How content marketing can be integral to customer insight

24th Jun 2014

Whether we work in marketing, sales or customer experience management, each us of us knows the importance of having the most accurate customer insight so that we can deliver relevant messages and experiences to achieve our business goals.

Historically, we’ve relied on all sorts of sources for accurate customer insight.

At first, we made do with demographic data, thinking that knowing a person’s age, postcode, gender and income would be the best proxy for understanding what makes them tick.

Yet whilst Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne are both male, married, 65, with an annual income over £1.5 million and a residence in Buckinghamshire, it goes without saying that there are worlds between their lives and outlook, and, subsequently, a vast disjunct in how they should be marketed to!

As transactional data has become more readily available, we’ve been able to learn more about our customers based on what they’ve bought. However, a purchase made last week is no reflection of your current context today. In the time that elapsed since your most recent transaction with a brand, you may have become unemployed, a widower or a lottery winner. None of these are revealed by looking at your receipts.

Social media monitoring is currently hugely popular as a means to gain better customer insight. The hope is that by listening to the indiscrete natter of our customers online, we can begin to really understand what motivates them, what their needs are and - ideally - what they are in the market for to buy next.

Yet social media monitoring isn’t without its problems. Whilst, in theory, social media provides a canvas for our customers to reveal more about themselves, experience tells us that we project a ‘curated self’ on social networks - an idealised version of ourselves; more popular and more successful than we really are.

So, if purchase history, social media monitoring and demographic data only present us with partial insights into our customers, where can we go to get even more accurate customer intelligence?

What you read online reveals who you really are

Author Walter Mosley once said, "A man's bookcase will tell you everything you'll ever need to know about him", and it with this in mind that brands are starting to see the value of understanding what customers are reading and engaging with online.

If brands were to track the content that their customers are reading and also understand the topics of interested contained within each piece of content, they’d be able to get a much more accurate understanding of their customers.  

Think about it: whilst you may not be so vocal on Twitter about having recently contracted headlice, the content you’ve read most recently (“Ten natural remedies to cure headlice”) is highly indicative of your current context, what is concerning you right now and – most importantly for brands – what you’re likely to buy in the near future.

Through a particular type of technology known as 'content analytics' this kind of insight is rapidly becoming a reality for brands that are desperate to gain as much useful and relevant customer insight as possible.

Content analytics technology analyses pieces of text and makes it understandable and readable for computers. It allows computers to understand the topics, people, places, companies and concepts in the content, sentiment towards aspects of the content, and the language of that content. This in turn means, computers can track an individual's interaction with a piece of content and collect and draw trends about that individual's tastes and interests.

Thus, if you were reading articles in MyCustomer, content analytics would reveal if you were more interested in articles which mentioned "Forrester", "Gartner" and "Altimeter", rather than articles which mentioned "Adobe", "IBM" and "Microsoft".

This is of real value for brands (and publishers!) that are increasingly using content as a means to engage prospective customers around their interests. Content analytics provides a way to make brand's content integral for customer insight.

Understanding what topics are of interest to readers can impact editorial strategy, sponsorship strategy, product development, PR response and operational efficiencies.

Imagine how useful it would be for a consumer goods brand if they knew you were preparing for an upcoming wedding or were a vegan, based on the lifestyle columns you were reading.

Or, how an automotive brand could start to relevantly communicate with you if it knew you'd started reading blogs about the best cross-country routes across America.

Or, in preparation for your first gap year holiday, a travel brand could know where you were planning on going just because you regularly consume ‘Teach yourself Japanese’ content.

All of these opportunities for brands and publishers emerge when they are able to understand their customers’ interests based on the content they’re consuming.

Far from being merely a vehicle for customer engagement, content marketing is also one of the better means for accurate and up-to-date customer insight, too.

Andrew Davies is COO & co-founder of idio.

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