Content Marketing and Persuasion Architecture

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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 Native Advantage

(originally published October 2014)

Technology considerations are, relatively speaking, new to the world of advertising and the industry has had a lot to absorb in a short period of time. Unfortunately for those averse to change, advertising is not just technology, creative writing, design and media planning. More important than all of that is understanding the sociological changes that technology delivers through constant connectivity at your office, home, and now, well, pretty much anywhere for those with smartphones.

 

Those of us who remember a time before computing, never mind connected computing, also remember the early struggles with using the technology. My generation had to master computer commands or rely on “keyboard overlays” (don’t ask) to explain how to complete the most basic task. Once the internet came around, understanding what a web page was and why we wanted it had to precede our search for understanding about how the ability to richly share information – live, 24/7 – would help, or hurt, how people ‘felt’ about companies.

 

The internet immediately created new ways for delivering products and services. Almost overnight the sales and distribution mechanisms for travel-related industries were completely transformed.A lot of attention was given to making sure the designs of the new offerings were “on brand” but not much consideration was given to how much 24/7 connectivity changed what customers expected of the brands whose products and services they purchased.

 

The questions millenials and subsequent generations encountered when first coming to terms with connected computing can pretty much be boiled down to “who’s out there and why do I care?” not “how do I work this?” Marketers have had to relearn the art of conversation (unnecessary when broadcast was preeminent) in order to deliver effective advertising. Ironically a lot of the skills truly important in today’s marketing mix (responsiveness, good nature, an understanding of the individual needs of people) could be better taught by our 19th century predecessors than our broadcast parents. Digital natives were faced with the sociological challenges inherent in connected computing from the beginning.

 

In my industry I work with a lot of young people, probably at more senior levels than other major service industries. I know popular themes in the media about digital natives are that they are more selfish and entitled, but in general I find colleagues in those age groups to be more curious, entrepreneurial, and appreciative of the full ecosystem of marketing tactics than my older colleagues. And I think one reason this is so is that the digital natives in our industry were driven to it by a curiosity about how messaging, dialogue, and the full suite of touchpoints available to the modern marketer influence decisions.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed and am proud of my early experience in interactive marketing and know that the ‘how’ of communications technology will remain a central, essential part of the modern-day mix of marketing skills. It’s just that now more than ever the softer talents are more important in interactive marketing leadership than an understanding of and appreciation for technology.

 

Chris Marquardt, 10.15.14

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