Content Isn’t King–Customer Experience Is

By Augie Ray | February 13, 2016 | 14 Comments

Content is not king. It is important–vital, in fact–but it is not king. A new study from TrackMaven demonstrates that while brands continue to pursue greater content production strategies, they are getting less engagement for their effort. This is an outcome that a simple supply-and-demand analysis could have predicted, and it demonstrates once again why customer experience is the real king.

Even without examining data, it should be apparent why customer experience has a stronger claim to the throne than does content. Content can attract attention but it cannot hold loyalty. You do not stay loyal to brands that produce the best content but the brands that provide the best customer experience at the right price (excluding, of course, those brands were content is the product like Disney or FOX). No one has ever said, “The product is disappointing, but I’m not going to switch because the brand produces great content.”

In the consumer half of your brain, the idea that customer experience is more important than content seems pretty obvious, but the marketer half of our brains clings to the belief that content is the ruler. This may be a holdover from a time when creative Mad Men ruled our industry, but media has splintered, the number of channels has risen, and the content available to consumers has exploded. The marketing equation that worked in the era when an advertiser on “I Love Lucy” could reach 70% of households is different than the one today with millions of websites, YouTube channels, Spotify lists, blogs, mobile apps, Video on Demand, streaming and cable channels.

In recent years, the growth of social media and access to low-cost online publishing and distribution tools has led to the belief that brands are publishers. While some brands have opportunities to publish content that reaches a critical mass and produces marketing returns, most brands struggle to realize the promise of their content marketing strategies. The reason is best explained not in marketing terms but economic ones using the law of supply and demand.

What happens when the supply of something rises but demand does not? The price drops. Over the last decade, the supply of content has exploded. Brands that used to produce a new campaign or press release every few weeks or months now try to engage consumers with fresh content several times a day via social media. And it isn’t just brands–consumers today have countless content options from BitTorrent to YouTube to VOD to websites to their Facebook news feeds.

While the supply of content has risen, what has happened to the demand for it? Consumers may be multitasking more, but they still have just two ears, two eyes and so many hours in the day to consume media. Media consumption has risen, but nowhere near the pace of media production.

In situations where supply grows much faster than demand, supply-and-demand models indicate that price must drop. While the decline of traditional media is well known (with TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropping by almost 8-and-a-half hours per week in four years and daily newspaper circulation falling in nine of the last ten years), the “price” consumers pay for content is also dropping in digital and social media.

Content distributed via blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter may be free to consumers, but people pay a price for this content with their attention and engagement. The decline in the organic reach of brands on Facebook is not news to marketers, but a new report from TrackMaven further makes the case that as brand content has grown, consumer engagement has shrunk.

TrackMaven analyzed 50 million pieces of content from almost 23,000 brands across six digital channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and blogs) with a combined total of 75.7 billion interactions. The report notes that “From its highest to lowest points, the output of content per brand increased 35% per channel across 2015, but content engagement decreased by 17%.”  The engagement ratio at the end of 2015 dropped to 2.19 interactions per post per brand per 1,000 followers, a rate of 0.219% of followers per post (not a whole lot better than the current clickthrough rate of display ads of 0.16%).

The way to overcome content challenges is to give people the right customer experience that encourages them to create content and spread the word for you. While the supply of entertaining, informative and emotional content may continue to rise and diminish the “price” of your brand’s content, the supply-and-demand mechanics for trusted, authentic, peer-to-peer content is quite different. As noise rises, the demand for trusted content increases, which is why a large number of studies demonstrate people want, value and trust content from people they know.

Content is vital–furnishing the right content to the right people at the right time can deliver people to your door– but customer experience is what keeps them inside your brand kingdom and encourages them to invite others. In this way, content is more like the public mass transit system of your realm, but make no mistake–the king is customer experience.

Long live the CX king!

  1. February 15, 2016 at 11:06 pm
    Joanne Tombrakos says:

    To say that one is king over the other is misleading. Content is a cornerstone of the customer experience, without which there is not much of an experience.

    • February 16, 2016 at 1:58 pm
      Augie Ray says:

      I appreciate the comment, Joanne, but I do not agree. Content is a part of experience, but it is not the cornerstone. Think of the most successful Web 1.0 companies, such as Google, Ebay and Amazon. How much content do they produce? Very little–you know about those companies because they produced a great, innovative customer experience and their customers told others. Did you hear about Nest, Square or Warby Parker from content those brands produced and broadcast content or because they offered a product and service experience that turned mere customers into advocates?

      A great customer experience is far more than just content. As I point out, content is vital, but it is not the cornerstone. Lots of brands produce great content, but few brands offer a customer experience that drives strong loyalty and advocacy. As I noted in the post, you don’t stay loyal to a brand that furnishes a disappointing product or service because it has great content, but you may stay loyal to a brand with a great product service even if it produces little content.

  2. February 16, 2016 at 2:43 pm
    Carmen Hill says:

    Great, insights as usual, Augie. And if you define content as only the marketing-driven content that attracts attention and persuades people to *become* a customer, then you’re probably right. I would argue, though, that content is more than content marketing. For organizations where the customer lifecycle lasts longer than the time time it takes to “consume” a product, content is often an important *part* of the customer experience. This is especially true when your content helps customers better understand, use and make the most of what they’ve bought—whether it’s consumer electronics or enterprise software.
    I can’t hear “content is king” anymore without thinking “take a drink.” It’s become a catch-all, clichéd buzz-phrase that glosses over the nuance and complexity of creating and managing content that not only catches a buyer’s attention, but also helps earns their love and loyalty.
    I’m a little worried that “customer experience is king” is also at risk of over-hype. Almost overnight, it seems, my inbox is flooded with customer experience subject lines, and the bandwagon is starting to feel a little crowded 😉 It doesn’t mean it’s not true… experience rules, and sometimes that experience includes content.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking start to my day and congrats on the new(ish) job!

    • February 16, 2016 at 11:24 pm
      Augie Ray says:

      Thanks for the comment, Carmen. I concur–content fits well into all stages of the customer lifecycle, and it can add value. As you point out, it is *part* of CX, but I share your concern we may over-hype it. I’d like to see as much focus on improving what brands DO and ARE rather than what they SAY.

  3. February 18, 2016 at 9:47 pm
    Kara Burney says:

    Thanks for covering our research, Augie. As a marketing technology company with both robust content marketing and CX teams (i.e. we market to marketers and work to keep our marketing customers delighted with the insights our platform provides), the overlap between our two teams has been of the utmost importance. Our CX team works with senior marketers every day, and they hear the pain points (and triumphs) of our customers firsthand. Hearing that feedback allows those of us on the marketing team to be better armed to create content that will pique the interests of our target audience.

    The TrackMaven marketing team is in a unique position — our customers are also our peers — but the feedback loop between CX and content marketing teams has proven vital.

    And stay tuned — we’ll be featuring some case studies on the brands that have avoided the content marketing paradox soon (i.e. those brands that are doing more with less, having efficiently scaled back on content creation but driving outsized engagement.)

  4. March 2, 2016 at 6:54 pm
    Ketharaman Swaminathan (GTM360 Marketing Solutions) says:

    I think a lot depends on whether content implictly means only brand-produced content or also includes third-party content like testimonials, social media shares, word of mouth discussions, and so forth. If it’s the former, I tend to agree with your contention. But, if it’s the latter, content is what makes strangers become customers and experience CX in the first place. This is true even for Google, Amazon, Nest, Square and the other brands you’ve mentioned. That should place Content at least in the same level of importance as CX.

    Now, coming to existing customers, the typical goals of customer loyalty are (1) Bolster brand advocacy (2) Boost repeat purchase and (3) Increase ticket size. CX is clearly more important for #1. Content is clearly more important for #3 (by listing additional usage scenarios). I tend to believe that Content and CX are equally important for #2.

    End of the day, CX drives what a customer – or even a prospect – feels and Content is how they communicate that feeling to others, so I tend to believe both go hand in hand.

    • March 2, 2016 at 7:00 pm
      Augie Ray says:

      Great comment, Kethawaman. I was specifically addressing the huge increase in content marketing investment and “brands as publishers.” I certainly agree–and it is a key component of my CX coverage–that the content others produce about a brand is powerful. My argument is that advocate and promoter content comes from great experience, not from brand content. Thus, it is CX that is king, not content (at least from the perspective of brand strategy and investment.)

      Thanks for the dialog.

      • March 3, 2016 at 9:51 am
        Ketharaman Swaminathan (GTM360 Marketing Solutions) says:

        @AugieRay: TY for your kind words. You’ve a valid point that I missed, namely, third party Content is driven by a brand’s CX, not its Content. Ergo, if we must compare them, the primacy of CX does go up several notches over that of Content. On another note, I totally agree with you about “brand as publisher” meme. In my own blog and elsewhere, I’ve warned brands not to drink this Kool-Aid – when the publishing industry behaving as publishers is itself not faring as well as banking, tech and many other industries, it’s stupid for others to behave as publishers!

  5. March 11, 2016 at 7:45 pm
    Chris Sadler says:

    Good stuff, as usual, Augie. As others have pointed out, I really don’t think it’s a contest. A brand exists at the intersection of perception/expectation and experience. When those don’t align, we have a brand problem. Content drives perception and expectation. I think the reason we hear “content is king” from marketers is because that’s the side of the equation that we can actually affect (in some industries, not all). Marketers like to create expectations, demand and perception through owned, earned and paid content — and extra credit if some of that content is coming from others in the form of word of mouth. And then they sit back and hope that the experience matches the set-up.

    If I’m a marketer and I need to drive choice for my (waffles – insert service or product here), I’m going to do so with content. And go have a talk with my colleagues that buying those waffles should be easy and they should be delicious and satiating, you know, so we don’t have a brand problem. The content and the experience make up a bicameral legislature. The king is the consumer.

    • March 12, 2016 at 2:51 pm
      Augie Ray says:

      Thanks, Chris. I agree we hear “content is king” because that’s the side marketers can affect most easily–but we see that changing. With the growth of Customer Experience responsibilities within the marketing department, it is no longer enough to create messaging and “hope” the experience matches up. That may have worked in the mass media era, but in an era with splintering media, increasing ad-blocking and ad-skipping, rising WOM and smart devices that allow consumers to control their inbound channels, marketing is being asked to play a different role. In some respects, what is happening is a return to the past, when marketing was all four Ps and not merely Promotion.

      As CMOs are asked to take the lead on CX, it demands they focus on more than just content and more than just what leads up to acquisition. We’re seeing growing interest in CX models that empower marketing to influence the CX from end-to-end. Content is part of that, but so are aspects for which marketing is usually not responsible, such as product development, customer care and more.

      Content is not going away, of course, but the path to strong, sustainable brands is no longer to craft messaging we hope matches the experience. Investing in outbound messaging that results in disappointed customers, higher churn, higher customer care costs, poor WOM and diminished financial results is an outcome CMOs are increasingly seeking (and being asked) to avoid. So, while I agree it is the customer that is king, the question is what the king wants–do customers retain brands that disappoint them but offer great content or do they retain (and talk about) brands that provide a great experience?

      So, let’s agree it isn’t an either/or question of content vs. experience, but at the end of the day, does your CMO want to invest in outbound messaging that leaves customers disappointed with the actual experience or does he or she wish that outbound marketing drives consumers to an experience that lifts the brand, earns loyalty and greater share of wallet, and results in WOM that matches and improves upon the advertising spend? In this context, it seems pretty obvious marketers need to first get the CX right and then focus on content, not vice versa, don’t you think? Which explains why a majority of marketers we survey tell us that they expect to compete primarily on the basis of CX in the years to come. It’s a fascinating shift, because everything old is new again!

  6. March 14, 2016 at 3:16 pm
    Pam wilde says:

    Interesting blog. It’s all about creating the content that plays to your strengths and acts as an enabler to showcasing your capabilities. That avoids the disconnect between raising customer expectation through content which you can’t fulfil. Ultimately the content is there to engage and make the customer feel positive snd reassured about your brand.

    • March 14, 2016 at 4:30 pm
      Augie Ray says:

      Thanks, Pam, well stated. I would just point out that your statement assumes the brand has “strengths” and “capabilities” worth showcasing. Too many brands are seen by their customers as being undifferentiated, which is why they suffer churn, poor WOM and struggles with financial and business results. The point of my blog posts is that content cannot save a brand that does not objectively different a positive customer experience–if the CX is troubled, then investments in outbound communications only deliver more customers to a mediocre product or service experience. But, if the brand gets its CX right, then content and other forms of outbound marketing can, as you point out, play to strengths and showcase capabilities. It is not an either/or question, but it is a question of what comes first.

  7. March 14, 2016 at 5:14 pm
    Paul Marsden says:

    Excellent stuff Augie – with you 100%. If there’s an opportunity, it’s to make content part of the customer experience, not a separate spam channel for cats on skateboards – Think about activity tracker content published to a personal dashboard, or Domino’s AR pizza box that activates a personal gig (Hatsune Miku) when you point your phone on it. Making content part of the customer experience is the future of content marketing IMO.

    • March 14, 2016 at 5:20 pm
      Augie Ray says:

      I agree completely, Paul. But I also like cats on skateboards! :)

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