Conventional marketing has been disrupted by the pandemic, and getting the attention of customers has never been harder. Brands won’t win attention by creating more of the same kind of content they’ve always made. They need a new strategy: API-driven experiences.
Michael AndrewsDec 1, 2020
Marketers understand the importance of reaching customers where they are. These days, as customers stay close to home, digital channels are the only viable way to reach customers. The entire relationship must be delivered on the devices that customers are using.
Brands must be able to make direct-to-consumer appeals. They can’t rely on physical props or in-person events anymore. Instead, they need to create active digital experiences that are as compelling as live ones. Buyer expectations are rising as they tire from “zoom fatigue”—staring at a screen of content all day long. Customers want their experiences online to be more relevant and engaging than in the past. One example of change is the growth of using social commerce to promote customer loyalty by integrating community, feedback, service, support, and sharing.
Another example of changing expectations is the growth of interactive audio. Smart speakers are present in many households, and the kids are teaching their parents to become comfortable talking to a speaker. Tamar Charney at NPR comments: “the interactive nature of the conversations people are now having with Alexa, and Google, and Siri has made it possible for audio to be more of a lean-forward experience...We expect so many experiences to be more immersive, more interactive, and this is the new avenue audio storytelling is poised to pursue.”
The good news for marketers is that they have an unprecedented number of ways to engage with customers on digital channels and provide them with a diverse range of experiences. How can marketers capitalize on these opportunities?
To deliver experiences that are truly compelling, marketers need their content to be API-ready. APIs provide flexibility for content so that it can be molded in creative ways. As Kaya Ismail notes in CMS Wire: “for API-first to finally grab a hold in the minds of marketers, they need to think beyond the outputs and disrupt themselves to think in terms of experiences.” In other words, marketers need to prioritize the qualities of their content instead of the quantity of it. Customers don’t want more web pages. They want content that’s richer and more interesting.
APIs allow marketers to break free from the constraints of conventional web pages. They can deliver more immersive experiences and quickly implement completely novel approaches to their marketing content.
APIs are a core element of headless content management. With a headless approach, the content is presentation-independent, meaning that content can be rendered in different forms depending on what will most delight audiences. And it can integrate with any front-end framework, ready for fresh creative approaches. It’s much easier to try out new formats for content.
The power of new formats
To improve outcomes, marketers experiment with different formats looking for approaches that will make their messages resonate with customers. In the past, they’ve introduced formats such as quizzes or infographics. Today, they need to think more boldly.
Two big trends are transforming the experiences available to customers:
- The shift of content experiences beyond text-heavy reading
- Automated production of rich media
The first big trend is that content interaction is becoming more multimodal—supporting different senses. Many of the experiences that have been common in computer games are moving into other forms of content. Marketing content can support different modes of interaction, which can be combined to provide a more active, immersive experience:
- Audio instructions and narration for listening
- Sound cues providing feedback
- Video and animations for watching
- 360° graphics for navigating through environments
- Camera image overlays such as augmented reality
- Gesturing with and pointing at 3D models
- Haptic feedback for touch interaction
- Multitouch navigation of large canvases
- Voice recognition for speech interaction
- 3D avatars for exploring simulated worlds
These approaches open up additional ways for customers to express their desires and to experience what products and services are like. The more senses that content engages, the more immersive it is. Content is no longer a passive experience.
A prominent example of multimodal interaction is Amazon’s Alexa platform, which is more than just a smart speaker. Amazon notes: “Adding rich audio, visuals, and touch can make your voice experience more engaging and easy to use.” You can “create skills with rich audio and visuals and to adapt them for different device types” which include TVs and tablets.
Multimodal interaction is not just for consumers. Business customers also benefit from multimodal content. While text will always be important, marketing content needs to offer more than a reading experience.
As content becomes multimodal, more opportunities open up to use AI to support experiences. Multimodal interactions provide a richer set of data about customer intentions and interests that can be used to develop deep insights and deliver better business outcomes.
The second major trend is that the creation of media is being automated, which makes it faster and cheaper to produce richer content experiences.
Until now, most marketing content has lacked richness. Rich media has been expensive and time-consuming to produce, which has limited the scale of rich media in marketing content. Now there’s a new range of AI-driven techniques that support:
- Voice synthesis providing unique voices for text-to-speech narration
- Customized, algorithmically generated music and songwriting
- Video synthesis to create special effects or provide synthetic video narration
- Synthetic images of digital personas representing different physical characteristics
- Natural language generation – text written by AI
- Avatar synthesis providing expressive non-human characters
These techniques take advantage of deep learning and other AI approaches. There’s now the possibility of creating narrative stories from data and generating polished audio and even video from text. The content becomes richer and more personalized.
These technologies solve the previous limitation of rich media: that the content had to be fixed. For example, audio and video had to be recorded according to a fixed script that could not be changed afterward.
Now, new “synthetic media” tools allow for the dynamic customization of media content. A simple example is a video birthday greeting where the singers will wish the recipient—by name—a happy birthday. All you need to do is type the name, and the video automatically generates the melody with the name in it. This basic idea is being used in more sophisticated ways across different media.
Machine-learning-enabled tools allow content creators to “clone” voices and images of actual people to generate new content. It’s no longer necessary for these people to record all the content individually. They can record a representative item and then modify it or generate new items based on it. Existing media can be amplified by creating variants that address a more diverse range of customer interests.
The technology is becoming more emotionally credible instead of seeming robotic. Text to speech has improved to allow dynamic, natural-sounding narration of videos or bot-driven avatars. Avatars may display eye contact, emotions, and make gestures.
What does all this mean for customers? They benefit from interesting new experiences.
Consider how image synthesis is changing fashion marketing. Customers can “try on” clothing virtually, by selecting a persona who matches their characteristics and choosing clothing items in different colors and tailoring. They can see themselves from different perspectives. They may even use their own image to try on virtual clothing. The possibilities are expanding quickly.
Synthetic media provides three key benefits for customers:
- Customers can have a more personalized experience because the media is no longer generic.
- They can envision themselves using a product or service within a personally significant environment such as their kitchen, living room, or automobile.
- They can imagine themselves as a different persona through role-play or simulations.
Marketers can be more effective with their messaging as digital media becomes more customer-centric. But they also need to ensure that this rich content can be delivered to where the customer wants to access it.
Rich media with an API-first approach
How can brands take advantage of more active forms of interaction and richer media? They need a content management system that can manage and deliver rich content at scale.
Many marketers currently use a kind of CMS referred to as a “digital experience platform” or DXP. While DXPs are great for standard web-centric marketing content, they aren’t designed for more innovative experiences that aren’t traditional web pages. Unlike a DXP, an API-first headless CMS is purpose-built to handle all kinds of media and deliver any kind of experience.
A headless CMS handles both sides of the content pipeline. Marketers can use all kinds of AI-powered automated tools to generate rich media and directly submit this content to the headless CMS via an API. The media is managed in a structured way within the headless CMS, which delivers relevant parts to customers on their devices to build engaging experiences via an API. The headless API supports the delivery of media to any device where customers want to access it.
The ultimate benefit for marketers of an API-first approach is flexibility. Given the constant innovation in digital experiences, marketers need to be prepared to implement new approaches quickly. They can’t be weighed down by implementations that are difficult to deploy and change. APIs make it fast to integrate sources of content with different destinations where that content is presented to customers. An API-first CMS lets marketers keep up with the latest trends to deliver the freshest experiences for customers.