Business transformation, content marketing and strategy

Relevance: Building content that appeals directly to your target customers

The below is an extract from my new book, "The Future of Marketing"

In my last post, I discussed why content is becoming ever-more important to the in-house marketer, and finished by highlighting the four key challenges when scaling up a content strategy:

  1. Creating content of the requisite quality
  2. Ensuring produced content is relevant to your target audience
  3. Disseminating content in the right way
  4. Measuring the impact of content strategy

In this post, I'll focus specifically on the second of those challenges.

Relevance: Appealing Directly and Engagingly to Your Customers

Twenty-seven percent of marketers say the most challenging part of building a content marketing strategy revolves around working out what the customer wants – determining what content will appeal to and engage them.

It’s another manifestation of the “relevance” pillar of marketing as ART. The content you disseminate must be engaging, useful, and valuable in some way to the target audience you’re attempting to appeal to. Again, we can revisit the social media dinner party: The stories you tell your grandparent are somewhat different to those you tell your best friend. It’s the same with content marketing. As with traditional marketing campaigns, picking the right message for your customer is essential. What’s more, particular target audiences want their content delivered via a particular medium, or via a particular platform.

When striving for relevance, companies tend to focus on either content that aims to be useful or content that aims to be entertaining

Content That Is Useful

A great example of useful content comes from HubSpot, the marketing software provider. Hubspot is a business to business (B2B) company – companies in the B2B space have been leaders in content marketing for some time, largely because of the way marketing works in the B2B space. Customers and products tend to be of higher value.

The purchase cycle is longer, and more is spent on individual customer acquisition. Therefore, the value proposition offered by content marketing is more obvious.

HubSpot sells a marketing technology. The goal of its content campaign is to make its owned media a valuable destination for the target audience to spend time at. The company thus spends an awful lot of time generating white papers and other insights to share with its community.

Not only does this content position HubSpot as an authoritative voice on marketing best practice (thus increasing loyalty, trust, and the likelihood of a longer-term customer relationship), but it’s also designed to highlight that HubSpot does the job these customers are looking to do better than any of their competitors. The use cases and step-by-step guides that the white papers cover all use HubSpot as the tool for getting the job done.

Content That Is Entertaining

The video opens in a close-up on Jean-Claude Van Damme’s face.

His voiceover begins to tell us that his life has been made up of his fair share of bumpy roads and buffeting winds. Through focus and a relentless drive for perfection, he’s overcome all challenges. He points out that the precision engineering of his body has allowed him to master “the most epic of splits.” As he solemnly intones an inspirational version of his life story, staring directly into the camera, that camera pans out. First, we realize that he is standing on the wing mirrors of two Volvo Globetrotter articulated trucks.

Next, it becomes apparent that the trucks are moving. Backward. Fast.

Finally, as the voiceover reaches “the most epic of splits,” the trucks begin to part, forcing Van Damme to do the splits – 12 feet up, fast, and in reverse. As the camera swings around him and the rapidly reversing trucks, some text is superimposed onto the screen: This test was set up to demonstrate the stability and precision of Volvo Dynamic Steering.

Seventy-seven million people saw that video on Volvo’s own You- Tube channel alone. When they finished with it, they saw links to other “Volvo Live Test” videos, including one featuring a gerbil driving a truck using some sort of mechanical contraption that converts the rodent’s scurrying around an exercise wheel into steering a several-ton truck. Another shows a ballerina performing on the roof of a truck as it speeds down a highway.

The Volvo video campaign is a high water mark for entertaining content. The company managed to broadly entertain and engage a huge audience, considerably raising the general population’s awareness of the Volvo brand and products. What’s more, for the core target audience of truck drivers and fleet owners, there’s a “dog whistle” that only they can hear – a series of specific references to the truck’s attributes that will further engage this core audience.

This group can, for example, appreciate the difficulty inherent in driving two trucks with such precision that Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn’t end up in a crumpled heap on an airport runway. They can appreciate a ride so smooth that a ballerina can perform on the roof. They can appreciate steering so precise that a half-pound gerbil can control it.

Volvo commissioned market research firm GFK to survey 2,200 transportation companies (half existing Volvo customers, half customers of the competition) about the impact these “Live Test” videos had on their brand perception.

The results are persuasive. YouTube subscribers for the brand rose from 3,500 to 90,000, and Volvo Trucks website traffic increased from 175,000 to over 300,000. In total, the value of the earned media generated was somewhere around $150 million. More importantly, the highest-performing in the series of videos, Technician, convinced 39% of viewers to take action (visit a website or contact a dealer); while another 19% said they intended to take action in the future. 2 Those are strong results from what at first glance looks like a relatively light-hearted brand awareness exercise.

It’s worth pointing out the fine balance the overall campaign had to achieve. The Van Damme video (clearly, the most popular of the six videos, with 77 million views) was also the least impactful in terms of influence on brand perception. It seems that, in striving to entertain a broad group, the brand lost out in depth of impact on their actual target market.

This article is an extract from my new book, “The Future of Marketing”, published by Pearson. You can purchase your copy at Amazon.

Nick Johnson