Last year will be known for many things. For sales and marketing, it will be known as the year that everyone got serious about digital.
I have been reading about digital transformation for years, and clearly, we have made great strides in this area. However, before the pandemic, there were still many businesses that approached their marketing and sales like it was 1995. In many cases, this was just fine. These companies had a combination of knowledgeable salespeople who were constantly in front of customers and sufficient marketing efforts that worked for them.
Then COVID-19 came, and for many of us, our screens became our only connection to the outside world. Almost overnight, we became a bit like Neo from The Matrix as our work and social lives moved to the web. As a result of our forced relegation to the web, digital transformation became a necessity for most businesses to varying degrees. Companies that resisted digital investment were suddenly challenged, and the companies with the best content and digital experiences began to win the day.
This is especially true when it comes to marketing and sales. The concept of a home field advantage in sales is gone. It is being replaced with the digital experience advantage. If your sales and marketing efforts are not quite there yet, this is where you need to focus your attention today.
The concept of digital transformation is going to mean different things to different organizations, so a uniform definition is a bit elusive. We will have to settle for agreeing that conceptually, digital transformation means that digital technology is foundational in all areas of a business. It is present in how we operate, interact and deliver value to our customers.
The concept of digital transformation typically connotes an end state — a change from one state of being to another. I see it more as a continuous, constant evolution. We will be continuously evolving how we connect with our customers and provide value digitally.
The interesting part of this is how the pandemic accelerated this evolution and created opportunity for innovation. From remote work to distance learning to e-commerce, we have all seen tremendous change almost overnight.
During this period, we have established new patterns, behaviors and preferences. While the pandemic will end, many of the changes seem to be deeply rooted in our psyche now and may be here to stay.
As an example, McKinsey reports that in China, “there has been a 55% increase in consumers intending to permanently shift to online grocery shopping.” Disney just announced it will be closing 20% of its retail stores to focus on expansion of its online shopping experiences.
It’s not just retail and e-commerce that are being affected. How we market and sell in B2B channels will probably never be the same as it was. We’re moving to hybrid office settings with workers becoming more nomadic. This will necessitate better content experiences to power our sales processes when it will be difficult if not impossible to get all the right decision-makers in a room at the same time. Digital sales and marketing are likely here to stay.
So, how will the new world of digital transformation affect your day-to-day life as a marketer? There are new values and tactics to keep in mind when you’re planning your campaigns, and certain strategies within traditional marketing are more of a focus than ever. Here’s my advice:
- Spend more time on audience analysis. If the world is more online than ever, you need to know exactly where your current and future clients are, be it on certain websites or social media platforms.
- Be willing to adapt and change your marketing viewpoints, even if you’ve been reluctant in the past to dive fully into the digital world.
- Strategically create genuinely relevant content to reach your audience and provide a strong customer experience.
In a world where our interactions with customers are increasingly on digital platforms, the best customer experience and content win.
Let’s begin with customer experience, or CX. Optimizing your CX is all about creating value and removing friction. How can we break down barriers for our customers?
- Create a written CX strategy and share with all touch points in the company — sales, marketing, customer service, etc. Incorporate this strategy into omnichannel messaging. Make sure communication is the same at all touch points and platforms to create a clear and consistent voice.
- Solicit and respond to customer feedback and surveys.
- Create customer loyalty programs/post-purchase value.
- Develop customer personas and base messaging around these ideal customer profiles, or ICPs. It’s about finding out what makes your customers tick and what makes their lives better.
As we are collectively making these investments and raising our CX game, the table stakes continue to get higher. Customers are increasingly measuring all their interactions against low-friction experiences, such as buying on Amazon. It is important to audit your CX and remove anything that is getting in the way of your customer.
Your content is at the heart of your CX. Content touches almost every aspect of a business and is a core driver of marketing, sales and the overall customer experience. We’ve seen an increased emphasis on investment in digital content during the pandemic to better serve customers who are relegated to a digital world due to lockdowns.
According to a recent report by Salesforce, one of the common themes of the pandemic has been to pull back on ad spending and double down on creating useful content. In many cases, content creation is now equal to ad budgets. That’s unprecedented! This will likely change over time as companies shift to increasing spend on content promotion, but the focus on creating valuable content to serve customers is now the norm and the expectation.
The customer is firmly in charge of the buying process today. The pandemic has only served to further cement this fact. Pre-Covid, 72% “of brand ad clicks…had a non-brand keyword that preceded the brand click.” In other words, consumers began their journey with an unbranded search. They were searching for a solution to their problem. If we are not creating valuable content to answer these questions, that’s a huge barrier to sales.
While optimized content is key to showing up in search, content marketing needs to be about much more than just SEO. To be successful in an increasingly digital landscape, brands need to be creating valuable content and promoting it to every channel where their customers expect them to be.
Here’s a basic framework for approaching content with the intention of creating value for customers:
Create a customer journey and line it up with your CX strategy. Dive into what problems your audience has and how your service/product solves it, then go step by step in the buying cycle to create content to fit into each section (awareness, consideration, etc.).
Look at every touchpoint — landing pages, product pages, email messaging, sales contacts, social media posts, etc. Share this information with all customer-facing/content-creating teams. Create a worksheet for your marketing team to refer to when they create these pieces of content.
- What stage of the buying cycle does this fit into?
- What problem is this content solving/what question is it answering?
- Which customer profile is this content speaking to?
- What is the intended next step for the customer?
Take time to evaluate, too — is this content working? Look at analytics (bounce rate, search queries, etc.) to make sure you’re helping your customers.
- Is this the right format?
- Is this messaging right for the buyer’s stage?
- Does this line up with any feedback you’ve received from customers?
The customer journey is a great place to begin or improve your company’s digital sales and marketing. The customer journey begins by understanding who your ideal customer is in detail. Put yourself in your buyers’ shoes and see your business and value proposition through their eyes.
Once you understand who your customer is and what makes them tick, you want to carefully map out what their journey to becoming your customer looks like. What are the stages they go through that align with their buying process? What content, tools and functionality do they need at each step of that journey to help them advance to the next stage? Who else is involved, and what are their needs? At the same time, it’s relevant to ask what content, tools and functionality your salespeople need to support their role in helping the customer on this journey.
Once you have a solid journey in place, it is time to execute that vision and build the content, tools and functionality. At Brandpoint, we use a proven system called the Content Marketing Operating System to create the right structure and focus to approach everything — from creating the strategy to execution, reporting and optimization.
We live in interesting times and a period of unprecedented change. These changes are here to stay, and we all will have to operate and be successful in an increasingly digital world. Any period of rapid change creates an opportunity for those who choose to embrace the changes and quickly adapt and evolve their business. Being strong in digital sales and marketing is no longer a “nice to have.” Today it is a business necessity.