This is the "year of the customer" according to Marketo. I'd counter that every year is the year of the customer. However, they are right to emphasize that, if the customer hasn't been your primary marketing focus, the time is now. In an era where consumers have more options and opinions than ever, marketers must be customer-centric in everything they do.

Marketo's 2017 Marketing Benchmark Report emphasizes responsiveness and authenticity as vital to developing and maintaining customer relationships. In large part, this takes the form of providing feedback mechanisms and engaging with consumers in social channels. They also suggest that marketers map content strategy directly to customer needs.

That said, content tops the list of marketers' challenges. This makes sense since the majority of marketers surveyed (80%) said that they are running nurture campaigns. Nurturing is a strategy that marketers use to communicate consistently with buyers across channels and throughout the buyer journey. Clearly, creating appropriate content is difficult for marketers that want to scale their nurturing activities.

It is significant that Lithium Technologies, which released research the same week, found that "The first order of business is to understand what content resonates with your audience." Lithium's 2017 State of Social Engagement Study encourages all marketers to emphasize engagement by listening and giving customers what they need. To build a foundation for engagement, they suggest that marketers "build deeper stories that give consumers a reason to bond with you and your products and create unique experiences that relate to your narrative."

As the research points out, consumers are time-starved and content-rich. Thus, they only jump in when the content is compelling. This means that content needs to feed their imagination through great experiences and deliver valuable information.

For their study, Lithium analyzed 70 global brands across eight industries to explore how (and how well) they are engaging across their digital channels. Top performers (particularly those that boast an effective Facebook content marketing strategy), share some common approaches:

  • High quality, visual experiences
  • High incidence of video content
  • Varied content formats and mission

These brands also used their ecosystems thoughtfully. They adapt content for each channel even while delivering a consistent, connected narrative across their distribution ecosystem.

One strategy that seems to be particularly effective is the use of sequential posts, which are multiple posts about the same topic in a relatively short period of time. Many brands publish several posts in a single day to drive consumers to an event or promotion. Others post across a three- to five-day period to support a longer-term initiative. The cadence is dependent upon the objective. And remember that long-term doesn't have to mean long-form. Content can be brief but still powerful and interconnected.

This approach allows brands to build a narrative and entice people to return for the next installment. But let's face it, that's not easy. The key, of course, is that customer focus. A common pitfall is to think content first--which can have the unfortunate side effect of unwieldy ideas that are difficult to execute or sustain. Instead, carefully consider the customer's interests, needs, and expectations and let the content follow. Your customer knowledge, garnered from consistent authentic engagement, should be your guide. Listen first. Then create and deliver. That's a content marketing strategy that will deliver customer satisfaction and long-term results.

Published on: May 25, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.