The ‘Back to the Future’ Dilemma

“We provide best-of-breed omnichannel content that disrupts each stage of the user journey by synergizing thought leadership from key stakeholders and optimizing channel experiences to create cohesive, holistic moments that engage influencers with snackable bites, boost key KPIs and increase meaningful touchpoints.”

This sentence actually makes sense (to people in advertising and marketing) and could be heard in any conference room in front of any large monitor showing any number of vague backdrops – an anonymous concrete metropolis for example, or a group of smiling multiracial-Millennials. The point being made (expressed through colorful Venn diagrams and Gantt charts) is this:

It’s important to create stuff people want to see.

With thousands of brands competing for the same eyeballs and dollars, many retailers will attest that they “just need content” to be competitive. A lot of content. Content for their e-commerce site, their newsletter, their marketing efforts – businesses of all industries need to find the right way to reach the right audience at the right time, but for industries like retail whose seasonal drives can make or break their bottom line, the need for relevant content is even more crucial. The question is: in this rush to develop and pump out content, are we missing its purpose? 

Content can mean different things to different retailers, but a good way to think about it from a sales/marketing function could be called the: ‘Back to the Future’ Dilemma (BTTFD) – how to ensure you’re getting in front of people at the exact moment they are making a decision. (Much like the vested protagonist Marty McFly had to determine, among other time travel vexations.)

Before embarking on any content campaign (or engaging an agency on your behalf), consider these 4 questions:

  1. What type of content will resonate with your customers?
    Infographics, whitepapers, listicles – these are content choices. But aesthetics aside, also consider the sales implications of the content. Longer pieces of material are usually best for bigger decisions associated with research (i.e. home remodeling, car purchases, etc.), while shorter bursts of timely material can generate inspiration for sales immediacy (i.e. style trends, seasonal prep, etc.). And always remember who your audience is – a parent considering purchasing toys might want updates on child safety precautions instead of a prospectus on supply chain logistics.
  1. How do you want your content to work for you?
    A common mistake is just to “shoot out” material without consulting different players in your company, and it’s important that sales and marketing are aligned from the beginning to ensure an efficient impact. Be sure to set up what success looks like AHEAD OF TIME. Too often marketers are left scrambling to explain the purpose of their content campaign after it’s already been executed. Avoid this by clearly outlining the business objectives, researching current engagement trends and assigning sales goals to obscure concepts like “awareness”.
  1. What is your budget? Are you looking for “big and arresting” or “consistent and informative”?
    The old adage of, “Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two” applies to content as well. Before producing anything, have a really honest conversation about how much you want to spend, and what that spend will lead to. If you’re a new brand competing against a well-known retailer, it might be worth creating a bigger, budget-busting moment that will turn heads. Or if you know you’re just going to get outspent by your competitor, maybe a more cost-effective email marketing drip campaign is in order. You should not sacrifice quality for quantity, but the simple reality is that really dynamic content will require an investment. 
  1. Who do you want developing your content?
    Deciding your voice is important, and it’s crucial that you can find a team that can create effective, elastic content that can flex to different sales seasons. It doesn’t do you any good to have a really expensive, glossy print magazine if the topic is so narrow it only applies to patio umbrella sales in Toledo. The team (or agency) handling your content needs to not only understand how content works for one-time sales, but how it can be repurposed, chopped-up and used again for ongoing sales.

And finally, engagement. It’s important that each piece of content has the potential to prompt some feedback from your target audience, so ending with a question is a good way to see if your material is resonating. What do you think would make a good question?


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