Are We Pushing Content...or Facilitating Conversation?

October 23, 2017 Frank Grillo

Content is the equivalent of conversation in the digital world.

Even though many agree that pushing content is unwise, we keep doing it. I wonder if the problem is rooted in the marketing term “content” itself. Do digital shoppers say to themselves, “Mmm, what I need right now is some good old-fashioned content.” I don’t think so! In that early, learning phase of the buyer’s journey, aren’t they thinking something more like “Mmm, I would like to learn more about this and how it relates to my life, how I feel, what I need, or what I want to do.”

In contrast, marketers seem to be thinking: “A large portion of my digital shoppers want content.” Or, “Many buyers read content before buying, so let’s post lots of good content and get people to read it so that we can pull more people into the sales funnel.”

But where is the human in this line of thinking? Aren’t we missing the point that we are dealing with a human who wants to be treated respectfully? The simplest and most profound act of respect is to treat humans like humans. Not like statistics, stereotypes, or probabilities. First and foremost, they are humans.

If we were face-to-face with a customer, we would naturally “read” their behavior, their reactions to the information we were providing. We would provide more information only if they showed interest. We would pivot or stop talking if we weren’t getting good reactions.

The digital interface is laced with temptations to forget we are dealing with human beings. We are not face-to-face; we are not even ear-to-ear. We are forced to follow the digital breadcrumbs, moment-by-moment. But how?

Digital Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs give us hints about who the site visitor is, whether they are a casual or serious visitor, and what they are interested in.

Who is the visitor? One type of breadcrumb is the IP address. Does this visitor’s IP address match existing customers, subscribers, past visitors, or a range of IP addresses associated with a specific company? While identification through IP address is far from perfect, sometimes it can provide hints about the specific visitor or the company the visitor works for.

Are they casually browsing or do they appear to be studying to prepare for a purchase? A relevant breadcrumb to help answer this question is visit time. Is this their first visit to our site? What is their accumulated time on our site? How many pages have they visited? What is their average time per page?

What are they interested in? A relevant breadcrumb to get clues about the answer to this question is page type. Do they spend more time on content-oriented pages like our blog posts, or do they gravitate toward pages describing us as a company? If they are viewing our content, do their visits show an interest in a specific industry, or do they gravitate toward issue areas and specific topics? Are the issues and topics more strategic and broad, or narrow and specific?

Tailored Content Offerings

If you were face to face with the customer, you could judge whether to start a conversation with a courteous question. Starting a digital dialogue is trickier. You need to read the breadcrumbs and if appropriate, prepare a polite, implicit question, as if you were saying: “Would like to see more about ‘x’?” If a site visitor is clearly identified as an existing customer or a named prospect, then maybe the best response is to assemble a summary of their activity and send it off to the assigned sales representative, with a copy to their manager. This way a follow-up response can be integrated into an overall, account-specific sales strategy.

If a frequent or high view-time visitor is only identified by company and without an associated email address, then a digital offer could be made real-time. Perhaps a content offer with multiple options tied to past visits could be tried, or ask them if they would like to receive a monthly newsletter, promising articles on the topic of their interest.

If a moderate frequency or view-time visitor is detected, then perhaps a single content option tied to past visits would be appropriate. And low frequency and view-time visitors perhaps should just be monitored until their history accumulates to a point where a specific response can be tailored.

At Harte Hanks, we are actively investigating and experimenting how to humanize online contacts and responses.

One approach we are testing is letting the buyer request content through a real-time staffed interactive dialogue box. We want it to be like asking the librarian for book recommendations. We will see if this approach improves site statistics and lead generation over time.

Untailored Offerings = Pushing Content

In contrast to the above, when companies blindly offer additional content without knowledge of who the customer is or where they are in their buyer’s journey, they are pushing content. We know that company-based content is broadly criticized by the C-Suite. While much of this disappointment points to weak content, some of the problem may be tied to bad timing or pushing the wrong content at the wrong time and in the wrong way. While we don’t have hard numbers yet, our hypothesis is that crafted content offers will improve the perception of content quality.

Will we be able to humanize online dialogue to make it more like a face-to-face interaction? We are certainly hopeful. And in the meantime, we can at least treat our visitors with respect by facilitating connection rather than pushing content.

About the Author

Frank Grillo

Frank Grillo, CMO, brings creativity and an emphasis on customer centricity to the Harte Hanks brand. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Frank has helped many brands expand and transition their marketing strategies through periods of significant change, innovation and disruption in the marketplace. He is laser-focused on two of our clients’ critical needs—defining solutions for digital and data, and raising the Harte Hanks profile with external audiences like media, analysts and investors.

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