Thursday, October 2, 2008

Role of Content in Customer Experience

Occasionally an idea or piece of data comes along that says, “Wow, you need to change the way you think about that!” That happened to me a couple of days ago when I read the CMO Council’s new report “Customer Affinity from Optimized Content Delivery.” I like the concept of variation in customer experience a lot more!

Customer experience is an important concept. Trying to provide exceptional customer experience requires integrated marketing program development and consistently superb execution. Customer experience in the retail environment has received considerable, well-deserved attention. Customer experience on the Internet has focused on customer experience on the website; if that goes awry, nothing else matters much.

Forrester has a good framework for evaluating the success of customer experience on a website that they were kind enough to let me use in the website chapter of my Internet marketing text. The complete assessment tool has 25 items. They factor into 4 categories:
• Value
• Navigation
• Presentation
• Trust
The navigation factor deals with elements of site navigation design while presentation focuses on the way content is presented on the site. The trust factor has to do with efficient performance of the site and protection of customer data. The value element is the only one that specifically mentions content with one item, “Is essential content available?” They seem to suggest that it’s not the amount of content, it’s content that meets the visitor’s needs; that makes sense.

It occurs to me that Forrester developed this framework in a Web 1.0 world. The CMO study (download from this page) focuses more on channels and integrating experience across all channels (see graphic). Each category has multiple items. They found Home Depot scoring highest across all categories. The report presents all the assessment items. You could use it to benchmark your own activities against a leader.

What the report makes clear is that the world of Web 2.0 has blown the content issue wide open. It’s not just user-generated content. It’s the expectation that the visitor will find all the content she needs—including customer ratings--to make a decision when she visits a site. It’s the expectation that the visitor will find content to engage and entertain—including videos and games--when he visits a site. Content is more than simple product information; engagement, maybe even entertainment is important.

The CMO study has several key findings. I’m going to excerpt the two that speak most clearly to content and comment on two others.

Finding #3 Immediate Experience with Content Trumps Brand History
The study points out that recent experience—good or bad—tended to overwhelm previous experience with the brand. Take-away: One bad experience can undo all your good work with a customer, either consumer or B2B customer.

Finding #6 In Times of Flux, Content Consistency Cannot Go Untended
Companies that undergo mergers or acquisitions or that rebrand have to pay special attention to the consistency of their messaging in all channels. Take away, in their words: Marketers must implement tools, solutions and stop-gap measures that address content accessibility, consistency and accuracy.” (page 10)

In fact that’s their first finding--something that I hope we all keep in mind on a daily basis--the importance of consistency in our brand promise and messaging, whatever the current situation.

The finding that perplexed me was that corporate events needed to be more than corporate logo holders. I’ll let them try to explain that one in their own words:

"when it comes to corporate events, trade shows or even sports sponsorships, live events become little more than expensive logo placements. The integration of the brand promise and the event is often second to the public stature and visibility of the event."

Ok, the event needs to be something that meshes with our brand promise, not just a Super-Bowl-type visibility exercise. The report points to Red Bull and their Flutag game as an example of supporting the brand promise, the energy drink that “gives you wings.” Both the website and the game site are worth checking out—if you have people nearby, just be sure you have the volume turned down!

We all know that Web2.0 activities have an insatiable demand for content, the good news being that customers can create a lot of it for us. The idea that content is an integral part of excellent Internet customer experience is a little more challenging. What do you think?

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