Learn the difference to gain the advantage

(OR - Why Content Marketing is crock...)
 

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There are two major flaws in the way people are approaching marketing today. One relates to ‘content marketing’ and the other to ‘customer experience’. And the solution outlined below solves both problems.

If you want the executive summary, here it is: CE is a way of doing business. It is not an optional extra; it is a necessity.  

CONTENT MARKETING

There has been a buzz about ‘content marketing’ for a few years now – but strangely, few seem to really practice it well, and despite the ongoing hype, it has not really taken off as a mainstream marketing activity. And rightly so, because organisations are letting the desire to produce content drive the strategy. Consequently they apply it inappropriately. 

This is to be expected because the people promoting that view typically see themselves as content producers, therefore content must be important. (Marketing Agencies are scrambling to re-position themselves as 'content marketers' their traditional domain is being eroded.)

Marketing needs a purpose (expressed as verbs): it must persuade, entertain or educate. 
Old-school ‘Persuasion Marketing’ still has a role to play, but technological evolution is making it harder as it increasingly empowers the consumer/ end-user at the expense of the seller. The focus has therefore shifted to entertainment and education as the core purpose of marketing.

Wrongly, thought-leaders have saddled the Content Marketing horse. Content is a noun, trying to replace a verb.
There may be a place for ‘entertainment’, but I suspect that is more about enriching a brand personality rather than hard $$$ ROI. That is why Customer Education (CE) is actually the main game, and ‘content’ is merely one way of educating customer.

Customer entertainment is valid, but not hugely effective on delivering tangible results. We all love Air NZ for coming up with videos like this.

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Great content. Very entertaining. Enhances the brand. But would you pick them to fly next time you go to NZ because of that piece of content?

If entertainment produces questionable ROI and persuasion is becoming avoidable, what remains? The good news it is actually something that is a win-win outcome for both parties of the transaction: it is customer education.
 

WHAT IS CUSTOMER EDUCATION?

Firstly, Customer Education Is Not Customer Experience
Customer Experience (CX) is what happens when the customer uses your product: The way it works, how easy it is and how obvious it is, how smooth it is and how well it does what it is intended to do.
Imagine your product is a car: the fact that it starts every time, drives quietly and is powerful enough for the customer to enjoy the ride. The fuel consumption does not provide a shock at the bowser. Everything just works and works well.

But that does not mean the customer knows how to set the radio or the climate control. They may not know how to get the spare out and replaced. They might not know that simply holding the key fob close to the lock is sufficient and you don’t need to actually insert the key to open a door.

There is a difference between the customer having a comfortable experience sitting in a comfortable seat and knowing how to fold away the seat in such a way that they maximize boot space. A comfy seat is customer experience but knowing how to configure the seat requires customer education.

Customer education ensures the product and service is enjoyed functionally; it improves how a product is purchased and how it is used. Customer Education unlocks the benefits of WHY a product was purchased.

You design the experience. THEN, you educate the customer so that they can enjoy the full experience possible.
 

B2C CUSTOMER EDUCATION

Customer Education is more common in retail environments, even if it is not called that (or in fact not done all that well.)

Buying a pair of yoga pants should be simple, it should fit and should be good value. They may even deliver it for you – all that provides a great experience. But WHY did you buy the yoga pants? You bought it to look good and feel sexy. Smart retailers will make that possible through customer enablement. The swing tag can tell you how to take care of the garment so that it continues to look good and not become saggy. The in-store experience could include an education element – via the sales person or a chart on the wall – to ensure that the customer buys the colour that suits their complexion. A handy booklet could show them how to mix and match with other types of non-athleisure wear so that don’t end up looking stupid.

Customer Education unlocks the purpose of the purchase.

This does not apply only to consumers.


B2B CUSTOMER EDUCATION


Most organisations already do customer education to some extent – the question is simply how well!
In fact, this article is in itself a piece of customer education; by educating you about the nature and benefits of customer education, we both stand to potentially gain.

Most manufacturers have relied on technical writers to create manuals for their products. They realised that the retailer would do a poor job of getting the end consumer to use the product correctly. Very few have taken the time and the effort to educate their customers (the retailers) to on-board consumers effectively.

A ‘user manual’ is customer 1.0. The world has moved on. Manuals work very poorly, especially in a world where people throw it away without even reading it, knowing they will turn to YouTube if they need to find out how to do anything.

Customer Education in the B2B environment is an untapped opportunity. As far as I can tell, Ganador is the only specialist Customer Education Agency in Australia. (That’s a bit of SSP – shameless self-promotion. If you google “B2B”, “Customer Education Agency”, “Australia”, Ganador occupies EVERY SINGLE ENTRY – other than ads – on page one, and is the one and only organisation to be listed.)

Examples of Customer Education projects

Some of the cases where we’re helping:

  • A gaming technology supplier to ‘onboard’ licensed venues to a new system.
  • A broadcaster educate their advertisers on more effective advertising practises
  • A publisher educate their re-sellers on better merchandising
  • An Association develop practical member case-studies
  • A jewellery distributor Launch a Customer Portal for their retail network
  • Company Reps to adopta solution-orientated sales interaction framework

You get the idea. We did of course create content along the way. But that was secondary. The content was only one piece of a CE framework. We changed processes. We did research. We developed tools. We implemented technologies. We re-designed the customer experience to capture every learning opportunity for the customer, without them even knowing that they are learning.

Opportunities for Customer Education

  • How does a Transit Authority (best) educate people how to open a door when it does not open automatically?
  • How does a Hotel (best) educate their guests on evacuation procedures? (Or how to figure out the damn TV.)
  • How does a Government (best) educate voters on how to vote correctly?
  • How does a medical technology company (best) educate doctors about an innovative new product?
  • How does a wholesaler get retailers to use the portal for account maintenance?
  • How does a brand get retailers to build displays that are ‘on brand’?

The short answer to the above is that they do it poorly if at all. The consequences could be major; disastrous in fact. The opportunity is amazingly big for the early movers.


BACK TO THE FLAWS


We have outlined why content marketing is not a new thing, and why focus on the “content” (the noun) will produce very little action. Content is a piece that fits into the bigger picture of Customer Education.

We also outlined why limiting Customer Experience to be the equivalent of a series of moments of truth in the sales interaction is the wrong view of it. The customer experience begins before they purchase and lasts the lifetime of owning your product. The right experience is the one that covers that whole timeframe.

The only practical way you can enhance the customer’s experience when they are using your product while they are not interacting with you directly, is to educate them upfront about how to best use your product to ensure a lifetime of positive experiences.


THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION


That is proverbially speaking a million dollar question. In reality the question is worth nothing, but the answer is worth a lot more.

Think about your product/service and your customer. Then think what your future would look like if they TRULY knew exactly how to get best use of your product/service. What would happen to your future relationship if customers knew more about your product, and how to optimise it for themselves, more than any competitor product?

  • If the answer is: ‘we will be in trouble’, then you really need to work on developing products that customers want.
  • If the answer is: ‘they will be unlikely to buy any other competitive product’, then you need customer education. That is the only ‘marketing strategy’ that will do the job.

It does it a disservice to even call it a ‘strategy’, because Customer Education is a way of doing business. It is not an optional extra; it is a necessity.  How well are you doing it?