The importance of content marketing is constantly increasing. As early as 2017, 91% of companies stated that they rely on content marketing (Content Marketing Institute 2017, Content Management & Strategy Survey). Since then, the topic has experienced another major push.
Not just content, but story!
It is interesting to see where investments are made. Although there is now a wide range of software tools on the market for creating, planning and analyzing content (which can also be cost-intensive), 52% of planned spending on storytelling is focused on the craft of storytelling. After all, good stories appeal to everyone. But what actually makes a story, a good story? Technology and software are helpful, but they alone are not saviors (see: LEAD Digital "Content Marketing - Beware of too much faith in technology"). It's still the "craft" elements of content creation that matter. And these have an ancient history.
People need stories
Did you know that, developmentally speaking, we are "wired for stories"? You know this, too: a vividly described character to whom you feel a connection, a conflict that comes to a head and - when things can't get any worse - is surprisingly resolved. When we encounter content in this form, we not only remember it particularly well. We also find it hard to escape the pull and are really eager to find out more. Why is that?
After food, shelter and companionship, stories are what we need most in this world.
In fact, fairy tales and storytelling (just like children's learning through role-playing) have endured for thousands of years, and not just out of cherished tradition. They have been an evolutionary advantage. Narrated experience enabled people in prehistoric times to learn effectively from danger without putting themselves in threatening situations. Rules and strategies of hunting and living together could be discussed, difficult challenges could be planned, important knowledge (sometimes essential for survival) could be passed on.
The mirror - not a fairy tale motif but a neurophysiological basis
All great storytelling adhered to this recipe for success on experience. It was not until the 1990s that the discovery of mirror neurons also physiologically substantiated that learning by observation and imitation is so typical for humans (primates) and why it works.
Because content is understood particularly well and easily if it is told according to certain patterns, and corresponds to our inherited thought patterns but also individually over the years culturally and individually acquired motives. So today we also need storytelling that adheres to these narrative patterns.
What does this mean for content marketing?
When we evaluate texts, images, and video content, we all too often look primarily at correctness of content, readable or catchy language, and authentic presentation. All of this is important, but alone it is not sufficient for good content marketing. Not all well-made content is 'good' in the sense that it suits the customer. It is only good if it is relevant to the reader and thus stands out from the big noise we are exposed to every day, because it is precisely relevant to the reader/viewer/customer. Only then can content really reach people.
Content is relevant when it is targeted to a sometimes very pointed sub-segment of the target group (In content marketing we speak of 'persona'.). This means that the content must not only be "on topic" but must be designed "for a whole specific readership".
However, the right time is also decisive for relevance. The question "For whom exactly?" is joined by the question "When exactly? Because the accessibility of certain topics depends very much on the mood, the communication phase, and the context in which the customer is interested. Even content that is suitable for a specific person can become a problem if it reaches the person at the wrong time.
Content marketing is also an integral part of e-commerce
This becomes particularly clear in the example of customer communication and content marketing in online retail. The entire process of interaction is mapped in the so-called "customer journey". It's no wonder that content marketing has long since ceased to be a trend here, but a real perennial favorite. It goes without saying: depending on the phase in the customer lifecycle, the customer must be addressed differently; a first contact expects a different approach and different content than an existing customer.
Now, of course, a shopping situation is different from a storytelling session around a campfire, and on a website you have less freedom and space to build stories. Still, those who experience it are the same. People like you and me who respond particularly well to certain triggers. And each channel has its merits: in the store or on social channels, page-long essays are unsuitable. On the other hand, images and videos are an excellent way to tell a story. But this only works if you really know the other person well.
Content benefits from neuro-marketing
Interdisciplinary consciousness studies deal with basic mechanisms of perception and decision-making that apply to all human beings. Interesting impulses can be derived from this, which is also useful for the marketer's craft. These findings often go by the buzzword "neuro-marketing" and explain recurring patterns such as why decision paralysis occurs when there is an oversupply, why online reviews give us the security of the herd instinct, and much more.
If the trend forecasts are to be believed, there is enormous potential in the persona- and individual-related playout of content and real-time personalization. However, accurate knowledge of the readership, their inclination and current mood is crucial. Without data collection and continuous, comprehensive analysis, it remains pure guesswork. As well as you think you know your customers, the truth of their actual behavior often still holds many surprises. (Example: Walmart's User Experience Mistake, Alex Gilev, "What people say they need is not what they actually need.")
Personalization + content in e-commerce: from "fits for many" to "fits for you".
The CMI report mentioned at the beginning also talks about these challenges. A particularly important question for companies is therefore whether the content is also delivered at the right moment. Here, only 49% state that they are already satisfied with the results. But how can you determine the right moment in advance? Once again, the special nature of the digital channel comes into play here. Ubiquitous web tracking, supplemented by well-maintained user profiles and algorithms, means that the right content can also be played out automatically. Instead of hoping that customers will find what interests them themselves, it is now suggested to them in a targeted manner.
Now, in recent months, more and more scenarios in media use and also in digital commerce have been enriched with artificial intelligence. Self-learning systems no longer rely on all possible variants having been thought up and programmed in advance. Systems can respond to user behavior in real time, not only seizing the right moment but also gathering valuable information. The content offering is individualized to the very specific situation and learning is, in principle, never complete.
In addition to the neurophysiological aspects of storytelling that suit everyone, content marketing will thus be supplemented by another component. With the possibilities of personalization, we can now additionally take into account very individual customer interests in communication in addition to the generally valid ones.
Starting with the customizing of shopping environments, through the personalization of content and offers, to assisted shopping services, this new content-oriented understanding of marketing takes on yet another dimension.
And those who feel understood are even more likely to shop. In our experience, personalization can increase conversion rates by up to 25%. Since digital content via the ubiquitous smartphone and increasingly in-store touch screens is also playing an ever greater role in brick-and-mortar retail, personalized content is a multichannel topic and not limited to pure online retail.