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Right Message, Right Time: Using Customer Behaviours to Get Your Content Strategy Right

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by: Richard Austin (@biggestof)
15 October 2012

Every marketer dreams of delivering the perfect content at just the right moment to maximize engagement and revenue. But since every individual has unique needs, this can be challenging for companies with thousands of contacts in their database.

Behavioural marketing, which uses recent and past behaviour to automate relevant campaigns rather than relying solely on scheduled segmented campaigns, enables marketers to overcome these challenges and serve up the right message at the right time for each individual.

In order to get the message right, it has to contain the right content. For example, you wouldn’t recommend the top 3 Xbox “shoot ‘em up” titles to someone who’s just purchased the latest “Hello Kitty” iPhone cover!

So to send our customers and prospects the right content, we have to understand a little about them first.

After all, a lack of interesting and relevant content is still the main reason why people unsubscribe from email, un-like a brand on Facebook or stop following a brand on Twitter. As marketers, we want to retain actively engaged customers who will buy from us and tell everyone else how great our company is.

Capturing Key Data
Understanding our audience means that we have to listen first, and in the digital marketing world this means data — both recent and historical. Recency of data allows us to act immediately and contact customers when our product or service is on their radar; historical data allows us an insight into previous behavior and enables the message to be tailored to that individual.

For example, consider a customer that’s recently booked a skiing vacation. In the run up to the departure date, would you keep sending that person promotional emails about the other vacation packages you offer, or deliver more meaningful content about preparing for the trip, including appropriate cross-sell content such as insurance?

Furthermore, knowing that this was the third such trip in as many years to the same resort, you could send a message midway through the trip to ask them to recommend the best après ski parties, whereas a first-time booker would get a message recommending the best party venues. Apparently it’s the “39 Degrees” if you’re in Aspen!

Similarly, let’s say you talked to someone at a trade show about a particular aspect of your service. This prospect left his business card, and you’ve promised to send him further information.

Acting on the recency of the behavior — the talk you had today at the show — an email is sent the same day. Since the database shows that this was a first-time contact, you include collateral that helps position you within the market in addition to referencing the features spoken about at the show. Had this person previously downloaded content from your site on these topics, you would instead have invited them to a Webinar on how to get the most from these features.

You can see that listening to our customers and knowing a little about them can radically alter the message we send.

And it can have equally radical results. One of our customers makes 40 percent of its email revenue from 4 percent of its mailing volume. Another who sends timely renewal campaigns makes £190 ($304) in sales for every £1 ($1.6) spent on those campaigns!

Note that automated campaigns drive the scenarios outlined earlier, as well as these customer success stories. And these automated programs require that an appropriate content strategy is in place to ensure the right message is sent.

Content Marketing: Where to Start?
I’d love to direct you to a Content Marketing switch that you could just flip on and off, but unfortunately, it doesn’t exist yet. So instead, I’ll provide you with two key customer actions you can zero in on to help get your content marketing strategy off the ground:

  1. Opting in to your email program
  2. Making a purchase

By combining recency (the opt-in) with historical data (the subscriber’s purchase history), you can deliver a truly individualized message.

Let’s take a look at the first action, the opt-in. This may be the first time this person has signed up for your newsletter, but has she purchased from you before, or is she signing up because she's currently making a purchase?

Updating your database with purchase data will enable you to recognize this individual’s previous purchase behavior and tailor the message accordingly.

So taking our first “Hello Kitty” example, here are three potential scenarios and the different relevant messages that might be delivered for each:

  • Scenario 1: The new opt-in has never purchased.
    Relevant content:
    List of the top 5 iPhone accessories and a discount incentive
  • Scenario 2: The new opt-in just purchased the “hello Kitty” iPhone cover
    Relevant content:
    A thank-you message and photos of related iPhone accessories, such as the “Kitty Limited Edition Earphone Jack”
  • Scenario 3: The new opt-in has previously purchased from you, but a while ago
    Relevant content:
    Updated info on your product range.

These are all highly relevant and tailored messages, and they’re all triggered by a simple action (the opt-in).

Similarly, think of all the scenarios related to customers who have just purchased from you. What products or services have been bought, will they need topping up, and are there accessories? Is this the first time they’ve bought from you, and would they benefit from a guide to getting the most out of the new purchase? Or are they “power users” who could offer help and advice to “newbies”? The answers to these questions might prompt different messaging based on the different user behaviors.

Let’s look at an example. A vendor of PC security products would, on recognizing a first purchase, offer a guide to protecting all of the company’s digital assets, whilst a customer who had previously purchased a “spyware protection” product and recently bought the “anti-virus” product would be offered a discounted upgrade to the full suite. Both customers would receive a subscription renewal campaign toward the end of their current contract, with the upgrade offers in these reflecting those products previously bought.

The Content Conundrum
When considering all these different scenarios, marketers may get excited about the possibilities but overwhelmed by the requirements and ask:So, I have to create content for every situation?!?”

Not quite. The welcome campaign I outlined recognized three different customers, and the purchase example recognized two. Only a portion of the message would change for each, reducing the amount of content required to personalize the message.

Start by focusing on the two actions outlined above and these different categories:

  • New on database, existing customer
  • New on database, new customer
  • First purchase
  • Repeat purchase
  • Product type or service purchased

Then ask yourself these questions:

  1. How can I improve customer service or the customer experience?
  2. How can I drive incremental and repeat sales?
  3. How can I influence a customer to recommend me to their friends?

This will highlight the differing content required to boost sales, improve social activity and extend customer lifetime, and it’ll be less content than you think!

The Last Word(s).
As we've seen, sending the right message can create huge revenue opportunities, and you can easily start by addressing two key everyday customer/prospect actions.

So what are your answers to the questions above, and what simple content changes can you make to begin making some radical improvements to your sales figures?

Related Resources:
1) Blog: “5 Steps to Behavioral Marketing Success
2) White Paper: “Let the Buyer Be Your Guide: Leveraging Buyer Behaviors in a Multichannel World
3) Blog: “Time to Whack Your Email with the Behavior Stick?

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