Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Customers Are Reading Between the Lines

James Cornford
Jan 16 · 3 min read

In 1996 Bill Gates coined the phrase “content is king.” He could foresee the true purpose of the Internet and the role that brands would play as educators and entertainers of the public.

Like many thoughts to leave the brain of the Microsoft founder, it took a while for the rest of the world to catch up. We moved into an age of instant gratification, with all of the information we needed at our fingertips.

Customer expectations and demands changed. We no longer needed to wait, so why would we choose to? This meant that anything that was timely no longer had a place in print, once the ink had dried, the content was already out of date.

The media industry underestimated this impact, they needed to evolve or die, which unfortunately led to a thinning of the herd and created a content-shaped hole that needed to be filled.

Customers wanted and needed to be educated, informed and entertained, not just for personal fulfillment, but to make informed decisions, including when they’re shopping for products and services. Historically, the independent press filled this role. With those numbers dwindling, brands soon saw an opportunity.

Websites that had previously just been online catalogs and ordering systems suddenly saw an influx of “content” and product finder tools. To the untrained eye, brands were helping their customers.

The problem is, old habits die hard, rather than stepping in and truly adding value, brands were simply finding more theatrical ways to convince customers that their products would fix all of their problems..

The end result for many brands — often for many years now — has been content marketing without a strategy. However, content marketing in the dark, or as a purely sales-focused function holds no place in today’s market.

Today’s customers expect more.

In the same way that many print titles were left behind with a major change in user behavior, brands face the same threat. Thinly guised value-added content, and generically-appealing high-profile brand ambassadors are no longer going to hack it.

After years of being subjected to bad “added value” content, customers have gotten wise to the “tricks of the trade.” They understand the basic levers that fuel social and digital marketing, and they are reading between the lines. They get that celebrities rarely manage their own social media accounts. They’re able to distinguish between paid placements and organic content.

Customers today are smart. This is a good thing. This isn’t something to be afraid of — it’s something to be embraced.

It’s already paying off for some.

There are more brands out there still trying to disguise sales material as added value content than not. However, there are the are those benefiting from treating their customers as partners to unlock the potential of what true value-added content can do.

Leaders in content marketing are seeing almost 8x the year on year growth in unique site traffic compared to followers and 6x higher conversion rates. It’s no lifestyle marketing flash in the pan either, with nearly 65% of B2B marketers seeing growing success rates each year for content marketing.

When brands treat people like people — smart, insightful people — they reap the rewards.

Meeting the needs of customers.

To meet this newfound level of savvy head on, brands must be willing to truly add value.

Brands need to rethink who they are and what they offer their customers. You must be educators, entertainers and facilitators. If you can’t facilitate a genuine untainted experience, you will lose customers to someone that can.

Most importantly, you must be comfortable with the fact that your product is simply part of an ongoing journey. This requires an unprecedented level of trust in your customer.

If you’re willing to do so, customers are willing to listen and reward brands for actually bringing something to the table beyond a “Buy Now” Call-to-Action.

James Cornford

Cyclist, Strategist, Marketer & Journalist, fueled by tea! Writes about bikes, exploring & life’s adventures! Englishman living in USA. JCornford.com

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