Content marketing is not an island. It is part of a bigger picture, aiming to create business value by creating customer value. It takes a customer-centric and integrated approach to succeed in content marketing. We like to call it the Copernican view, the outside-in view as part of a broader ubiquitous optimization mindset. Creating business value through creating customer value using content marketing – and putting the customer experience at the center. A customer-centric content marketing manifesto.

Customer-centric content marketing manifesto by i-SCOOP

Value can be defined in many ways: from financial value for the business to tangible value for the customer, great customer experiences and moments of entertainment customers seek/love/value. We also define the customer in a broad sense: your employees, the customers of your customer and everyone in the ecosystems and networks of your brand, buyers and even of your content and media can be seen as a customer – or treated as one.

How can you be truly customer-centric in content marketing? Does it matter? Should the customer be at the centre of your content marketing universe? What about the business? The products? The brand?

What does it even mean to be customer-centric?

Customer-centricity, for is, is a term with a clear meaning that needs no further explanation. We use it in a context probably most do: give a damn, put the customer in the center and see that customer value leads to business value. Go the extra mile. Care. Don’t think channels, content, tools first, think customer first. Work customer first. Don’t let the customer feel the pain because you’re not organized around him but around organizational silos. You know. Yet, strictly speaking, we often use the word customer-centricity in a wrong way, depending on whom you ask of course. In the eyes of Peter Fader, who wrote a book on the topic, for instance, customer-centricity really means focusing on your best customers and prioritizing, based on customer data and the Customer Life Time Value. It also means focusing on products and services for the best customers as you can see below.

What does it mean to be customer-centric? - via monetate – full infographic here
What does it mean to be customer-centric? – via monetate – full infographic here

While prioritization and segmentation matter a lot, we think that today you can’t just focus on your best customers (even if you need to prioritize) but should dramatically expand your view on who your customers are in a connected sense of value chains.

Take someone who is very influential in the buying journey within a specific market, for instance. For us, that’s a customer in the new, connected sense. Or the customer of your customer: how can you serve your customers if you can’t help them serve theirs and understand them. That’s what value chains are all about.

While the lessons of Peter Fader in his book “Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage” (depicted in the image above) are still very valid and – indeed – as Fader says, strictly speaking not all customers are created equal, the customer isn’t always right and not all customers “deserve” (an awkward word) your best efforts, we feel that in this day and age, there is more customer value than in the sense of the customer as an existing client.

Customer excellence is pervasive and connected, optimization is ubiquitous, change and the need to do better than best efforts and look beyond the status quo are in constant evolution.

Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change (Tom Peters)

Just consider this:

  • If the customer isn’t right, then at least listen and take him seriously. In the end, he is right, even if he’s wrong.
  • Saying that not all customers deserve your best efforts is not just about data and segmentation anymore.
  • It’s even a bit arrogant in this day and age to decide what products and solutions we deem best for our customers and to decide who deserves our best efforts. That’s not the customer’s reality.
  • Customer service excellence is not a goal anymore, it’s the basis.
  • Customers define what they need and don’t care about what you think they deserve.
  • You’ll never know what customers deserve the ‘traditional way’ if you chase them away by NOT doing your best, before they can even become a ‘best customer’.
  • The customer is “much more in control today, much more cynical, sceptical” (says Gerry McGovern).
Gerry McGovern on customer-centricity and online content - picture Gerry: Twitter
Gerry McGovern on customer-centricity and online contentpicture Gerry: Twitter

Customer experience focus and customer obsessions

A better word is maybe indeed “customer-focused”, where it’s all about experiences and about a broader view of putting the customer in the centre. Knowing how customer expectations change (they are really increasing a lot) and how connected everything is, our advice is to be even more customer-focused than ever before.

Another term we hear a lot in that sense is customer-obsessed. Forrester uses it as term for much of its’ research nowadays (as Josh Bernoff started calling it in 2011), and not without reason. And here’s a term we really like: customer-adaptive.

When Joseph Jaffe wrote “The Customer Service Manifesto” in 2010 (an eternity ago, in this digital age), he said “all customers are equal but some are less equal than others”, already starting to “adapt” traditional marketing wisdom by adding influence into the mix.

Quote: “yesterday’s ce-lebrity is today’s web-lebrity”. We bet that, if Joseph would rewrite it now, he’d add more to the mix such as the level of customer expectations people have.

In that regard (customer expectations), here is another, recent quote, from our interview with Jay Baer on Youtility, usefulness and true customer value:

“Consumers of all types are manifestly impacted by best practices, regardless of where and how they are unfurled. Zappos’ commitment to customer service changes the expectation level for all”.

The age of the customer – engaging with empowered customers – source Forrester
The age of the customer – engaging with empowered customers – source Forrester

Now that we have that out of the way, time to take a loot at how customer-centric thinking HAD to evolve.

The Copernican revolution: moving away from the corporate ego and reversing the view

People are by definition self-centered. Don’t get us wrong: we are not saying there are no such things as empathy. What we mean is that by definition you look at the world from your own perspective. Jack Jones cannot entirely put himself in the shoes of Mary Jones. Pretty obvious, isn’t it? Besides, everyone needs a healthy ego. Only then, you can let go of it once and a while. Organizations are by definition self-centered too because they’re made up of people. Pretty obvious too. They even have some kind of common ego, partially based on values and ego’s from the past but apparent to your customers by the people in the organization today.

We like to call the sum of it all “corporate DNA” or “culture“. And the preception of it by customers – across touchpoints – as “experiences” – customer experiences, brand experiences, all shaping our opinions and those of our peers and far beyond or as Joseph Jaffe also said in his Customer Service Manifesto: “Today, an unhappy customer will tell a million of their closest strangers”.

Businesses and marketers have always struggled with putting the experiences, preferences and needs of customers, audiences and others genuinely first. Because it’s human nature AND because they could get away with it.

They’ve put their beautiful selves, products and traditional PR messages first. Often, they thought they took into account the needs and preferences of customers into account. For instance, by using focus groups or panels, conducting interviews, etc. But most of the time they assumed they knew what mattered and those assumptions were made up (and still are) in boardrooms where the HiPPO’s ruled and the customers were absent.

When one-way communication (from brand to customer/consumer) increasingly got under pressure (“hey, our customers have a voice”) with all kinds of new media (owned, shared, etc.), channels and whatnot popping up, combined with – among others – decreasing trust, the earlier mentioned heightened customer expectations, the arrival of more customer-oriented competitors, increasing connectivity, the real-time nature of the digital age, etc., that model came seriously under pressure. “The customer is empowered”. “The customer is in control”. You know the mantras. This “shift” is what we mean with the Copernican revolution.

Now, how does it relate to content marketing?

Content marketing and the Copernican revolution

Copernicus heliocentric theory - via Wikipedia
Copernicus heliocentric theory – via Wikipedia

At the occasion of the Content Marketing Conference Europe 2014 , we wanted to focus on how content marketing needs a customer-centric and integrated approach.The first step was doing a small eBook about the Copernican or customer-centric and connected content marketing approach.

Lee Odden – one of the keynote speakers at the conference – was kind enough to bundle some answers in this collaborative eBook, “Content Marketing: the customer-centric Copernican revolution“. You can find it below. We hope you enjoy it and – most of all – wish you customer-centric content marketing success: creating customer and business value using content in an integrated, smart, creative and fun way (read our customer-centric content marketing definition too).

With this manifesto, we take it much further with a real in-depth overview and key rules for customer-centric content marketing.

Why Copernican and Copernicus? It’s an “image” we’ve been using for years , when urging marketers and organizations to become more customer-oriented. You can read about it, for instance, in a – very – old blog post on Epsilon’s EmailInstitute blog we wrote: what email marketers can learn from Copernicus .

But here’s the “image”: for over 1500 years, people believed Earth was at the center of the universe. Then along comes a fellow named Copernicus who says it’s wrong. It takes many more years before his ideas catch on. Fast forward to the center of today’s digital business universe. Where many organizations are still structured based on the idea that the world turns around them (and that it will ultimately adapt).

Content marketing is one of several great opportunities to reverse that view for communicators and business leaders.

Using content across channels, tactics and divisions. Revolving around human experiences. True, content as such is useless. Great content “happens” when it becomes information, usefulness, interaction, a story, an answer, a smile, a meaning, anything revolving around that human experience – Copernican content, revolving around the area where experiences and mutual value occur.

So, is it just about people? In the end it is. However, the customer is not alone at the centre of your content marketing universe. So is your brand. You’re not doing marketing to get many views, right? You also have business goals. And that’s where the brand, the organization comes in. And guess what: as said earlier it’s also made up of people!

The mantras of the “customer is in control” now and then we went a bit too far and made some of us forgetting to look at the business. Doing business is not being your customer’s slave either. And that’s where the real fun starts.

What is at the heart of content marketing success?

Copernican content connects customers AND brands. Or in other words: it connects people. It even unites different tactics and divisions. If you – strategically and culturally – MAKE it. Great content indeed does not just happen with just one thing in the centre. It happens where customers and brands meet – in the famous intersection between – yes, indeed, king customer (in the broader sense) and the unique value a brand – being its’ people in the first place – stand for and have to offer. This requires focus on the right information and content for the right people and reasons at the right time. It can’t do with mantras but with a balanced view where content connects and create relationships.

Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet. (Kevin Stirtz)

Both the “customer” and the “company” are at the center of content marketing success. Because it’s about people and content is just a way to make it happen. This also requires commitment. Integration. Evolution. Innovation. Consistency. Strategy. Vision. Guts. Fun. And relevance. Your customers at the very least deserve that much.

Take these three scenarios:

  1. PR pitching a story to an influential voice,
  2. Brand marketing striving for a “Wow” effect, mesmerizing their fans
  3. Data-driven marketers providing the right content the right way across the buyer’s journey.

Each scenario has one thing in common: to succeed it needs understanding the experiences the different audiences demand before allowing us in their hearts, minds and wallets.

As marketers, we should be changing the mantra from ‘always be closing’ to ‘always be helping'” (Jonathan Lister, LinkedIn).

In the end, however, it’s where human interaction (direct, indirect, visible and invisible- happens. And this requires more than empathy, which is essential mind you but not enough (and still so rare). It requires a customer service mindset, processes and, ultimately, DNA.

Customer Service shouldn’t be a department; it should be the entire company (Tony Hsieh, Zappos.com).

In the eBook (below), that Lee was kind enough to make, this message that it’s our job as marketers to adapt to – customer – experiences and not the other way around, is omnipresent.

The customer in customer-centric content marketing

The customer in the broadest sense is not the only C in the middle of a connected, integrated and customer-centric content marketing approach. Even if customer and the sweet spot where customer needs/preferences and business goals and narrative meet, are in the middle and only the customer in the end decides on content marketing success, there are other elements to take into account and make it happen. Saying the customer is at the center is easy. But what does it mean? How do you fit the customer in? Some key elements.

Customer service as in being of service

Let’s quote once more from Joseph Jaffe’s “The Customer Service Manifesto”: the breadth and depth of customer service must be expanded significantly to cover a much broader spectrum of touch points and categories, with a commensurate deeper level of follow-through and interaction. Customer service isn’t just a function or department anymore. It’s not only about solving problems, as Jaffe says. Customer service means being at service of the customer in the broadest sense.

From Jay Baer's presentation at the Content Marketing Conference Europe
From Jay Baer’s presentation at the Content Marketing Conference Europe

Content marketing needs to play a differentiating role in “being of service” by focusing on relevance and usefulness. No one explained this idea better than Jay Baer in his framework of Youtility: help instead of hype (or corporate nonsense). The reason why he was a keynote speaker at our Content Marketing Experience Conference Europe.

So, is your content useful and helpful? Do you empower and enable your teams to consider the usefulness of the content they create? Do you involve the customer to gauge the perceived “youtility” of your content (marketing)?

Note: it doesn’t always have to be about the “big” idea. Step one of having a “service” attitude when using content (marketing) is making sure you properly respond to what customers really need. An example: if a customer comes to your website to find something, make sure it’s there and can be found fast. Even if it’s a software driver or technical manual. Because that is content too.

Jay Baer on customer-centrism and Youtility - read the whole interview
Jay Baer on customer-centrism and Youtility – read the whole interview

(Customer) experience-driven strategy and audits

Experience-driven audits - from the presentation of Mike Corak at the Content Marketing Conference Europe
Experience-driven audits – from the presentation of Mike Corak at the Content Marketing Conference Europe

A customer-centric content marketing approach is an integrated one as mentioned before. Ethology’s Mike Corak came to our Content Marketing Experience Conference Europe 2014 to look at the different components of such an integrated approach. From a more technical content strategy viewpoint, both the content strategy and the user experience are at the center as the screenshot from Mike’s presentation on the right shows. Note: for us (and for IT teams making apps, for instance), the user is a customer. Developers and IT teams are increasingly being judged based on performance, by the way. And in applications (not mobile apps, all applications, performance is judged based on…user (customer) adoption. Read all about Mike’s keynote and his advice on building an integrated content marketing strategy.

Content Marketing Conference keynote speaker on customer-centricity
Content Marketing Conference keynote speaker on customer-centricity

Collaboration: involve your internal customers – aka employees

In a customer-centric and – thus by definition – integrated content marketing approach, the analyis of customer and content needs, as well as the narrative and the customer rationale, is not the job of one team or department. It’s a collaborative effort, requiring the involvement of multiple stakeholders, including various internal teams and people. No silos.

Check out “Content marketing: the customer-centric Copernican revolution) and stay tuned for part 2 of this manifesto with a list of “key messages”. In the meantime, read more about a very related topic: content marketing beyond the first degrees and value chains.