Type the words “customer journey” into a Google Image search, and what you’ll see is a collage that looks like board games. In each journey, boxes, lines and circles form a path, and little cartoon customers follow it to a purchase. The ‘touchpoints’ along the way are just like the dice and cards that transport players through a game. Many marketers assume that to move the customer along the journey, every piece of content has to be mind-blowing, exciting and inspiring.
I call bull.
The real customer journey is like a game of Chutes and Ladders, in which customers can suddenly rise to a purchase or slip away. To win at content marketing, you essentially need to build ladders and plug chutes. While viral content typically becomes a ladder, dry, technical content is more effective at closing chutes.
For our purposes, a “chute” is content that ends the customer journey or sends people back to an earlier stage (like in the board game). Social media gaffes, crises, negative news articles and offensive content are the most obvious chutes. The less obvious danger is a lack of informative content, which can ultimately become a gaping chute.
Because most marketers focus on the ladders, let’s focus on a subtle chute that can be identified and eliminated to improve the customer journey and prevent customers from sliding out of play. We’ll call this chute “the Low Information Chute.”
Avoid the low information chute in your customer journey
Let’s say you’re on a journey to buy a mobile fitness app that can track running. You discover it on social media, click a link to the app website, but you can’t find answers to your questions. Will it receive a Bluetooth signal from your particular heart rate monitor? Can it account for elevation when it tracks distance? If you save a route, can it track performance on that route over time?
If you can’t quickly find answers on the website, you’ll either halt the journey, ask the company for an answer (and research other apps in the meantime) or take a gamble and buy the app. Let’s say you buy the app, but you’re disappointed when the app doesn’t support your heart rate monitor or offer the features you expected. So, you login to iTunes and write a negative review about the app. The next person on the customer journey clicks the same link on social media, reviews the website and comes to iTunes with unanswered questions, sees the review and potentially abandons the journey.
This low info chute raises three considerations:
- It’s preventable. Eliminate it with more comprehensive content that answers the audience’s questions.
- The content path was nonlinear, travelling from a paid customer to a prospective customer. You can’t control what customers say, but you can control the information you give to customers throughout their journey.
- Had the website answered your questions, either you wouldn’t have bought the app, or you would have bought the app understanding its limitations. The low information chute produced a gap in expectations and thus led to a negative review.
Someone playing devil’s advocate might argue that if you try to answer every question on your website, it would be a mess. Your value proposition would get smothered. My response is that you need to spread out drier, technical information across multiple ladders. Through early-stage testing, reviews, customer service tickets, market research and other sources, you should identify low information chutes. Then, load them into FAQs, knowledge bases, forums, technical info-sheets and other ‘boring’ content types. Sometimes it is more important to close chutes than it is to crank out flashy, viral content.
The dreaded B2B low information chute
The classic B2B low info chute is a product of ambiguity and buzzwords. After reading (or writing) enough about ‘intuitive user interfaces’, ‘customer-centric solutions’ and ‘seamless integrations’, people go numb. They don’t understand what the buzzwords mean, so often they abandon the customer journey – or pray that the sales team will clear up these linguistic mysteries.
The more subtle B2B information chute opens after a customer makes a purchase. Typically, B2B companies front-load their journey with ladders like research reports, case studies, white papers and thought leadership pieces. However, once customers start using the product, this content becomes less useful. They can’t find blog posts, step-by-step guides, e-books and other instructional materials that would help them use the product to its fullest extent. Frustrated and stalled in their journey, these neglected customers may become detractors, just like in the B2C case. Or, they just abandon your product.
This B2B low info chute is common for two main reasons:
a) Marketers tend to measure the effectiveness of content up to the point of purchase. After purchase, responsibility shifts to account managers or customer success teams, but marketers should still be serving this audience. Your existing customers should want to view and share your content.
b) Content marketers can conflate ‘self-promotional’ content with informative content. Yes, if you flood early-stage leads with technical how-to guides, they will ignore you. Prospects need to know “why” before they are interested in the “what” and “how” of your product. However, after you’ve signed on a customer, they will need that technical content that would have seemed dull and self-promotional two months prior. Once sold on your product, they want to know how get the most value out of their investment, and technical content can help.
The Courage to Be Boring
Most content marketers are better at creating ladders than eliminating chutes. As content marketing matures, we’ll continue to see higher quality content and longer ladders in the customer journey.
We cannot, however, neglect the chutes that undermine victories. Often marketers do need drier, technical content to plug low information gaps and give our customers an understanding of what we really offer and how it’s most effective. To win at chutes and ladders, have the courage to produce content that isn’t spectacular, inspiring or exciting. In 2015, write something so darn boring that it’s useful.