Content Marketing and Persuasion Architecture

secondpersuasion

This blog has included several postings dealing with the skills and team design needed to deliver “digital” well for brands. From the implications of immersive content platforms (Return of the Product Manager) and the different perspectives of millennial staff (The Native Advantage), we’ve thought a lot about what evolving digital platform and ad tech capabilities require from strategy and delivery teams. These organizational design considerations are essential to evolving marketing teams as our channels and customer behavior continue to evolve at a pace never before seen in history.

One thing that won’t ever change is the fundamental objective of marketing and communications teams across channels: to be persuasive about the products or services they are promoting. After we succeed in “interrupting” audience’s attention and attracting eyeballs (and/or ears), and have established the first hints of interest our messaging and experiences must aim to persuade that a service, product, or, yes, brand is worth creating a relationship with.

Persuasion Architecture

Years ago the concept of looking at brand/customer interactions as conversations intended to persuade was cleverly applied to online user experience design challenges as “persuasion architecture.” This took the form of developing website experiences in a non-hierarchical way, so instead of building a site from the top down, which too often mirrored the structure of an organization (company>brands>products & services>product) rather than the way customers explored their needs (search>search results>product) and the questions they were seeking to answer.

Practitioners of this approach, notably industry heavyweights Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, designed experiences to provide answers to questions they would anticipate from customers and prospects exploring a product or service need. So if someone searched Google for “accounting software” and landed on a product page, the designers of that page would consider what questions a shopper would have when viewing the page and provide content or clear pathways to answer those questions. What operating systems does it work on? Is this for personal or business accounting needs? Can I handle invoicing, payments and receivables with the software? These are all examples of questions shoppers of accounting software would likely seek to answer.

Persuasion architecture thinking was and is a great way of delivering a site experience and identifying content needs in a user-centric way that leads a prospect along a clear pathway toward a transaction. In part the content marketing revolution reflects a broad recognition that brands have not done a great job historically of providing answers to questions through case studies, articles, and videos that show the benefits of products and services rather than just showing a picture or list of features and then offering an order button.

Shopping is not a Site Experience

But of course online audiences rarely feel constrained by the boundaries of an individual site domain and rather seek to interact with multiple online sources and platforms to continue their investigation and gather affirmation that a particular product is the right one for them, so persuasion architecture purely in the context of site development is an incomplete answer. This is where implications for how marketing teams may need to (again) evolve and organize themselves in order to be effective should be acknowledged.

Media as Part of the Journey, Not Just the Start

It can appear expedient to separate the thinking and people focused on online platform development from those focused on media messaging and distribution considering that the tools leveraged within those disciplines are very different. I know plenty of UX leads who neither know nor care to know what goes into an insertion order and plenty of media planners who lose consciousness when asked to review wireframes, but for the purposes of building a modern persuasion architecture the skills of both teams are required.

Improving cross-platform identification technology provides the landscape where the principles of persuasion architecture are going mobile… And social… And just about anywhere customers interact with the internet. Customer behavior has always been multi-channel and multi-platform. New tracking and data solutions capabilities are now allowing experience design (very broadly speaking) to be as well.

Facebook and Google do an effective job of tying together your cross-platform journeys, which is why that pair of pink pants you once looked at keep appearing in your feed, and data solutions providers like Neustar, Nielsen, and Merkle proclaim the ability to map customers to a broad database of online interactions with a high degree of accuracy. Retargeting shoppers with images and logos of the products they recently reviewed is just step one of applying that technology.

Content Sequencing

Emerging content marketing platforms like OneSpot (who list the aforementioned Eisenberg brothers as advisors) are starting to gain traction in demonstrating the value of looking at media as an extension of the consideration journey that good web platforms have always labored to deliver. Marketers now have the opportunity to continue answering questions they expect prospective customers have beyond their owned platforms. OneSpot calls this content sequencing, which is the notion of anticipating content browsers want to see based on online behavioral and demographic patterns, and serving that content up on different platforms and channels – wherever a browsers’ online journey takes them.

Right now Adam Weinroth, CMO of OneSpot, sees its platform as being most effective when their algorithm serves content to web browsers based on engagement patterns rather than how a brand would like to see customers explore their offerings. But the Ambililty team wonders if a potential source of revenue for OneSpot and companies like it could be brands looking expansively at persuasion architecture and where customers explore their options online. That, again, would require brands to unify (or, at least, align) their platform and media teams around the fundamentals of persuasion architecture.

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The Return of the Product Manager?

Product Management

Fifteen years ago when I first got into interactive marketing the product manager ruled. Brands thought hard and paid a lot of money for user experience designers to think about the types of interactions to deliver online, and how to create new ways of servicing customers in the virtual space. Content management systems were expensive, enterprise installations that serious online brands invested in out of an appreciation for the value of creating destinations that were fresh, current, and relevant for its audiences. Forrester’s Digital Agency Wave Report was the industry bible that could raise or dash the fortunes of interactive agencies large and small based on their appearance or absence in the ‘magic quadrant.’

 

But then things changed. Agencies realized that focusing on web builds created on-going challenges for their revenue streams, and advertisers continued to struggle with adapting to an online world that was taking a growing share of consumer attention. The consumer behavioral shifts created new challenges that the broadcast world never encountered but also provided opportunities for targeting messages to specific target segments more effectively, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the media spend.

 

And somewhere along the way the voices of the media side of the interactive world became dominant, almost obscuring the site/platform experience conversations. The biggest events in the interactive agency calendar are no longer Forrester conferences but (the seemingly constant) Digiday conferences. The most coveted title isn’t Experience Design all-star but Media all-star (congrats, by the way, Jordan Bitterman).

 

But I wonder if that’s about to change again, and the reason for wondering is the growing appreciation of content as an effective and increasingly essential mechanism for promoting a brand and its products and services. Content marketing agencies like to argue that marketers should stop talking about what customers want and ‘be’ what customers want. Brands across B2B and B2C are increasingly appreciating that delivering high-quality, helpful, entertaining content is one of the best ways of driving customer affinity. What sometimes seems to be less appreciated, however, is that great content is increasingly not a single asset – article, video, or infographic – but an intelligent weaving together of assets around a central theme. In other words, a customer experience.

 

Too often the impact of great content is diminished by a failure to consider the full experience customers have while interacting with it. It’s shocking to me when I choose to watch a featured video on a publisher’s site only to have a video ad, somewhere deep down on the page, start playing automatically. That, to say the least, is a bad experience.

 

Immersive content experiences, so far best exhibited by publishers like the New York Times (Snow Fall, The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a great example http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek) offer multiple avenues of exploration within a “single” story. Video, infographics, and sub-stories are integrated in seamlessly (and beautifully) to add detail and context.

 

As leveraging these immersive technologies inevitably becomes easier and cheaper, marketers will not be able to rely on a single writer or video team to develop content that stands out, and the skills normally associated with Product Managers and User Experience leads. Naturally I do not mean to imply that experience design experts and the creative process by which marketers and agencies conceive of and develop high-impact content experiences should outshine the innovative ways in which media planners drive attention to those experiences. Rather, I encourage those marketers and agencies to recognize content development for what it is: a full customer experience that requires planning and thoughtful consideration for how to make those experiences great.

 

Chris Marquardt, 6.1.15

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