A content experience is the overall flow of content produced by a brand that a prospect, lead, or customer experiences during his or her consumption journey. This flow, distributed across different devices, platforms and channels, accompanies the prospect along the journey that will transform him or her into an acquired customer. In the content experience, content is produced systematically and continuously, with the goal of increasing the target audience’s engagement and motivating them to take certain actions.
In the case of the content experience we speak of content flow to distinguish it from individual pieces of content that a potential customer can consume disjointedly-where each piece of content has its own performance metrics. In a continuous flow, one unit of content flows logically from the previous into the next and helps move the message recipient along the marketing funnel. Today, a content experience is increasingly digital and multichannel (omnichannel, in the most advanced scenarios) and leverages the contributions of others who participate in different capacities in the conversation with the brand (e.g., in the form of user-generated content). It implies a uniform and consistent brand presence across all touchpoints and aims to engage audiences over time, well beyond a single interaction with a piece of content.
A successful content experience is developed with a holistic approach, making it something more and different than the sum of its components. Therefore, for published content to be truly productive, it’s important that it is intimately connected from the very beginning of the creative process. Finally, an effective content experience, one that contributes to the success of a company’s marketing plan, must be efficient, timely, relevant, consistent, and personalized.
Creating an excellent content experience requires not only careful planning of targeted actions, but accurate knowledge of some fundamental concepts: particularly those of content marketing and content strategy.
What is the difference between content marketing, content experience, and content strategy?
Content experience and content marketing are not the same. While they present some areas of overlap, they are terms that indicate two different stages of development of the same reality. Instead, content experience corresponds to the final evolution of a content strategy.
How content marketing becomes content experience
Content marketing is concerned with the creation, distribution, and analysis of individual pieces of content ,while content experience applies the same criteria of creation, consumption, and measurement to the entire content stream, abstracting and unifying the set of elements that comprise it. In the case of content experience, both potential and acquired customers do not simply consume individual pieces of content but experience them seamlessly within their purchasing journey.
Content marketing thus refers to one-time interactions, which are triggered from the single piece of content the audience comes into contact with (blog post, video, infographic, newsletter, etc.). By building a content experience, on the other hand, the brand engages in providing the potential customer with the right content at the right time, ensuring that each piece of content logically descends from the previous one.
To achieve a holistic, fluid, and engaging experience, marketers cannot let themselves obsess over the “first click” but must capitalize on the call to action that enabled them to capture the attention of their target audience. In fact, the real experience begins after the first piece of content has been enjoyed, once the customer has finally encountered the brand, whether he or she has actively searched for it by finding it among Google results or discovered it on social networks. At this point, the challenge is to keep his interest alive, preventing him from retracing his steps, clicking again on search pages, or continuing further in his feed scroll.
Content marketing uses email, websites, social media, video, and content in other formats to connect companies and customers by providing information that directs people’s attention to the products and services being marketed. Content marketing becomes content experience when it moves beyond this “transactional” level to establish a more nuanced relationship. It is a more evolved stage of the brand-consumer relationship, where it is the total perception of shared content that creates added value: it makes customers feel more connected to the brand world, raises their awareness, and lays the foundation for their loyalty.
The content strategy: Between content experience and customer experience
A content strategy organizes the available resources (creative, technological, management) and designs the different content (audio, video, written text) to achieve the intended business objectives at each stage of the funnel.
While content strategy is crucial within the overall marketing strategy, content experience is the last layer of content strategy, and it’s critical to long-term brand success because it helps identify and enhance the brand’s distinctive features.
Content strategy and content experience create and maintain a brand’s online presence consistently over time, promote engagement, and build a longer-lasting relationship with the audience. To do this, the content produced:
- must be relevant, coherent and useful;
- must be developed in a way that addresses the needs of different audiences in a timely manner;
- must be distributed on the most appropriate digital channels at the right time.
The content experience can be conceived as the step in which content strategy is welded to the customer experience. Compared with the customer experience, whose focus is on the customer’s overall perception of the brand, the content experience focuses exclusively on the experience that results from accessing and interacting with content.
The three pillars of the content experience
Now that we have clarified the difference between the concepts of content experience, content marketing, and content strategy—while at the same time highlighting their close ties—let’s look at how content can be used to build a well-rounded experience that is able to transcend the limits of purely commercial communication.
Before talking about precise actions, we will address the 3 pillars on which today’s most advanced content experience is based.
Put customers at the center
To design an effective content experience, marketers must momentarily pause the narrative of the brand, product, or service to focus on customer expectations. In today’s “experience economy,” customers want to inform and educate themselves, and they want to do so in the simplest, most convenient, relevant, and engaging way possible. Content that conveys the information needed to fulfill these knowledge needs is a strategic asset that companies can use to facilitate the journey from awareness to conversion.
Putting customers at the center of marketing processes means building experiential pathways where they feel comfortable, where they can persuade them to give access to their contact information, and where they can reassure customers of the brand’s authority, and perhaps prompt them to some evangelism. The point is not to educate, at least not in a pedagogical or outdated way. Instead, it’s about providing a clear and non-trivial point of view on those topics that can be related to the product, services, and brand narrative, through insights, suggestions, and stories.
Listen to customers
Putting customers at the center means both listening carefully to them and giving them a chance to speak, avoiding monopolizing the conversation and instead, valuing their voice. Brand storytelling is now increasingly participatory: testimonials where customers recount their successful experience with products or services very often exhibit such authenticity that they are far more compelling than the brand speaking in person. Sometimes these contributions have such a strong explanatory quality that they can be used as real case studies: it often happens that self-produced videos where customers show how to use products work better than institutional how-to videos.
The next step is to create a dedicated virtual space, a kind of forum where customers (potential or acquired) can find the assistance they need without going through the company’s call centers or customer care. Obviously, the brand will need to preside over these digital venues to moderate responses, comment, add information, and thank customers for their help.
Create meaningful conversations
The previous two pillars set the stage for the third: the development of a truly meaningful conversation transcends mere sales. An effective content experience must have a fully dialogic structure that offers the possibility for two-way communication. This means that marketers cannot simply publish a piece of content (a short article, video, white paper, etc.) and stand idly by and watch what happens (and if anything happens). They need to initiate an open conversation where many voices are able to participate, coming up with different cues each time and asking questions that get stakeholders to respond and share their opinions, opening up the debate to other interested users. The goal is to increase engagement, creating a deeper connection with their audience.
Choosing to address topical issues, claiming a position, and taking sides openly—which, in the case of marketing, basically means tuning in to the target audience’s sentiment—is a decision that must be made with knowledge and attention. The risk of some form of “washing,” or worse, a more or less epic “fail,” is always just around the corner. The path, however, is now set: brands must create a content experience if they want to establish a relationship that adds meaning to the simple financial transaction.
The key elements to focus on for a better content experience
The increasing attention to the ways in which the customer experience is built goes hand in hand with the need to adopt a marketing approach that elevates content to a strategic tool and that records, measures, and interprets the results achieved (conversions, purchases, loyal customers over the medium and long term). Below we list the key elements to focus on to achieve a better content experience.
Monitoring and analysis: focus on engagement metrics
In the usual rush to create more and more visible, distinctive, newsworthy, and shareable content, marketers sometimes tend to lose sight of the bigger picture: the content experience they are offering their customers and prospects should be aimed at engagement and not consumption for its own sake. Consequently, the metrics to focus on can no longer be volume-based but value-based, experiential metrics.
Eliminate information silos for dynamic content personalization
In a traditional approach to content marketing, information silos can slow down process execution: if content creation remains somewhat distinct and separate from content distribution, and content management cannot have the data collected by monitoring and measurement tools, the different stages of the journey remain disconnected from each other. In such a scenario, without dynamic personalization of content at different stages of the customer journey, it becomes almost impossible to deliver a rich, personalized, and satisfying content experience.
Use data to meet customers in the right place and at the right time
Consumers undertake a complex, lengthy, and multichannel journey, regardless of the type of product they intend to purchase. The frequency of interactions with various brands, the variety of touch points, and the time it takes to make a decision has grown astonishingly today, for both B2B and B2C. Being present (and being found) at the right touchpoints with the right content at the right time is the only way to convince the potential customer or existing customer. To hit this target, marketers can rely on state-of-the-art digital tools that harness the potential of data to power marketing automation systems. In this sense, the content experience is, above all, a data-driven and automated experience.
Content marketing is crucial in the shift from a transactional to an experiential approach. A customer-centered corporate culture, i.e., one that matures an increasingly articulate knowledge about the customer, is essential to delivering quality content. And on the other hand, there is an increasing need for an integrated content strategy that enhances the information assets available to the company, creates relevant and consistent content, and distributes it to the most appropriate channels, according to that holistic perspective we mentioned earlier. Only by reaching users with tailored content can the best content experience be created for each of them.