Storytelling: the 7 hallmarks of magnetic content marketing

Storytelling: the 7 hallmarks of magnetic content marketing

Storytelling. In a word, that’s what great content marketing is. As ever, brands with purpose have a better story to tell. The question is, how can you leverage this advantage to create content that increases awareness, generates engagement and drives sales? This article explores the 7 hallmarks of magnetic marketing content.

Content marketing and story-telling

Great content reaches out to your audience and moves them in unexpected ways. It breaks through their barriers, offers belonging and invites them in. It’s the message of a friend, an icon, a sage, an entertainer, a hero. Just listening to the storyteller holds value.

Content is the point of connection between your brand and your customer. It’s the payload of all that planning, positioning and hard work—and while it might only be a small part of the marketing machine, it’s the crucial element of delivery.

The thing is, content is everywhere. These days, people have become blitzed into inertia by all the posts, blogs and ads they see. The key isn’t to add to the noise, it’s to find a chord that cuts through it. Exceptional content is the way. 

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”

—Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple

Great content marketing is hard to define. There’s no magic formula for creating it, but there are seven guiding principles to follow.

This blog will help you find your way.

1) Physiological

Great content triggers a physiological response. It plays to our animal sides, stoking primal reactions and gut feelings. It chimes with both the rational and emotional sides of our mind and elicits a response that is both conscious and subconscious at the same time. 

Here, content follows a psychological pattern which can be mirrored with the AIDCA model. This acronym can help you to move your audience through five key stages—Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction and Action.

Attention

This is your hook. It’s what gives people pause as their eyes meet your advert. Here your content comes into focus for the first time, providing an opportunity to engage your audience. What would give them a little jolt? Is it a provocative sentence? A witty play on words? An eye-popping animation? An image of lust? The goal is to break through the inertia and buy yourself a second glance.

Interest

Here is your opening sales pitch. You have won their attention, now you must seize their interest too. But the clock is ticking. What can you say or show that will entice your audience to stay engaged? What promise can you deliver that will buy you enough time to get your message across and that you can back up when it’s time? Your message should speak right to your target audience as if you were talking to them individually. It should hit a nerve.

Desire

This is where you win their hearts. What does your audience truly desire that your product/service can offer? How can you conjure a feeling that will make them realise your offer isn’t just a ‘should have’ but a ‘really want to have’. What can you show them that will keep pulling on those heartstrings like an itch that needs to be scratched?’

Conviction

At the point of conversion, the customers’ defences go up. They’re used to being sold to and they know better than to dive right in. They may want to know what the catch is or where they can find proof. You can preempt these concerns by second-guessing them. If you were your customer, what would you want to know before making a purchase? Try including user-generated content like testimonials or case studies, or use facts and statistics to evidence your claims.

Action

Now’s the time to bring it home. Here’s where you tell your prospect what they need to do next. Make your call to action easy, clear and specific. If possible, include a time-bound reason to ensure they take action right away. Limited time offers are a great way to give prospects that final push.

The AIDCA model can be applied to a short tweet or a long-form 3,000-word blog. It needn’t dictate how you compose your copy, but it’s a great place to start.

2) Experiences > Benefits > Features

When talking about your offering remember this…

Experiences are greater than benefits. Benefits are greater than features.

A feature is a factual statement about the product or service being promoted, such as batteries included, or self-setting clock. It’s often thought the company that offers the best features wins, but this is not the case.

The problem is most people don’t care about features. They care more about what benefits the product offers. So rather than selling a camera based on its 14-megapixel resolution (feature), sell it on picture-perfect photos at any time of day (benefit).

Brilliant content marketing goes one further and transforms benefits into experiences. It doesn’t just frame how a product/service can deliver a benefit but asks how it fits into the customer’s wider perceptions of a great life experience.

Now we’re not just selling picture-perfect photos at any time of day, we’re selling picture-perfect memories that will last a lifetime. We’re selling the family life. We’re capturing joy and bottling youth.

3) Customer-focused

Here, your customer avatars and brand guidelines come into their own. When creating content, always keep them in mind. Remember, it’s not you that’s speaking, it’s the brand. There’s no room for your opinions and your tone of voice so you’ll have to keep them under wraps.

Customer-focused writing means speaking from your target audience’s viewpoint. It opts for words like ‘you’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘I’ and ‘we’. It should be human in a sense that it speaks directly to them as a person, on a one-to-one basis and it should be authentic too. 

Sure it’s marketing and yes—it has an agenda, but great content marketing is customer-focused in the way that it offers value before anything else. It doesn’t force unwanted actions, it encourages positive responses. It doesn’t tell, it shares and engages and poses questions and invites feedback. It’s not a one-way conversation, it’s a two-way conversation that’s focused on customer needs.

Really great content speaks to people’s interests. So, whether your posting articles on trending topics or discussing your latest products, always relate the content with your audience’s interests in mind.

target audience

4) Shareable

Never forget the importance of shareability. If you can design your content in a way that encourages the average reader to share it more than once, it becomes self-perpetuating and exponential.

Encouraging shareability is how you spread your message through word of mouth, gaining huge amounts of awareness organically. It lies at the heart of viral campaigns and growth hacker marketing and is why companies like Facebook, YouTube and Uber are scalable by design.

You can encourage shareability by developing ambassador programmes, referrals and affiliate marketing strategies. You can build it into the product as a growth hack or by working with an influencer. But to create content that is organically shareable takes a few extra-special ingredients.

Entertainment

Research shows that shareable content triggers high-arousal responses. Positive emotions such as excitement, awe, and delight gain the highest number of shares, while provocative emotions like anxiety, frustration and anger are also powerful indicators of shareability.

Social validation

The more a post is liked and shared, the more likely it is to be liked and shared by someone else. Make it easy for your audience to do so by adding prominent sharing buttons and don’t be afraid to ask for a share when it makes sense.

Purpose

People like to share content that defines who they are, what they believe and how they think. They share content as if to say ‘this is who I am and what I believe’. Ask yourself what kind of content would your audience feel comfortable sharing. Can you make a statement that will elevate their status and reaffirm their beliefs?

Practical

Practical information is fact-based and well-researched. It provides useful information that has value to the audience and also to their peers. The simple act of sharing this content will help others in their network. It will also highlight the sharer as someone who is both supportive and on the ball.

 5) Memorable

Being memorable is the key to brand value. Great content marketing should leave a lasting impression. It should resonate with a customer so much that it sticks with them throughout the day. To do this, create something that is truly original rather than simply regurgitating what is already out there. Try to look at something from a fresh perspective, or frame it in a different light. Most thought leaders simply rehash what’s already known, but do so in a way that engages the audience in profound new ways. 

Memorable content also makes an impact. It stirs the emotions, inspires and provokes. Sometimes it’s not so much what you say, but how you say it. Can you inject some power words into your prose to catch your audience off guard? Can you use a piece of imagery that juxtaposes with your article and gives it an edge? Is there a new web technique that you can use that will truly set you apart from the competition. 

6) Optimised

It’s fair to say that in this digital world, brilliant marketers should look to optimise everything. Web content should be optimised with SEO in mind. This means researching your keywords and carefully adding them across your content in key areas like headings, sub-heading and alt tags.

Emails and blogs can be optimised by looking at key elements such as the image to text ratio, links and HTML formatting. One of the main areas to focus on is the header or subject line. You can optimise this by using a headline optimiser tool like the one offered by CoSchedule.

Social media content can also be optimised by using the right hashtags to spread the reach of your message to the right target audience. A/B testing also comes in handy when you’re looking to optimise your content and can be applied to pretty much any type of content marketing with the right approach.

7) Structure and style

Great content is structured in a way that makes it easy to digest and encourages interaction. Facebook’s platforms are designed in such a way that they keep you scrolling from post to post, maximising the time that you spend on the platform.

The way that you deliver your content marketing is different for each channel you use. Social media posts are short and snappy and need to leap out at the audience in as few words as possible.

People read online information differently to how they would a book. Generally, they tend to scan articles to try to find the information they need as quickly as possible. To enable this, blogs should be structured with clear headings, subheadings and bullet-pointed lists. They should be punctuated by visual media and pull out quotes to ensure that online readers do not become too overwhelmed by dense copy.

Brilliant content opts for short sentences and simple words. Poor grammar and typographical errors (typos) should be avoided at all costs. Tools like Grammarly or Hemingway can help you bring accuracy to every piece of content you produce.

The last word

Whether you use the AIDCA model, focus on benefits and experiences, add a customer focus, boost shareability and memorability, optimise your content or consider structure and style, there are many ways to develop magnetic content.

But more than anything else, it’s about doing something original and telling a great story.

 

If you’re interested in discovering our full range of free marketing guides, resources and support, we’d love to hear from you. We’re here to speak up for ethical businesses, social enterprises and everyday changemakers in Yorkshire.

See what we can do for you. It’s Your Turn.

Growth hack: word of mouth marketing in a hyper-connected world

Growth hack: word of mouth marketing in a hyper-connected world

The ultimate marketing campaign spreads messages organically and exponentially. Here, word of mouth is the ideal channel, but how can you leverage it? This article reviews our top four hacks and shows why brands with purpose have the edge.

According to a Nielsen consumer report, the most trusted form of advertising is a friend’s recommendation, with 83% trusting word of mouth marketing for buying decisions. The report also found that people are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend.

To make the point, just consider which of the following you would be more inclined to believe:

>    A company you have no association with say that the products they produce are great.

>    A person you know, love, respect and trust tell you that a product they’ve just bought is great?

Word of mouth marketing is one of the most potent marketing channels you own. The only problem—you don’t really own it. But while you can’t directly control what others say about you, you can influence it.

There are two things to bear in mind.

1) Exceptional customer service leads to happy customers.

If you can go beyond that everyday 5-star rating and do something that’s off the scale or has wider social benefits, your audience will talk about it. Read our article on optimising customer experiences to find out how.

2) your audience needs an outlet to express their thanks.

Social media, feedback forms, digital surveys and Google reviews are all great places to start. Think about where your audience talks to their friends and family and join them there.

“The best advertising is done by satisfied customers.”

—Philip Kotler, distinguished marketing author

However, while this organic word of mouth approach is ideal, it’s difficult to achieve. But there are a few ways to hack the channel.

1. Referral marketing

Referral marketing takes this basic premise and goes one further. Rather than just relying on your customers to spread the message through their social networks, it gives them an incentive to do so. This makes every customer a potential brand ambassador.

This strategy works by giving them something in return for sharing the message and encouraging uptake. This could be a product discount, credits or a service upgrade.

This is doubly-effective when the reward works for both them and the person they’re referring to you. That’s because people love to help out their friends and will be more than happy to share something that has mutual value.

You can integrate referral marketing into your strategy through pretty much any channel, but this works best when you have the ability to track purchases with referral codes or forms. They can take a little bit of effort to set up, but just imagine the rewards if every new customer spawned three more a few weeks later.

Here’s a 90-second video from Saasquatch that shows you how to set up a refererral marketing programme in just 5 steps.

    2. Ambassadors and community outreach

    When a group of people have a similar interest, you’ll often not need an incentive to spread word of mouth marketing so long as it provides a mutual benefit. All this really needs is someone to lead the way, provide the materials and channels and inject a little motivation.

    Ambassador programmes that work well often focus on a social or local cause. So ethical businesses and social enterprises have a clear advantage. For example, environmental organisations may be willing to support a new product range that has a sustainable supply chain. Libraries and social centres may be willing to display the marketing products of a business that promotes reading for families. A group of business leaders in a local area may be willing to work together to promote commerce in the area or sector.

    Consider what organisations or local groups might be willing to promote your business (like Your Turn). Think about a mutually beneficial proposition that doesn’t just focus on what you sell but has wider social benefits.

    If there isn’t a group out there already, could you create one?

      3. Affiliate marketing

      Affiliate marketing centres around a business relationship between a brand and an affiliate. This is a performance-based marketing strategy, whereby the affiliate is paid for each qualified lead that it sends your way.

      While this doesn’t necessarily increase conversion rates, it does give you more traffic. And more traffic means more sales.

      While the affiliate may not be the ultimate source of trust, they are often well-respected news outlets, review e-zines and comparison sites. Better yet, they can have extensive, highly-relevant networks. Because of this, a good affiliate can do a large chunk of your marketing for you. 

      For many companies using Money Supermarket, Amazon, eBay or Not on the High Street, this is their main marketing channel. This is great if you don’t have a huge amount of resource for marketing. On the flip side, if this is your only marketing channel, your business success lies entirely in their hands.

      The key thing to consider is whether the ROI works out. Most affiliate programmes take somewhere between 20-60% per sale, so you’ll want to negotiate the best deal possible.

      According to Authority Hacker, affiliate programs generate 15%–30% of all sales for advertisers.

      4. Influencers and micro-influencers

      Billionaire teenage models, yoga-practising vegans, free-living daredevils, and uber-fashionable hipsters—welcome to the world of the influencer.

      We’ve all heard of Kim Kardashian, but many marketers still don’t really get influencer marketing.

      Thing is, it’s a big deal.

      Consider this: Instagram superstar Kylie Jenner earns $1m of advertising revenue per post. With one derogatory post about Snapchat, she reportedly took US$1bn off the stock value in a single day. Such is the power of the influencer.

      Influencers hold such sway because they are adored by vast tribes of highly-engaged followers who are often willing to do and believe everything they say. Influencer marketing taps into this power by paying the influencer to endorse brands.

      You can find influencers on pretty much any digital channel. But they tend to live on YouTube, Instagram and blogs. You needn’t pay out $1m per post to use influencer marketing. A current marketing trend is to identify relevant micro-influencers (anyone with a following of 1,000 – 1,000,000 followers or community members.)

      A micro-influencer may not wield the same power as a Kylie Jenner, but they are far more affordable and generally more cost-effective. This is due to the high engagement and conversion rates they own.

      On the lower end of the scale, a product sample or voucher may be enough to earn the endorsement of your micro-influencer who is growing their name. Better yet, if you have a clearly defined social purpose that aligns with the influencer’s brand, they may be willing to mention your cause for free.

      Start your word of mouth journey

      So there you have it, four go-to tactics for building networks and generating word of mouth marketing. If you’d like to start spreading your message, Your Turn offers free promotional support for social enterprises and ethical businesses in Yorkshire. Find out more about what we do here

        The quick fix way to deliver an exceptional content marketing plan

        The quick fix way to deliver an exceptional content marketing plan

        To bring clarity to your activities you need to design a content marketing plan. This will help you understand what content to create, how it can be delivered through your channels and how frequently you should create it.

        Before jumping right in, you’ll want to consider some questions:

        • What content will be of real value to your customers?
        • How will your content align with your messaging architecture?

        That’s it. Build a list of the core topic categories you want to cover, then break these down into a separate list of sub-categories. This approach will help you to focus on what really matters. Keep the list targeted and niche and don’t stray too far into irrelevant territory. A tight content structure will also help your website get indexed. That means enhanced SEO, means more visibility, means more traffic.

        Create multipurpose content

        One of the things about building a multi-channel content marketing plan is that there’s a lot of content to create. If you try to tackle every post individually, you’re going to expend a lot of time and energy. Instead, think about multipurpose content. 

        The way to tackle this is by starting with long-form content and working backwards. For instance, I might begin with a whitepaper that spans a full subcategory. If it’s a big 10,000-word piece, it will take me the better half of a week. Then throw in a few extra days to format into a booklet, create some fancy artwork and design a gated landing page. Sure, it’s top-notch content, but it’s taken a long time to produce. Luckily, I planned to give it legs.

        Definition – Multipurpose content  

        (noun) Content designed to be reused and reformatted, perhaps by structuring it so that it can be easily transferred and manipulated.

        Next, take your blogs and start pulling them apart. Look for punchy subheaders, quotes, cool graphics and key points. All of these items can be rehashed as social media content. To save time, design post templates and just drop the content straight in. For each blog, you can probably squeeze out at least five posts. And there’s no need to start from scratch for every social media channel, just resize your assets to the right spec for each.

        And what about email marketing? Well, you’ve already got tonnes of content available. Throw in a few blog headlines, images and links and any interesting feedback from social media, plus the whitepaper/ebook and suddenly that monthly newsletter looks almost complete.

        Linking it all up

        All that hard work at the start paid off. A single whitepaper has become ten blogs, 50+ social media posts and a good handful of emails—enough content to fill most SME marketing calendars for a couple of months.

        (Note: that doesn’t mean you should post it all at once! Spread it out with reactionary posts and other topics so your content doesn’t become monotonous.)

        You don’t have to start with a whitepaper, you might want to go large with an ebook. Or host a long-form podcast that covers multiple subjects, then transcribe the audio and reframe it as a blog series. Maybe create a long explainer animation for your website then break it down into 15-second clips for social media. Perhaps build an infographic and cut up each stat and fact for email. Or design a portfolio and rehash each case study as a blog and break up the testimonials as yet more posts.

        The added-value benefits

         

        Not only does this approach save tonnes of time when producing your content marketing plan, but it also streamlines the management of your marketing strategy and activities. Moreover, it helps you focus content and build a keyword strategy for each topic. But the best thing: because the content is structured and complimentary, it’s easy to cross-link and integrate to create compelling marketing funnels.

        In our whitepaper example, social media and emails drive traffic to blogs. Blogs contain internal links to each other (both in the copy and in the ‘recommended reading’ section below). This extends the user journey and reduces the bounce rate (more SEO kudos points for us). Each blog also promotes the gated whitepaper. And the download form triggers the addition of content to a mailing list and CRM system.

        Our unwitting social media browser is now a qualified lead. Over to the sales team.

        Plant and nurture evergreen content

        In the same way a comedian rehashes and refines their routine, long-form content shouldn’t be made for one sitting. Evergreen content is anything that you can recycle over and over, squeezing maximum value from the same ideas.

        One of my favourite podcasters/bloggers/marketers/authors/YouTubers is Tim Ferriss. Not only is he able to cover so many specialities (mainly by using multipurpose content) but he’s also able to deliver a constant bombardment of quality content. Having subscribed to his many channels for over a year, it dawned on me that 90% of everything he was posting was recycled content. By that point, I’d already bought all the books and reviewed all his courses.

        (Tim is a master of marketing efficiencies. One of his tactics is to use a set number of profound interview questions and ask leading entrepreneurs, athletes and icons to answer them in the same order. Each response becomes an essay in a book which he simply tops and tails with a personal note. It’s exceptional content for minimum effort.)

        “As a business owner, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of being busy, and being busy is not necessarily productive.”

        —Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur, author and podcaster

        The thing is, the vast majority of your content will slip through the net. It’s not that the content wasn’t interesting or relevant, it’s just that the world is a busy place. Most of your audience won’t have seen it the first time around, so it makes sense to send it their way again once a little time has passed.

        But writing evergreen content is about more than squeezing value. It’s about constantly reviewing, updating and optimising your content to offer more value and drive more traffic. This is particularly true of your best-performing posts. These deserve the most attention as they’re doing the most work. Make a habit of reviewing and recycling this content on a frequent basis. Blogs that haven’t performed well can be forgotten.

        By analysing content performance you can refine your content topics with data-led feedback. Refreshing your content this way is a sure way to ramp up your SEO. So nurturing those evergreen seeds should be a key part of your digital marketing strategy.

        Hitch a ride on trending content

        While using multipurpose, evergreen content is great, leave room for what’s new. This will keep your content marketing plan fresh and relevant while providing an opportunity to piggyback off trending topics. Also, you never know when inspiration is going to hit. I find my best ideas come out of the blue. When that happens, everything else should be pushed aside while your channel that inspiration.

        Of course, it’s important to look out for topical news that you can reframe for your audience. As ever, this is a time-consuming process—and one that you can streamline.

         

        Your source of trends and inspiration

         

        Keep an eye on your favourite news and blog outlets by using an RSS like Feedly. Here, you can select your favourite media channels and bloggers and add them to a list. This means that track of hot content all in one simple and convenient place. You can create multiple lists on Feedly to research each of your brand’s categories.

        BuzzSumo is a tool that lets you find the most shared content and trending influencers on social media. You can use it to analyse which content performs best for any topic and find trending news.

        As a source of news, I’d also highly recommend using Tweetdeck, is a dashboard for managing Twitter accounts. This gives you an overview of trending topics and helps you discover top hashtags too.

        For a more proactive approach to your content marketing plan, there are certain seasonal topics that you can plan for. Most businesses are planning for Christmas, Black Friday and Valentine’s Day well in advance of their campaigns going live. There are likely to be special days and events that your content is particularly well suited to.

        The sprinkle of subtle sales

        While 80% of content should provide value for your prospects, 20% should be designed to advertise your products and services.

        Get the balance right and your audience won’t mind seeing the occasional promotion. In fact, if they’ve come to recognise you as a reliable brand that they can trust, it may be welcomed. Here’s a list of sales content that you can add to your plan:

        • Glowing case studies and other forms of UGC.
        • Your latest product offering.
        • Changes to your services.
        • Limited time offers and promotions.

        Creating your content marketing plan

        Now you know the kind of content to create, it’s time to develop your content marketing plan. I tend to use three variations.

        1. The annual plan gives an overview of monthly objectives, content themes, campaigns, product/service changes and promotions, plus upcoming news and events. This is a simple, bare-bones plan that is used as a reference point when structuring long-term thinking.

        2. The monthly plan goes into greater detail. It gives a summary of all the content going out on a day-by-day basis. The plan also takes into account which channel will be used, what the desired action will be and which customer segments will receive the content.

        3. The social media plan has its own tab due to the frequent number of posts. Again, this is a day-by-day breakdown of content featuring all the social media platforms which I intend to use. Here, I write the actual copy for each post (include all links and hashtags) and add a reference to what image will be used with the post. I also use a separate tab to keep track of trending news, themes, influencers and hashtags to incorporate into the plan.

        P.S. You can also use Asana to plan your comms for a more digital approach. Just remember to select each channel as a separate project so that you can toggle between them without getting overwhelmed.

        Scheduling the content

        Time to deliver all that hard work. Make the burden a little lighter by scheduling it in one go. Rather than logging into every social media channel a few times a day to create each post manually, you’ll want to use a scheduler.

        There’s a wide mix of social media scheduling tools available to the marketer. Hootsuite and Buffer are my top choices because they both bring all your social media marketing channels under one roof. I tend to bulk upload a couple of weeks’ activity in one go, then just log in to check for engagements and latest trends. 

        They also help you monitor and analyse your platform’s activity. They are particularly handy when managing multiple social media brands because you don’t have to flip between accounts. 

        Most decent email marketing platforms and Content Management Systems will also allow you to schedule activity. This means that if you have a lot of content to post or need to get ahead then you can.

        How to optimise customer experiences at every touchpoint

        How to optimise customer experiences at every touchpoint

         

        What do Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Elon Musk have in common? Aside from billion-pound empires, they’re all driven by a business mantra that focuses on exceptional customer experiences. This article explores the 5 essential phases of the perfect customer journey. 

        Customer experienceit’s why Apple has a vast tribe of tech-savvy advocates and can sell its devices for far more than the worth of its spec. It’s why Virgin is able to go into any known industry, shake things up and create a leading business instantaneously. And it’s why Tesla can sell astronomically priced cars and still retain the highest customer loyalty ratings of any car company. Clearly, there’s something to be said for customer experiences.

        But what does it take to innovate the exceptional? And how can you apply these experiences to every stage of the customer journey? This article walks you through the 5 key stages and offers a free Customer Experience Mapping Spreadsheet to help you get started.

        Innovate customer experiences, not the product

        These days, product differentiation is harder than ever. And while every entrepreneur is seeking that next big thing, few will find it. As manufacturers outsource their components from the same factories and ever more new businesses crossover or diversify into the same markets, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out with a unique selling proposition.

        In this competitive landscape, prices are being driven down to the point where those businesses who win barely turn a profit and those that lose go out of business altogether. In this race to the bottom, often it’s the little things that are cut. The quality of the materials. The integrity of the supply chain. The professionalism of the staff. The little flourishes and personal touches. The added-value.

        Herein lies the mistake.

        “Customers are no longer buying products and services—they are buying experiences delivered via the products and services.”

        —Gregory Yankelovich, customer experience guru

        Beyond 5-stars on the user journey

        These days, 4 or 5-stars is average.

        To stand out, you have to go further. The 6th star isn’t even visible on the scale, but when you see it, you know that’s the brand for you. The 6th star is registered in beaming smiles and delighted stories of customers. These people who will do your word of mouth marketing on your behalf and keep coming back for more. To attain it, you have to provide the exceptional.

        Exceptional customer experiences are profound, or extraordinary, or unique or laugh out loud funny. They can be personal, empathetic or friendly. They’re 4-dimensional, cross-platform and multi-sensory. From the temperature of a restaurant to the smell of a bakery, the texture of your print design, to the movement of your UX design. More than anything they’re seamlessly linked to your brand soul.

        The 5 stages of the customer journey

        Good news! It’s easy to provide the exceptional—once or twice, here and there. The bad news is that’s not good enough either. Your brand has to delight at every touchpoint throughout the whole user journey. From the moment a prospect passes your shop window to the point of sale and beyond. To ensure a seamless customer journey, isolate each touchpoint and focus on innovation. 

        According to futurist Nicholas Webb, author of the seminal customer experience book, What Customers Crave, the user journey can be broken down into 5 separate stages:

         

        • Pre-touchpoint – Awareness
        • Initial touchpoint – Engagement
        • Core touchpoint – Lead generation
        • Last touchpoint – Point of sale
        • In-touchpoint – Loyalty

        Pre-touchpoint – Awareness

        This is the first moment a customer comes into contact with your brand. Your marketing gravity has taken hold. To avoid them overshooting, start exerting a force immediately.

        Here, the customer is in their research phase. They may be looking at comparison sites, checking out Google Reviews or just asking a friend for advice. You don’t always have much control over the pre-touchpoint. Mostly, it depends on customer reviews and perceptions. Because of this, it’s twice as important that the other touchpoints really are exceptional!

        But there are other types of pre-touches that you can control. A social media post that drops into their feed. A leaflet in their letterbox. A shop window they pass by. A list of results they’re served when entering a search query.

        Here the goal is to stand out, grab attention and make your prospects think, ‘tell me more’.

        Initial touchpoint – a time for engagement

        At the initial touchpoint, your prospect has acted on an impulse. They may have entered your shop for the first time and are considering whether to stay or turn right around. They may have clicked on your social media profile to see if your other content offers something of value. Or they may have navigated to your website’s homepage or product/service landing page for that brief 3-second window of evaluation. 

        This stage isn’t about sales. It’s about creating comfortable, entertaining and engaging customer experiences for your prospects to explore. It’s where you show that your brand offers more than just products, whether that’s advice, free resources, a pleasant atmosphere or just a friendly community.

        Just being around your brand should offer value. Now’s the time to engage with your customer on their terms.

        Here’s what Nicholas Webb has to say about customer experience.

        Core touchpoint – the time of lead generation

        The core touchpoint begins when the customer-to-be has started making signs that they are interested in a transaction. Maybe they’ve picked up a product and asked your sales staff for advice. Perhaps a website visitor has navigated to a contact form or is reviewing their basket. Perhaps the latest promotion in your e-newsletter has caught their eye.

        • What messages does each of these touchpoints convey?
        • How user-friendly are these features?
        • Is the experience as enjoyable and simple as possible?
        • How simple is it to place an order?

        One way to encourage customers along the user journey is to create an ascending transaction model.

        Here, a sample or resource is offered in exchange for something small. This might be a sample box of chocolates for just a couple of pounds, a free month trial in return for registering an account, or a free e-book in return for contact details and a newsletter sign up. Offering your customer a low-cost trial means they can test your product or service without the risk. Once they’re hooked, you can upsell.

        Pro Tip: Aim to give something away which has a perceived greater value than the cost.

        “In a digital world, the gift I give you almost always benefits me more than it costs.”

        —Seth Godin, Marketing Guru

        Last touchpoint – the point of sale

        The customer journey doesn’t stop when they reach the counter. The point of sale is a fantastic place to leave a lasting impression. It’s also a good place to lose a sale. According to an American Express Survey, 78% of customers bailed on a transaction or did not make an intended purchase due to poor customer experiences.

        Starbucks doesn’t make this mistake.

        When customers buy coffee from Starbucks, they are asked to provide a name. When the beverage is ready, the barista will make the effort to hand it over and thank them in person, rather than leave it on the side and shout out a number. It’s the little things that count.

        A friendly smile goes a long way and great customer service should be integral to your brand principles. But you can do more than that. If you offer a luxury product, why not gift wrap the product at the counter and offer a free mini card to go with it? 

        Online, the point of sale is the basket. Here you can add value by recommending relevant products that others have bought, free next-day delivery and a painless transaction process. And how about a beautifully designed email receipt offering a free voucher on their next purchase.

        For the B2B company, the point of sale may be a phone call or a business presentation. Here, exceptional experience means having a well-designed workspace. It means offering deluxe coffee in cups and saucers. It means a brand perfect presentation, free merchandise and a warm welcome from the receptionist (and workforce) as your visitor passes by.

        In-touchpoint – building loyalty after the sale

        So you’ve made the sale. The customer walks away with a beaming smile and you get that elusive 6-star review, again. Great work! But your user journey isn’t finished yet. 

        Truth isthe perfect user journey never finishes. 

        When my fiance’s dad bought his first Apple Mac in 2009, who knew the young family would each own a suite of Apple products two decades hence? These days, that’s how they take photos, read books, listen to music and connect with one another. The art of marketing isn’t to make a sale, but to build a loyal, lasting community.

        It makes simple economic sense. 82% of companies agree that retention is cheaper than acquisition. And 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. Some studies have concluded that a loyal customer is worth ten times as much as a one-off. 

        You should never stop wooing your customers. Sending them valuable content, alerting them to your latest promotions, engaging with them on social media and giving away free offers tailor-made for them. 

        “A true fan is defined as someone will buy anything you produce. A diehard who will drive 200 miles to see you sing and who will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your books.”

        —Kevin Kelly, author or 1,000 True Fans

        Designing exceptional customer experiences

        Now you understand the different phases of the user journey, it’s time to start innovating exceptional experiences. Decide which channels you should use for each phase and what changes you can make to the customer experience. Ask yourself what value you can provide through them and what might nudge them to the next step.

        To help, I’ve created a Customer Experience Journey Mapping Spreadsheet that helps you focus on each stage and each customer and list your ideas. Feel free to copy, change and use it as you please:

        This template also includes fields for how you intend to measure the effectiveness of each step. This is an essential stage of your marketing plan and will define how you adapt and tweak your campaign strategy for an ever optimised performance.

        Not only will you need to understand how you intend to measure success, but you will also need to define what that success actually looks like.

         

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