Enterprises produce a multitude of content. Some enterprises consider certain kinds of content more important than others. But if they do that, they run the risk of creating unbalanced content that emphasizes certain priorities but ignores others. Instead, they should coordinate different approaches to content to make sure all customer needs are met.
Michael AndrewsPublished on Apr 29, 2020
Silos present the biggest obstacle to executing an enterprise-wide content strategy. Numerous teams have different responsibilities and focus on their own priorities. Enterprises need a clear sense of how these activities fit together, or else content operations will be fragmented and less successful than they should be.
Executives can be perplexed by the variety of content their organization produces: from stories and other “creative” content to mundane tables and specifications. To manage this content effectively, and have a coordinated strategy for it, enterprises need to balance the different kinds of content to make sure they support each other. All this content can be consolidated in a central content hub. It’s even possible to connect together these different types of content using a taxonomy. But first, enterprise teams need to agree about the distinct purposes of different forms of content. All teams should know how their work relates to other kinds of content the enterprise is creating—they need a shared understanding of the contributions of each team.
5 Approaches to Content
The various approaches to content go by different names. You may hear a discussion about content marketing and wonder how it differs from the sales copy that’s used on an e-commerce website. You encounter the phrase “UX writing” but aren’t sure what that is. Or you may wonder how technical communication is relevant to your organization, especially if you aren’t a tech firm.
It’s tempting to dismiss this lack of clarity as a case of terminology proliferation—of having too many terms referring to similar things. Yet the terms refer to distinct concepts and practices. Content operations require a range of approaches to support distinct goals. A strategic organization will utilize all these approaches to serve customer needs successfully.
Five approaches are widely used to address customer needs:
- Issue-focused content marketing
- Solution-focused content marketing
- E-commerce copywriting
- UX writing
- Technical communications
Each approach supports core customer experience goals for content and the particular business objectives related to them, as the table below summarizes.
|Goal for content||Business goal||Approach|
|Help customers learn about issues||Awareness||Content marketing (issue-focused)|
|Get customers to try||Consideration and activation||Content marketing (solution-focused)|
|Help customers decide||Sales||E-commerce copywriting|
|Keep customers happy||Customer retention||UX writing|
|Help customers resolve problems||Self-service success||Technical communication and help content|
Enterprises draw on different approaches for several reasons:
- Customers at different stages have different needs and priorities.
- They tend to use specific channels to access content at a given stage.
- Different business teams have specific revenue or operational responsibilities that influence the content that’s created and delivered.
The approaches emphasize specific kinds of content and tactics according to what customers are seeking to accomplish. The marketing team is generally responsible for marketing content. Product owners may have oversight of e-commerce content. The product design team will influence UX writing. And customer success teams will typically be the owners of self-service content.
Content always needs to persuade and inform, but there can be subtle differences in how that works best, according to the situation the content must address.
Guided by a distinctive focus, each approach is associated with specific content outputs. The table below summarizes examples associated with each approach.
Let’s look at the focus and purpose of each approach in detail.
Approach 1: Awareness and Issue-Focused Content Marketing
Not all content marketing has the same purpose. I distinguish awareness-building content marketing from content marketing that’s focused on solving customer problems. There’s not a hard boundary between these two. Rather, there’s a difference in emphasis.
Building awareness involves talking about topics of interest to readers, which are broader in scope than more precisely defined topics discussing a person’s requirements. When seeking to build awareness of issues of interest, organizations will offer content that provides ideas and perspectives that are relevant to the reader’s situation. While readers may become aware of your brand in the process, their primary motivation is to look at content they find personally interesting. Doing so, they build awareness of their own desires and goals.
This is “pre-sales” content that is not focused on the product. Its goal is to encourage return visits and positive word of mouth. Social media often plays a companion role. Sharing by readers in social channels can be important to disseminating ideas and building interest.
Awareness content takes different forms, such as stories, profiles, and interviews. The content might talk about a dream to pursue or a challenge to overcome.
Awareness content is important for building relationships with readers, encouraging them to explore further. The content lets people get to know your organization’s values and priorities. Continued exploration of content gives people time to form their opinions and understand their priorities.
Approach 2: Consideration and Solution-Focused Content marketing
Solution-focused content marketing supports customers as they consider different alternatives related to a decision they are about to make.
At a certain point, customers begin to have a clear sense of their needs and will be looking for answers to questions they have. Unlike issue-focused awareness content, which aims to generate curiosity and interest, solution-focused consideration content centers on articulating the value of a specific option.
This content must be helpful to customers. It answers key questions that customers will have before they take the next step and try the product or service. The content may illustrate some of the ways that customers can take advantage of the product.
Consideration content provides a preview of what customers can expect. This content discusses a solution or opportunity, showing possibilities and speaking about any risks to avoid. It may explore different scenarios and offer advice relating to customer decisions. Done well, it helps customers know if a solution is the right fit for their situation.
Because the content previews potential options, it is frequently linked to an offer to try out a product or service, which is known as activation. Readers may be presented with a chance to:
- Sign up a free trial of a subscription
- Get a sample of a product that is sold
- “Test drive” a product before buying, such as a customized demo or virtual tour
Trial sign-ups aim to reduce the anxiety associated with taking a leap of faith when using something new and untested.
Content relating to trials focuses on details such as:
- Form instructions
- Sign-up processes
- How to ask permission for information
- Breaking commitments into small steps
- Designing follow-up communications
Approach 3: Offers and E-Commerce Copywriting
E-commerce copywriting supports sales or other online activities that generate revenue. It is sometimes referred to as product content or merchant-to-consumer content. The content is transactional and granular. Because measurement metrics are straightforward, e-commerce content is finely tuned and optimized.
Not all companies sell their products or services online, especially those that involve “considered” purchases that require talking to a salesperson or consultant before committing. But the scope of online sales keeps growing. In some markets, consumers are even buying automobiles and houses online, without seeing these things in person or talking to a person.
A wide range of non-retail organizations are involved in some form of online selling and accept online payments. E-commerce includes non-retail businesses that invite customers to:
- Book tickets for events and transportation
- Make reservations for lodging, facilities, and rentals
- Make appointments for services
- Transfer funds or financial assets into a new account
- Make donations
The focus of e-commerce copywriting is describing the product and framing the offer.
Product copy addresses:
- Details about features
- Comparison of alternatives
- Product benefits
- Configurations such as materials and features
- Social proof: awards, customer testimonials, and ratings
Content relating to terms of the offer influences sales conversion. It will address customer decision criteria, such as comparing:
- Purchase options
- Product or customer eligibility
- Timing considerations
- Accessories and add-ons
- Bonus packages
- Availability of supply
- Pricing options and limitations on deals
When enterprises offer many products or services, they also need to fine-tune the labels they use for product features and categories, since these labels influence the discovery of items by consumers.
Many content details can influence the path from the description to the shopping cart and on to the checkout. One decision involves when and where to present the offer. If people are already trying the product or service, purchase CTAs may be embedded within the app or be included in communications such as email.
Approach 4: Customer Retention and UX Writing
Retention is important for any product or service that relies on:
- A subscription or membership
- Repeat purchases of “consumable” products
- Bookings of services that are routinely used
Content plays a crucial role in the everyday experience that customers have with a brand. The content that influences the customers’ daily interaction with products is called UX writing. It supports the customer’s enjoyment of a product or service.
A core goal of UX writing is motivating customers to want to do things. There’s a strong emphasis on voice and tone—bringing products and service to life, making them friendly and fun. Because UX content is directed at existing customers, it provides deeper opportunities for personalization than content that is intended for unknown users.
UX writing focuses on copy that appears in the user interface. This content may be displayed in apps, customer portals, or chatbots.
UX writing helps educate customers so they can use the product successfully. Promoting the utilization of a product or service is important to customer retention. If customers aren’t actively using the product or service, they are unlikely to keep buying it.
UX writing encourages and aids customers as they use a product or service. It can cover:
- New features and cool things customers can do
- The value of a product or service
- How to get started (onboarding new customers)
- Goal-driven coaching
Approach 5: Self-Service and Technical Communication
Even happy customers occasionally encounter problems or need to make changes. Both customers and enterprises benefit when customers can easily resolve problems or make changes on their own. Self-service content guides customers with these tasks. The distinctive feature is that customers have a specific decision to make. Sometimes the customer initiates the decision, but often they are forced to make a decision because of an unforeseen problem or a change in their setup, status, or ability to do things that were previously permitted. The approach that addresses these unexpected issues situations is technical communications.
In contrast to UX writing’s focus on customer motivation, technical communications aim to ensure content clarity and efficiency. These communications address situations a customer has to address, instead of tasks they can choose to do or not. The usability of this content is very important. Often, the tasks that the content supports are ones that customers want to finish as quickly as possible. A goal for technical communication is to be brief. But it is also important that it is complete, so that customer can rely on the content without needing to speak to someone for clarification.
Technical communications originated with the development of help content to troubleshoot gadgets and software apps. But technical communications don’t have to deal with technology. They can be relevant to any highly detailed or complex process-focused topics such as investments, insurance, or eligibility for a university scholarship. They also encompass detailed instructions and tutorials that are needed when customer problems are complicated.
As services have become more complex, self-service content has become vital to all kinds of issues such as account management. Content supporting customer service is important for two reasons:
- Resolving problems can be expensive when self-service fails.
- It can be the source of customer frustration that can result in churn and negative word of mouth.
Some examples of self-service content include:
- Error messages
- Account settings
- Options for getting in touch
- Instructions about information or decisions required from customers
- Legal notifications requiring customer consent
- Diagnostic instructions
- Return or cancellation instructions
- Messages about payment problems
Coordinating the 5 Approaches
Strategy requires focus. But having only one priority is not enough. Enterprises need to concentrate on many content priorities.
While individual teams have specific responsibilities, enterprises as a whole must focus on the bigger picture. Content leadership entails a broad responsibility: to support a joined-up customer experience. The customer journey is not linear. Customers can quickly move between different phases of activity. Each approach should support the others and should not be measured in isolation.
Despite their different emphases, the five approaches aren’t in competition with each other. Customer education occurs across the lifecycle. Content must be able to both inform and nudge at different times. In every phase, enterprises need to be able to switch between channels, reach out, be prepared to answer, and follow up.
Looking at the five approaches individually is a valuable way to explore the issues each supports and how each is similar or complementary to one another. To break down organizational silos successfully, enterprises must coordinate the contributions of their different teams. Each approach provides unique benefits. Combined together, they deliver a complete experience for customers.