“Be on the Books” is a regular series in which Braithwaite staff break down what they learned from the best business and marketing books.
Robert Rose and Carla Johnson’s new book, “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing,” isn’t a work of history, but it does present a compelling argument that 2015 marked a significant milestone in marketing’s evolution.
The authors dedicate most of their time to describing how businesses can succeed in this new age, but for anyone looking to understand the current moment in marketing – especially as it relates to this thing called “content marketing” – understanding the story of how we got here may be the most important part.
Up to the start of the 20th Century, all business was trade-based – individuals or organizations brought resources to the market for trade and sale. Then the Industrial Revolution brought the era of mass production, and there was suddenly a lot more available product than ever before in history.
As competition increased, marketing techniques grew more aggressive. The Sales Era, from 1920 to 1940, ushered in door-to-door salesmen, and companies competed on price, especially during The Great Depression. Think of it as The Willy Loman Era.
After World War II, wealth grew, competition increased further, and we entered The Marketing Department Era, when all advertising, sales, public relations and other promotions became a distinct department. Stretching from the 1940s to the 1960s, think of it as The Mad Men Era.
Eventually, corporations realized something we now take for granted – businesses exist to serve customers. That meant that marketing isn’t just a role within a business. It IS the business. In essence, the whole company had to be engaged in focusing on the customer’s wants and needs, which is when we entered The Marketing Company Era.
From the ‘90s through today, technology has pushed the limits of customer-centricity to not only knowing what individuals want, but also predicting what they will want. This became steadily recognized as The Relationship Era, when customer relationship management and lifetime customer value became crucial. It’s now taken for granted that companies know everything about us, from what kind of soup we’ll like, to what movies we’ll want to watch, to whether we’ll likely need a ride-hailing service if we’re at a particular bar at a particular time of day.
And that brings us to today. Rose, a co-founder of The Content Marketing Institute, and Johnson, a marketing consultant and vice president at the Business Marketing Association, believe we have just entered the latest evolutionary stage: The Experiences Era. Competition has increased to the point that it’s not enough to only engage with customers in a one-to-one transactional relationship. There needs to be a larger experience that everyone in the company must be aligned in providing, that also transcends the goods and services being offered. That’s the logic behind the rising popularity of content marketing, which is really what Experiences is all about.
With that premise established, the rest of the book is an overview of how they believe organizations – especially large enterprises – can create a Content Creation Management (CCM) system to thrive in this new era. It’s definitely targeted at professional marketers, but there are still plenty of useful concepts all businesses can use to improve. Here were some of our staff’s favorite ideas.
Jamie Kloss, Senior Account Executive
While “Experiences” offers a comprehensive guide to creating a CCM system, there are two very simple ideas embedded within the book that I love, because they remind us to look beyond the obvious when developing a content marketing strategy.
The first deals with identifying our clients’ audiences. There is often a distinct difference between audience personas and buyer personas. As marketers, we need to avoid the pitfall of giving our client’s business a cursory look and developing tactics that suit the immediate user base. In many cases, end users don’t guard the purse strings or make purchasing decisions for their organizations. We need to identify the audience persona – the person who will ultimately reap the product benefits – and then determine who is funding their function.
As Rose and Johnson suggest, “If you can’t reach the buyer directly, reach the people who influence them.” They recommend a process of mapping out everyone who influences the buyer throughout the process. This allows marketers to better evaluate where to spend time and budget, and how to tailor their messages.
The second process that urges us to dig deeper is the Five Why’s. This is not a new concept, but remains useful because it requires us to systematically find the root cause of a problem – or as the authors frame it, the core value our client provides. They use the example of drafting tactics for a client, such as using a blog platform to curate news. This is a reasonable tactic for a content marketing plan – but asking why (yes, five times) can help us define the true value of that idea. From an agency perspective, this enhances our pitches to clients by demonstrating a real understanding of their business and their customers’ pain points, and will ultimately drive a more successful content program.
Lee Procida, Senior Account Executive
The most useful concepts I’ve already started using are the content archetypes they describe. By simply dividing marketing content into four categories – Promoter, Preacher, Professor and Poet – they provide a nomenclature that makes it easier to talk about content creation.
Here’s the breakdown: Promoter Content describe the value of the brand and its product, pushing people toward making a decision; Preacher Content demonstrates your approach and thinking, and is the high-volume material needed to tend the flock; Professor Content portrays authority and serves to educate in more depth; And Poet Content creates an emotional connection, which, while rare, is maybe the most powerful of all if aiming to truly change perspectives.
As they describe, businesses often go wrong by trying to mix these archetypes, like throwing in Promoter Content at the end of something mostly intended to be Professor Content. We intuitively know that’s a turnoff from our own experiences, even literally – consider the objections to actual college professors assigning students to buy their books. By just coining phrases for referring to these different forms of content, it makes it easier to discuss why they should remain distinct.
Finally, these also prove useful when they get to story mapping, which is the process they describe for initiating a new content marketing program. By actually mapping how the program will be rolled out, starting with the goals first and working backward to the present day, we can actually think through what percentage of each content type we should be developing at each stage to reach our goals. For example, we might be heavy on Promoter and Preacher at an early stage, but plan to shift to more Professor and Poet content later in the timeline. Given our agency’s storytelling ethos, we certainly see the sense in planning a new marketing program like crafting a narrative.