The Who, What, Where, Who (Again) and How of a Content Marketing Strategy

So you’ve decided to make content part of your marketing efforts. How do you turn that intent into a concrete strategy? Here’s my who (x2), what, where and how of a content marketing strategy.


1. Who (are your customers)?


If you haven’t already, I’d create personas for your major customer types. Give them a names and occupations. Who do they holiday with?  What do they want to get out of their holidays (the cultural immersion model might help you here). The more you can flesh the out and make them real people, the easier it this process will be.


2.What (do they need to plan their holiday)?


Don’t forget, the reason you’re investing in a content strategy is to help your potential customers earlier in the purchase cycle. That means your brand is likely to be involved right at the top of the purchase funnel (and therefore more likely to be involved at the bottom too). It also means you’ll build up favours in the customers’ favour bank, which makes a final purchase more likely. What information will be they looking for during that research?  What information can you authoratively provide?


3. Where (will they be going to do their research)?


What are the authority sources that those potential customers will consult during their research process? Is it feasible to get your content onto these sources – even if just via comments? Google is going to be the first port of call for many. What keywords will they be using? Your content strategy will involve featuring the main keywords in your content. Don’t forget – the keywords potential customers use at the top of the funnel will be different – more generic – than the ones that drive traffic to your site.


4. Who (will create the content)? 


Having decided what content you’re going to create, you need to look at who’s going to create that content.  What can you staff create? What can your existing customer’s create? If there are gaps, you might might need to bring in some outside help. The other ‘who’ here is the person you’re going to put in charge of the delivery of your content strategy – the person that’s responsible for it’s delivery, coordinating the various creators and making sure they deliver.


5. How (well is your content strategy performing)?


You’ve decided what content you’ll be creating, where you’re going to be distributing it, who’s going to be creating it and who’s going to be coordinating it. Now, you need to get on with it – but not before you’ve set some measures in place.  Which pieces of content are driving the greatest amount of visitors to your site and what is the quality of those visits (are they ‘bouncing’ after reading the content or going on to explore your site in more detail)? The content that is driving the greatest amount of quality traffic is the type to focus on. Be agile and constantly adjust your strategy based on your metrics.


Of course, the alternative is to jump straight in and, metaphorically speaking, just through content ‘at the wall’ and see what sticks – but you’ll waste a lot of time and effort (and potentially money) that way so it’s best to take a structured approach. You’ll reach the optimum solution much faster.


Content Marketing – It’s All the Rage But How Well Does It Work?

Content is quite the thing in marketing at the moment. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already invested in it or are thinking about investing in it.


If you don’t know the theory behind it, it’s all based on Cialdini’s first law of persuasion – the law of reciprocation (or the law of ‘if you scratch my back, I’ll probably be prepared to scratch yours’). If you help someone with useful content, they’ll feel the need to do you a favour back, and that favour will hopefully be some business in the future.


So that’s the theory but does it actually work in practice? Yes, according to a new study produced by inPowered in association with Neilsen.


They took a sample of 900 Americans, recruited off the casino floors of Las Vegas (which seems like an odd recruitment method until your realise that it’s a great way to source respondents originating from all corners of the US) and gave them online questionnaires to complete both before and after being exposed to content related to different product categories.  The content the respondents were exposed to was of 3 different types – 3rd party expert, user reviews and branded. The online surveys measured changes in attitudes in 3 different segments of the purchase journey – awareness, affinity and purchase intent.


Here are the results:




To save you examining the chart in detail, here are the main findings:


  • Expert content was influential at all stages of the purchase journey for all product categories. It was believed to be more credible than branded content (no surprises there) and more informative then user reviews (well, they are experts after all).  Thinking of it from a travel perspective, a write up in a national press travel section is going to carry more weight than copy on a product’s website (be it an hotel, airline etc) or a user review – no surprised there.


  • Where product specification was important (in the study, for things like car seats, smartphones or digital cameras), branded content become more influential.


  • Where users were deemed to be ‘experts’ then user reviews came into their own. In this study, the prime examples were video games (where gamers trusted other gamers) and car seats (where parents trusted other parents).


  • Expert reviews become more influential the more expensive the purchase. User reviews become more influential the lower value the purchase.


  • In general, although expert content was the most influential, for most products at most stages of the journey, all 3 types of content had some influence.


Thinking about this study with regard to travel and tourism marketing, the following thoughts occurred to me:


  • We all know the value of 3rd party endorsements of our products from the likes of newspapers, magazines, guidebooks, bloggers etc but if we’re not product owners, but rather product recommenders (tour operators, conference & events companies, affiliate sites etc) is our content ‘branded’ or ‘expert’? I’d argue that it’s the latter, so not only can it be highly influential in the purchase journey, we should write that content as if we’re expert reviewers i.e. on the consumers’ side, not on the suppliers side. How often do companies fall into the trap of writing content to appease their suppliers rather than their customers?


  • How influential are user reviews? Clearly, the more ‘expert’ those reviewers are, the more influential they are.  A Conference or Event Manager would trust the reviews of another Conference or Event Manager.  But how influential will someone who’s written a user review on TripAdvisor be? Perhaps the more detailed the review (taking them into the realm of an informative ‘expert’), the more influential it is? Or perhaps it’s the wisdom of the crowd – people look at the aggregate of the feedback and that elevates user reviews on the likes of TripAdvisor onto an ‘expert’ level?


  • Product specifications, an area where branded content was seen to be influential, are very important in travel purchase decisions – selecting the best conference room, selecting which airline is best for you, selecting which hotel is best for you, even selecting which destination is best for you relies alot on the ticking of certain boxes.


In general, my impression from this study (other than it’s a pain they didn’t include a travel-related product) is that content is influential, branded content is more influential than perhaps some would expect (50% of the survey didn’t trust branded content to be impartial, but that means 50% did) and the more ‘expert’ (impartial and informative) that branded content can appear, the better.


So if you’ve invested in content, you can breathe a sigh or relief and if you haven’t, what’s stopping you?

Advertising Creative – Why You Should Go with Your Gut

When I started my career in travel and tourism marketing, an old boss of mine (who now, I should add, is a good friend) had a particular habit when it came to appraising creative that used to drive me up the wall.


‘I don’t like it,’ he used to say. ‘Just get them to do it again.’


‘But what don’t you like about it?’ I would ask.


‘I just don’t like it. Get them to do it again,’ he would repeat.


No further promptings or pleadings would yield me any further information so my only feedback to an often perplexed agency would be, ‘Sorry, he doesn’t like it. Don’t ask me why. You’re going to need to do it again.’


Back then, I was hot out of sales. I was numbers driven and analytical – I wanted reasoned argument, not gut reaction.


Of course, I still appreciate numbers and analysis. But I understand my old boss better now, because there are times when the gut is better.


When someone shows you a piece of creative, go with your initial reaction. If you like it great. If not, throw it out.  Don’t try and second guess your target market if you’re not one of them. Why? Because:


A. You can’t.


B. Human beings tend to react to things in similar ways, so if you love it, your customers will probably love it. If you don’t, they probably won’t.


You can make this process more robust by showing it to some people who are in your target market, but then just gauge their gut reaction – don’t ask them to analyse it. It’s a false situation – only marketers analyse marketing – customers have better things to do with their lives.


And guard against all those agency tricks they use to get you to like their favoured creative.  All that preamble about their thinking and how they arrived at that solution. Your customers aren’t going to get an introduction when they see that ad. They’re not going to have 3 other versions to compare it to. They’re just going to see it – pure, unadulterated, unexplained.  You need to replicate that experience. Tell your agency to cut to the chase and show you their favoured creative – they shouldn’t need to explain it to you.


And while I’m on the subject of agencies, they always make your logo too small – probably because they know that whatever size they make it you’re going to ask them to make it bigger. ..

Satisfied Customers Won’t Grow Your Travel or Tourism Business

On face value, I realise that would seem to be a rather dumb statement. What else are you supposed to do other than satisfy your customers? Well, the problem is, satisfied customers don’t talk. They’re satisfied, but not blown away. You’ve done a good job, but a good job isn’t enough in these competitive times.


So what do you need to do?  ‘Exceed expectations!’ I hear you cry. Well, that’s good. But a bit of a cliché, frankly.   It’s a phrase that’s trotted out time and again and not many people who recount it out are very good at explaining exactly how those expectations are exceeded, or indeed, what those expectations were in the first place.


So let me put my own 2 penneth worth in – if you want to exceed people’s expectations and get them talking about your brand, you need to surprise them.


Before I go on to explain, l should take a couple of steps back and explain why I’m talking about customer service on what’s meant to be a marketing blog. Well, it’s my view that exceptional customer service is the new marketing.


Look at wildly successful brands like Apple. The money’s invested in the experience – the products, the environment in which they’re showcased and the service that surrounds them – not in fancy-dan advertising. The products do the talking – the advertising just showcases them.


The fact is, the age of social media has made it more and more difficult to coat a brand with a clever marketing ‘varnish’.  If you don’t deliver an experience that lives up to your promise, you’ll get found out and exposed in a very pubic way – on review sites, forums, Twitter, Facebook et al.


We all dream of creating fantastically clever and successful campaigns, but they’re few and far between in any industry, not just in travel and tourism.  That shouldn’t stop us striving to find the message and the media that best connect our brand’s vision with the customers who are going to identify with our vision, but shifting investment to the customer experience, for premium brands at least, is the way to go.


As I’m sure you’re aware, the biggest new business driver for any company is word of mouth. And the best way to get people talking about your brand is to surprise them. And you surprise them from doing things differently to other companies in your sector. Something they’re not expecting. Something that’s going to have an emotional impact.


Let’s be frank, that shouldn’t be overly difficult.  The experience at most companies in the travel industry – be they airlines, tour operators, car hire companies – is pretty samey. And consumer expectations of the service they’re going to receive in any sector, not just travel and tourism, is not exactly stratospheric.


So let me give you an example.  At Black Tomato, we used to organise ‘Back to Reality’ kits which were sent out to clients to arrive the day they got home.  They consisted of a DVD and a takeaway voucher with the aim of extending the holiday vibe for one more night.


What are client expectations when they get home?  A written questionnaire to fill in at best but probably no contact from their travel company at all. The ‘Back to Reality’ kit was a big surprise compared to what people were expecting. Did it get people talking? Of course it did. Not just clients but travel journalists too – plenty of PR was generated off the back of it.


But it was also great customer service – recognising an emotional low for consumers, the return from a holiday, and doing something with no obvious commercial rationale that just showed that we cared. Exceeding expectations? I’ll say.


There are companies out there that specialise in entertaining people while they wait in queues – a great piece of customer service and a great surprise for airlines to offer for busy flights. Frankly, any car hire company that didn’t bombard me with insurances I didn’t need when I got to the counter would be a pleasant surprise and would exceed my expectations. See – there’s plenty of opportunity.


So once you’ve read this article, go away and write down the experience your customers have from their first contact with you until they return home. Then brainstorm how you could do it differently. It needs to be something surprising, something which seems to have no commercial rationale (although it does – more business through word of mouth), an idea perhaps you’ve borrowed and adapted from a company outside your sector.


Once you start down this route, they’ll be no stopping you. And you have to keep innovating because today’s surprises are tomorrow’s expectations. But you’ll reap the benefits in the long term – of that there’s no doubt.