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You May Have a Content Experience Problem (and Not Even Know It)

You want to deliver a content experience your customers will value. But cross-team misalignment and misunderstandings may be undermining your ability to reach that goal.   

As a content leader, you’re aware of everything it takes to deliver a satisfying content experience. Things go wrong when other teams lack that awareness — or fail to recognize the role they play in it.  

An audience-centric content strategy has never been more critical. Bring your functional partners up to speed by helping them see digital experiences as an integrated portfolio of solutions to your audience’s current and future challenges. 

Recalibrating their view won’t be easy. But this advice from communication experts can help you get everyone working together. 

It’s their experience; your brand just builds it

Uberflip’s Randy Frisch defines content experience as “the environment in which your content lives , how it’s structured, and how it compels your prospects and customers to engage with your company.”

As explanations go, it’s a good start. However, the definition overlooks a critical factor: perception.

What your brand believes will compel engagement may not align with what your audience really looks for. When gauging value, the audience’s perception is the reality — not yours. If your experience doesn’t deliver immediate satisfaction at their first point of entry, you may not get a second chance to earn their favor or their business.

But without organization-wide alignment on what it takes to meet their expectations, you’ll fail the assignment before you even start.

Disconnects breed consumer discontent

An effective content experience should have a gravitational pull, drawing casual audience interest and gradually transforming it into trusted and enduring customer relationships.

However, that trajectory can easily get disrupted when siloed functions independently manage certain components of the experience. If these content partners are ill-informed or out of touch with your audience’s intentions and motivations, they can conflate their messaging priorities and marketing goals with the audience’s needs and concerns.

That’s why Cupid PR co-founder Mark McShane says, “Every good communication starts not with the message you want to send, but with a deep-rooted understanding of what your audience already thinks, feels, needs, and wants.”

Audiences can tell when experiences — or their content components — are built to drive the business’s goals rather than address their challenges. This conflict of interest can drive them to disengage with your content or brand.

That’s bad news for your content performance. The damage can also ripple across your business and harm its reputation. Proven Media Solutions founder Dustin Siggins points to Bud Light’s sponsored content partnership with trans advocate and social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney as a compelling example. Both the message and its purpose were misaligned with the value consumers expected to receive from Anheuser-Busch.

Siggins said that Bud Light tried to “have it both ways” in using the partnership to broaden its brand experience. “The company was trying to be more modern, and didn’t consider the core values of its consumer base,” Dustin says. The resulting misalignment meant that instead of gaining market share, it alienated its existing customer base with the initial campaign and then alienated the potential new audience with its reaction to criticism.

Align your audience lens

Had Bud Light’s marketing team prioritized authentic audience advocacy over expanding its profitability, it may have avoided a costly content failure and the resulting reputation hit. Instead, the brand had to backpedal on its experience, and the high-profile backlash led to an estimated $1 billion loss in sales.

Steve Pritchard, managing director at It Works Media, says that marketers should never lose sight of how their content experience can enhance their brand’s reputation. The key is to view every decision through the same lens of audience understanding.

Implementing an enterprise-wide process that combines multimodal research with performance data analysis can sharpen that understanding. “Telling a story through your brand will only come naturally when all content functions have direct, well-aligned knowledge of what makes your audience tick,” Steve says.

Use direct feedback to humanize your audience

Ricci Masero, marketing manager at Intellek, points to a few data-driven signs that indicate when you’re not on the same page as your audience: “Engagement plummets, people bail shortly after landing on your offerings, and conversions become few and far between.”

Yet, Stallion Express head of marketing Diana Zheng thinks platform metrics can give brands a false or incomplete view of engagement. While they pinpoint surface-level behaviors and patterns, they do little to illuminate those interactions’ underlying causes or contexts — insights critical to effective brand decision-making.

Diana and Ricci both recommend combining quantitative analyses with direct feedback mechanisms to humanize your audience understanding. “Surveys, focus groups, and user testing pull back the curtain on their motivations, pain points, and decision frameworks,” Ricci says. “Layering that with quantitative data patterns will give you a 3D view of your customers, which you can then share with your functional content partners.”

‘Seamless’ starts with bridging siloed strategies

Understanding your audiences as humans is invaluable. But transforming every moment of engagement into an opportunity for deeper connection also takes strategic orchestration of your content touchpoints — across all functions in your organization.   

For many enterprise brands, this requires rethinking how they architect their experience. Rather than siloed steps along a path, it should be built as a holistically integrated network of valuable, contextually resonant insights — no matter where, when, or how a customer initiates contact.

Seamlessly connecting every brand asset and interaction point under a unified vision of customer value is a big nut to crack. It will take a collective effort, and you need a good place to start.

CMI’s Robert Rose says auditing your experiences should come first. Find out where your teams should focus their priorities. It will help you align on the direction and set manageable schedules so you’re not reengineering everything at once.

Onboard your collaborators

You and your cross-functional partners must be well-prepared to co-create a cohesive experience. As Ricci notes, every player needs to understand their responsibilities and how their roles in the audience journey fit together.

Cupid PR’s Mark McShane suggests creating integrated customer journey maps to illuminate audience needs that your functional collaborators may not be aware of. Include all touchpoints and the intended experience at each stage of the journey. “This might identify opportunity gaps — places where the experience might frustrate or overwhelm customers, or where obstacles and delays occur,” he says.

Next, you need to establish efficient workflows and clear lines of communication so all teams can influence the strategic direction and understand the execution process. Effective collaboration can help neutralize the friction and resistance that commonly occur in sweeping organizational changes.

While your team may be reluctant to reach across the aisle and work outside their comfort zone, it’s essential to deliver a cohesive and compelling content experience. Maxwell Pollock, a marketing specialist at Memora Health, says, “(You) have to do it, and (you) have to incorporate all the required efforts into your workflows.”

The collaborative process will be useful not just for developing but also for deploying the audience experience. Maxwell notes that his team built a content library that streamlined their brand’s cross-functional collaborations. “It’s made it much easier for sales to access our content to fuel their purposes. It’s also sparking valuable conversations among our teams in a direct, mission-focused way,” he says.

Establish consistent quality and user experience standards

Setting enterprise-wide content quality and value standards is critical to building a seamless audience experience. Without alignment on your brand’s tone, style, and voice, you risk confusing or frustrating your customers as they move from touchpoint to touchpoint.

Maxwell suggests an approach that has benefited his brand and its audience: Collaborate with key stakeholders to develop a company-wide editorial style guide. “It ensures that our clients receive a consistent, high-quality content experience from our brand across all our different platforms and content types,” he says.

In addition to content quality, consider setting usability guidelines. Make it easy for consumers to find what they’re looking for and move on to the next step, no matter where they enter your brand’s experience.

Stallion Express’s Diana Zheng shares a few user-experience considerations that can help strengthen your chance of earning brand trust and loyalty. “Intuitive navigation, mobile optimization, quick loading times, personalized recommendations, clear and convincing calls to action … these elements work together to encourage positive interactions, resulting in higher customer satisfaction,” she says.

Make navigation more useful by organizing content based on your customers’ most common challenges, not by content formats (e.g., videos, white papers, blog posts), use cases, or target verticals. Those structural approaches better address your brand’s priorities and assumptions than your customers’ practical needs and preferences.

Monitor, test, learn, and experiment

As you rebuild your experience under a more customer-centric vision, don’t overlook the value of testing and experimentation. The digital space constantly changes, and the popularity of platforms, technologies, and trends can wax and wane with little warning. You may have to test new strategies and pivot as new insights and opportunities emerge. Those opportunities will flow more consistently if monitoring your customer feedback channels is an integrated component of your content experience workflow.

Capitalizing on any opportunities you discover also requires the will — and operational agility — to try new ideas. Embracing experimentation has become a core tenet of Cupid PR’s experience approach, according to Mark McShane. He says, “It’s about finding what works and doubling down, but constantly asking, ‘I wonder if …?’”

Audience-centric strategies fuel mutually valuable experiences

Brands win when their content experiences offer value their audiences recognize. To deliver on that goal, your entire organization needs to work from a unified strategy aligned to their vision of success at every step of the journey.

Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is director of content strategy at CMI. She describes her role as a combination of strategic alchemist, process architect, and creative explorer. Prior to this role, Jodi spent over a decade developing and managing content initiatives for brand clients in the entertainment, CPG, health care, technology, and biotech industries, as well as for agencies and media brands. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.