Marketing and communications are all about satisfying needs: from natural requirements to engineered desires. Creative work and content output are two of our most effective routes for satisfying those needs, so it can be tempting to rush into creative and content strategies to generate as much of both as possible. However, just because you can satisfy a need doesn’t necessarily mean that doing so will deliver commercial benefits. It all depends on how your specific audience are likely to react to creative versus content.
All ‘good’ creative work is ‘good’ content and vice versa. However, primarily content-led strategies and creative-led strategies provide solutions to very different types of needs. Finding the right balance between the two is a key to engaging your market with commercially efficient communications.
To find that optimal balance, you need to define the kind of product or service you are selling – or more accurately the kind of buying decision your customer will be going through. Generally speaking, content creation strategies are ideal for driving ‘considered purchases’ whereas more creative brand strategies are better suited to ‘low involvement’ products.
High Involvement Products & Considered Purchases
Houses, cars, bathroom suites, televisions, lawnmowers, insurance policies, tattoos—these are obvious examples of high involvement products. Consumers don’t buy them frequently and their ultimate product choice is likely to impact the buyer’s life in a significant way, whether socially, financially or emotionally. Those factors understandably force consumers to pause for thought before parting with their cash – hence the term considered purchase.
These products tend to carry high premiums that can vary widely relative to the perceived added-value in product features and branding. This adds another layer of confusion for the consumer as they try to compare competing products to weigh up their value-for-money, increasing the level of ‘involvement’ even further.
To get the all-important sale in the all-too-infrequent window when consumers are in buying mode for high-involvement products it goes without saying that you’ll need strong creative and branding. You need to level the playing field between you and your competitors and branding adds memorability, value and trust; that’s a given.
But the problem is, your audience are actually out of buying mode most of the time. From a marketer’s perspective, it is important to note that these consumers will have some shared needs: they will need educating (they want to make an informed decision) and they will need to find a brand they can trust and relate to (they want to feel confidence that their decision will impact their life in a positive way).
A high-output content creation strategy (sometimes referred to as a ‘publisher strategy’ because of parallels with conventional media outlets) is the perfect way to meet those needs and to engage these wary, confused and information-hungry consumers.
The Publisher Strategy:
The publisher strategy is designed to achieve brand saliency for high involvement products by strengthening your positioning. It’s all about defining a ‘brand space’ and dominating it.
Are you a well-spring of advice? If so, put your efforts into creating video tutorials, e-seminars and educational articles. Are you good at explaining technical jargon in terms your customers understand? If so, write articles to make relevant information more accessible to them. Does your brand have desirable affiliations or social connotations? If so, talk about them and create ‘tangible’ ties through high quality link-building and tactical brand placement.
Regularly publishing content allows you to dominate certain niche keywords in search engines, which is a big signal of trust for most consumers. Content can also be used to stimulate valuable social media opportunities, allowing you to take part in relevant discussions with consumer segments, ranging from feedback and research to upsells and after-sales.
If you take this approach, as the consumer scrupulously compares you to your competitors it will become clear that your brand is competitively geared towards their specific needs. That will be the clincher for a high involvement purchase.
Low Involvement Products & Convenience Purchases
Soft drinks, toothpaste, washing powder, pens and pencils, bread, chocolate bars, chewing gum—these are obvious examples of ‘low involvement’ products. They are cheap, bought frequently and only convey short-term benefits. Minimal conscious effort is invested in the buying decision because these purchases are not likely to have a major impact on the buyer’s life. Also, these products tend to sit at competitive price-points relative to the features they offer, so the prices of like-for-like products rarely differ significantly enough to sway a buying decision. In fact ‘buying reflex’ might be more apt a description than ‘buying decision’.
As consumers, we like to kid ourselves that we are loyal to these low involvement products because they are the best on offer. They are perfect for us; or so we like to think. In reality, we are more likely to become brand loyal simply because it is too much hassle to decide on an alternative. We want convenience; and that starts with just sticking to what we know. Changing brands would require conscious thought and a step outside the comfort zone. It would require careful consideration – but how long does anyone really want to think about which chewing gum brand to buy?
Consumers may very well invest time consuming branded content from low involvement brands; and content creation can help somewhat with brand saliency and trust during the buying decision. Using that content on social networks can also be an effective means of collecting customer feedback. But ultimately, at that first moment of truth when a consumer chooses your product or a competitor product, the value in immediate convenience is usually the clincher.
The Creative Brand Strategy:
In that lightning-fast, autopilot decision-making moment, any value you may have previously offered in content will probably be either a world away from the buyer’s thoughts or simply superfluous to the convenience mindset. The only way to disrupt a convenience consumer’s brand-loyal thinking patterns is to embed your brand into their core subconscious culture; to create an indelible imprint and strong associations so buyers don’t need to consider their purchase for more than a split second.
Branding and creative work—such as logos, TV advertising, packaging etc—are ideal platforms for seeding those cultural associations. Remember, the goal is not to grow conscious brand awareness through deep dialogue but rather to nurture subconscious mind-share through resonation and repetition. This will allow your brand or product to bubble to the surface as the snap-decision is made.
Another way to effectively influence a snap-decision is to make a big impression right when that decision is being made. If it’s the right impression, the decision will likely go in your favour. Again, attractive packaging, engaging web design and point-of-sale creative can all be enough to trigger an impulse purchase or convince someone to break habit and take a punt on your brand. Think of it as a slap in the face, waking the consumer out of autopilot mode.
In the real world, brands are usually marketing for neither entirely convenience nor considered purchases. Instead, there is a balance between consumer consideration and brand loyalty at play. What’s important is that you understand where you lie in that spectrum so you can market yourself accordingly.
First of all, you need to evaluate the relative levels of instinct and consideration that your customers apply before making a relevant purchase. Then, assess your current marketing resources and output – is your strategy optimally split between content and creative? Are you spending the bulk of your investment satisfying the right needs?
There’s no point updating your website to an online magazine model and becoming a publisher brand if all that extra time, effort and resource doesn’t deliver commercial benefits. Equally, it makes no sense to throw your entire budget at high-end creative branding if your customers are looking for a deeper, more meaningful relationship.