What can a marketer do to fuel the marketing engine in light of reduced budgets and nervous consumers? Think creatively about how to extend the reach of your message to build the groundwork for 2009 sales. One effective way to accomplish this is to develop a more extensive integrated content strategy.
Six Benefits of an Integrated Content Strategy
When creating your communications strategy, your content must address consumers as people. You should supply them with relevant and engaging information without sounding like sanitized marketing-speak. If you do this right, the content will yield the following benefits:
Extend brand. Develop guidelines for consistently portraying your product to associate specific visuals and personalities with your brand.
Drive traffic. Remember that engagement may not occur on your Web site.
Diversify ways to engage with prospects. Use a variety of media formats to provide more entries to your offering.
Aid search. Do this through the addition of content and links into your Web site. Associate keywords and text with all of your content especially non-text media like videos.
Provide product support. Customers seek out product-related information before purchase to refine their buying options and after buying to aid and improve usage.
Build community. By doing so, you can engage directly with customers. This interaction can enable customers to help each other, provide insight into your offering, and create advocates for your product.
Nine Content Formats to Consider
When planning your integrated content strategy, determine which components of your message you want to be consistent and how you want your brand portrayed. Assess the following types of content for their potential to achieve your offering's marketing goals.
Web site content. Think broadly about how information is presented on your Web site and how visitors use it. Does it work to engage them and get them to return?
Blogs. Provide consumers with useful content focused on their needs rather than company promotion. Blogs can be forums for public discussion.
Podcasts. Consider how the human voice relates to aspects of your brand and the types of information that audio can convey.
Online video. This format fulfills a variety of purposes most notably storytelling and product information to help customers understand how to use your products better. This can be particularly helpful for complex products that customers don't fully understand or can't visualize.
Photo galleries. Help consumers visualize your product and its usage better. Photo galleries also allow customers to share their use of your product with others who have similar interests.
Webinars. While used extensively for business-to-business products to generate leads, Webinars can be effective for consumer products where additional training is needed such as technology and financial products. Webinars become evergreen material when posted on your Web site.
Twitter. This tool can be used to disseminate short helpful information or to give customers timely answers to product-related questions. Avoid using Twitter solely to distribute promotional messages.
Bulletin boards/customer forums. These work particularly well for more complex products like electronics and software where customers have questions. Examples include Crutchfield and Intuit.
Public relations.Disseminate your company's stories in a way that engages third-party media. Think about what can be interesting to these journalists and bloggers, not just your firm's latest achievement.
Three Ways to Extend Your Content Development Resources
To stretch your marketing budget when developing your content strategy, here are a few useful tactics:
Utilize resources across your firm. To prevent your content from sounding like marketing-speak, recruit employees most involved with the products to create the content. These people could be in product development, merchandizing, or even customer service.
Include bookmarking functionality. Encourage visitors to share your content with their colleagues to broaden your reach.
Establish partnerships. Seek out a related company that compliments your offering to build an audience by cross promoting information and/or events to your respective customers or by co-developing content.
Five Metrics to Track
In the current environment, it's important to show results and track how they build over time. For many marketers, this period may be about strengthening your customer bonds to provide the platform for growth once consumers are in more of a spending mood. Among the factors to track include:
Unique visitors. Monitor how many prospects engage with your online offering. Are these numbers increasing? If not, ask visitors for input regarding your content.
Time spent on site. This is an indicator of engagement. It's particularly useful if you've added deeper information to help prospects better understand your products. Deeper examination may be needed to determine what content visitors find most engaging.
Sales. Since consumer spending may be curtailed, understand what's still selling and why. Given the current economic environment, performance against last year and budget may not be realistic measures. Also, keep an eye on returns to ensure consumers keep the products that they're buying.
Costs. While many of these recommendations aim to leverage internal headcount and functionality, it may be necessary to invest in outside resources.
Customer feedback.Track customer feedback on your Web site as well as ratings and reviews and other forums. Are there important issues that turn up?
While it looks like 2009 will be a challenging year, remember that an integrated content strategy provides an opportunity to improve your online marketing effective cost efficiently. You can make a difference and start building for the future by creating an engaging content strategy. This is a strategy that supports your business by attracting prospects and providing them with reasons to return to your Web site.
Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital, AccuWeather.com, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.
Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.