible to watch anything Disney without feeling an underlying sense of magic unfolding before your eyes and ears.

4. Content Needs to “Feel” Good

People make decisions with their gut, most of the time. Daniel Kahneman’s work, Thinking, Fast and Slow, goes into great detail about the psychology of how people make decisions. One of the biggest takeaways is that people react to how something makes them feel when making a decision; it happens fast; and we don’t put nearly as much thought into our decisions as you might think. (It’s a fascinating read.) 

Your content should "feel" good. That’s not to be confused with “feel-good” content. After all, there are plenty of serious issues in this world and your brand might have something important to say about them. But your content should always make people feel like it’s coming from a place of authenticity and trustworthiness—from the narrative to the way it’s designed.

‍5. Simple Content Sells. 

We all suffer from information overload and it’s only getting worse. Oftentimes, that results in businesses feeling like they need to cram as much messaging, and as many selling points as possible into every piece of content. It can be tempting to do, especially because content can take time and significant budget to get right. But resist the urge—saying everything all at once in every piece of content is a great way to get users clicking and scrolling away to something else. 

One of the great things about the endless advance of technology is that you can produce, edit and publish a lot of strategic content quickly and consistently. That means you can target very specific messages to specific audiences. Avoid giving audiences “paralysis of analysis” and give them one clear, solid idea to take with them—it goes back to the previous point about people making decisions with their gut.

Coming up in Part 2 of Building Engagement Into Your Content Strategy, we’ll explore how your business can use content to account for every part of the customer journey—getting them what they want and need at the right time to lead them down the path of discovery and, ultimately, purchase.