How do you create content that spurs audiences to purchase?
Katie Riddle is the perfect All-Star to tackle that question. As a content strategy lead at Target she found innovative ways to use visual pieces to showcase the company’s products. Now as Director of Content Strategy at Pace she works with a with a wide-range of clients to develop compelling messaging for their products/services.
So, what does she think makes for engaging, sales-improving content? Which new tactics is she experimenting with? How does she see content marketing evolving in the coming years?
Check out our Q&A below to find out:
Q: What is your background and your role at Pace?
A: My background is almost equally on the agency and corporate side. My last two positions were with Target and Intercontinental Hotels Group, the parent company of Holiday Inn and Hotel Indigo.
I worked as a content strategy lead at Target. Primarily I helped with visual strategy – how to use photography and video to showcase products online. I worked on how to replicate the in-store experience digitally; how to recreate that sense of touching and seeing a product.
At IHG, I was recruited to create a content strategy practice. The organization wanted to start telling stories that help people enjoy their travel experiences, that get the story of the brand across, in a business that is very price oriented. It’s a big challenge.
At Pace, we have a strategy team of 12 to 15 people. I’m the Director of Content Strategy, and my team and I help clients find the stories that connect their brands and their individual product lines to the people who are using them. So, we find the messages and themes that resonate with target audiences. We want to give people a way to understand the whole offering of the company and why what is for sale is valuable.
I guess I’m mid-career now. When I was in school there weren’t any degrees in digital marketing or content strategy, so I’m of the generation that has had to learn on the job. And it’s really been fun to make it up as I’ve gone along!
Q: Any big learnings from your time at Target? How did you use content to replicate the in-store experience online?
A: At Target, it was a painstaking experience to figure out how people wanted to experience products online. We did a lot of research and user interviews.
For instance, when someone is looking for a DVD player online, what content do they want? Well, it turns out they really want to see the ports on the back to figure out if it supports the outputs from their television.
So, we made sure to include the photography that was most useful for each product.
We also partnered with vendors to create product videos. You can only get so much information from a still image. We tried to provide the most useful photos, but you get so much more out of even a 15- or 30-second video.
Lastly, for the designer collaborations like Target + Missoni, we started doing video and 360-degree image capture during the photo shoots. That way people could really see the products move and get a sense of them. We saw a lot of interaction with that content, in large part from people who didn’t live near a store and couldn’t just run over to try something on.
Q: What is the difference between good brand content and bad brand content?
A: Good brand content is content that is truly useful to the consumer. It’s human, relevant and emotional. It meets a need.
Bad brand content just pushes the company’s point-of-view in a lightly veiled way; that doesn’t engage consumers. It’s just self-serving.
Brands should approach content from the perspective of unmet customer needs.
Q: Which content marketing trends are having an impact in 2017? Which trends to do you see becoming important in the coming years?
A: The first one – and this isn’t new and will continue forever – is an increased focus on measurement.
When content marketing was a shiny new object it was a lot fluffier; people didn’t care as much about effectiveness. Measuring impressions doesn’t connect back to action.
Now people are paying much more attention to whether content sparks someone to buy or interact. A lot of CEOs and marketing leaders are saying: “Okay, content is cool and fun, but what is it doing for us? Is it truly driving incremental revenue or engagement?”
We’ve seen that across our clients; nobody is interested in doing content just for the sake of it anymore.
A second trend is personalization.
It’s a huge content and technology challenge to get from content that is trying to speak to everyone to the holy grail of one piece of content for one person – or one small audience – specifically. It’s really hard to get there; there are challenges with content scale, meaningful segmentation and tagging architecture. You need to have sophisticated technology that can identify people who match detailed customer types and then serve the right pieces.
One more trend I’m watching closely is AI and voice-controlled experiences. I really think it’s going to be huge in the future.
When you start dealing with natural language everything changes. Currently, content is optimized for how people write and read – that is going to have to evolve.
People use slang when they talk. They don’t use complete sentences. You need AI to understand those patterns and serve the right responses to searches.
AI also comes into play with things like the Internet of Things and chat bots. How do you create content for those sorts of experiences? How do we develop a bot with enough natural language that it passes the Turing Test, truly replacing a “personal” interaction? How do you deliver the right content to appear on an interactive refrigerator door? All of that is very different from how we think about content today.
Q: How have you been experimenting with new content technologies, platforms, or tactics with your clients? Any examples that you can give?
A: We’ve been helping clients quite a bit with their digital analytics and content delivery. We have been looking to create ways to find, measure, and optimize content.
For Choice Hotels we are targeting pieces towards certain audiences. We’re moving from a “one to many” content strategy to a “one to some” relationship. This involves working on back-end systems, the content creation and tagging, as well as defining meaningful segments. We are in the midst of validating personas and content performance.
Another exciting thing we’re doing here at Pace is that we opened our own content production studio, The Outskirts. We always have had writers, editors, designers, etc., on staff, but this studio gives us a proper space for doing photo shoots, creating stop-motion animation, editing video, etc.
With social media moving at the speed of light, you can’t work on the production of a video for three days and expect it to still be relevant. Having the studio on site will give us the ability to create timely, scalable content for clients at a moment’s notice.