The significantly grown attention for “content marketing” and the “brands as publishers” and storytelling narrative has made marketers look at their customers, prospects, etc. as “audiences”. It’s time to look at our businesses as audiences.

Target groups, segments, followers, subscribers, fans, suspects and prospects: we had our fair share of terms to describe people of flesh and blood. So, now we have audiences.

But before looking at customers as audiences, let’s reverse the view. In fact, the beginning of all customer-centric marketing, including ‘content marketing’, is looking at your organization as an audience: one that listens carefully to what customers, a.k.a. people, have to say, directly and indirectly.

Your business is the audience

The volume of content: people create, share and curate

Organizations are not just becoming more customer-centric because they want to. They have to. The customer demands it. The bottom-line requires it. And it’s about time.

It’s in this perspective that most current market evolutions should be seen. Today it’s about connecting the dots, on all levels of marketing, business, technology, processes and even society. That’s also what digital transformation is largely about. The connected workforce. The connected customer. The connected customer experience. The connected buyer’s journey. Collaboration. Social business and the connected society. Putting the – once more – connected customer in the middle of an audience-centric content marketing approach.

However, will customer-centricity or people-centricity be enough? Or will the customer/consumer define your approach to marketing and the way you use content and channels tomorrow, largely beyond the control you think you have?

This is the mindset we need to embrace: not brands as publishers but people as publishers and organizations as receivers, respondents and attentive ‘analysts’ of what the ’empowered customer’ says and does in order to provide the proper value at the right time. Businesses are not publishers. They can look at customer-centric content from a publisher’s viewpoint but their first aim is to thrive by helping their customers thrive. And that’s where content comes in. There’s a difference.

The beginning of all customer-centric marketing, including ‘content marketing’, is looking at your organization as an audience

The volume of content we produce as organizations is growing at an astonishing pace. SEO needs content, PR needs content, sales wants content, marketing requires content and the modern buyer demands content. The cult of volume is reigning in many organizations.

We have a hard time of letting go of production, broadcasting and traffic building mentalities. We find it hard to look at content in a customer-centric way, putting what customers in the broadest sense expect/need to do business and interact first, regardless of the nature of the need or task at hand. Broadcasting has not left the building yet, well on the contrary, it just has other names. While customer-centric content matters a lot, customer-centric marketing begins with…the customer and thus the information he increasingly ‘creates’ and even curates.

Stick to your mission

For businesses doing it right, the most important challenge today is to keep focusing on standing out based on their promise and goals in function of their customers, regardless of the volume.

Focus, that’s your mission. Prioritizing around the customer experience and business value through customer value. Step by step. In what I would call an ubiquitous optimization mindset.

It’s not just brands or media that add to the astonishing volume of content which gets created and shared each single day. No, it’s people. They decide what they want to accept and what not. And they decide what they create, curate, put out, repurpose, share and reshare. They don’t use these terms, they just do it. With a continuously growing number of technologies and channels to create and share anything anyone feels to share, the Web is swamped by ever more data and content items.

user-generated contentWhether you like it or not: that’s how it is and that’s how it will increasingly be. People transmit. They leave digital footprints and more then ever their voice is becoming louder. They create content and share huge amounts of data. Furthermore, it’s not just about the (rapid) increase of so-called user-generated content as most of us know it (from tweets to reviews and opinions voiced across all possible channels and formats). It’s also about social signals, digitized information, expressions of appreciation and intent, interactions with content- and data-driven interactive tools on websites, videos and images, the list goes on and the volume keeps growing with mobile as an important ‘enabler’ making it easier than ever to ‘create content’ for everyone. Will you curate/aggregate/interprete and act upon the created and curated content of customers soon instead of just creating and curating for them?

Welcome to the Zettabyte era

Here are some facts to make you think. Take a look at the latest edition of Cisco’s Visual Networking Index. Global Internet traffic is expected to increase threefold in the next five years.

Think about that: what we have now and is already massive x 3 in 5 years. Welcome to the “Zettabyte Era” where 51% of all Internet traffic will cross content delivery networks in 2017 and video-on-demand traffic will nearly triple by 2017 to reach the equivalent of 6 billion DVDs per month (you can find much more data here). What will happen after that? And it’s not just about IP traffic, data or CDN traffic. It’s also about the content people put out and share. And about the content your business creates and shares. The number of Internet users. Connected devices.

Evolution of the number of Internet users and connected devices until 2017 – via Cisco – more details here
Evolution of the number of Internet users and connected devices until 2017 – via Cisco – more details here

Are you ready to be the audience?

In a sense the success of content marketing and the evolutions in the digital space have added to the volume of content out there nowadays. But that’s not the main factor. It was going to happen, anyway, driven by people. Customers who start curating themselves too.

This is your main and first customer-centric challenge. Not brands as publishers but brands as people creating networks of value capturing the content and signals of the true publishers and curators of tomorrow: other people, customers. Yes, you can think big data, social listening and measurement. Create as a response. Only deliver answers to questions. But there’s more.

Brands were broadcasters. Next they became publishers. But many quickly interpreted this as broadcasting 2.0. We need to be audiences as well and increasingly will be. And maybe then we will really be able and forced to be customer-centric in the true sense. You will still create content. You will still curate content. But most of all you will turn data and content of others into action. You will respond, pro-spond and predict.

All this will not happen overnight. Many organizations still need to adapt to many changes, including social media and content evolutions. Because, make no mistake: for most organizations social, content, etc. in practice still need to be put in perspective. Learn how to use content marketing. But already learn how to use it in a customer-centric and integrated way, with streamlined processes and an agile mentality so you are ready to adapt. Get what social really means and understand social is relationships with an additional dimension of connected spheres. Know the people you’re connected with where it matters. Shift from sharing – often an excuse for broadcasting – to answering and providing value.


Top image purchased under license from Shutterstock