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How Content and AI can complement each other

Everybody is talking about content marketing. But not all content fits every customer. While buyer personas address this challenge on a conceptual level. Artificial intelligence now has the potential to take content experience to a new level.

by Caroline Helbing, Senior Analyst at OXID eSales AG

For a few years already, content marketing is the new state of the art in customer communications. Yet, the importance of content marketing is still increasing. As early as 2017, 91% of companies stated that they were focusing on content marketing (Content Marketing Institute 2017, Content Management & Strategy Survey).

Since then, the topic has experienced another major push. In its 2019 Content Marketing Report , the CMI now breaks down that 57% are planning to increase their content marketing budget again.

In 81% of the cases, the funds are used to retain and bind existing customers. A large part of the Invests (56%) flows thereby into the production of new contents. 

Not just content, but story!

It is worth taking a closer look as to where exactly these investments will be made. Although a variety of software tools (many of them quite costly) for the creation, planning and analysis of content are now available on the market, 52% of the planned content marketing expenditure is focused on the actual craft of storytelling. Technology and software are helpful, but they are not doing the job all by themselves. (>> LEAD Digital “Content Marketing – Beware of too much belief in technology” article in German)

So what is the difference between a piece of content and a good story? This still largely depends on “handcrafted” elements of the content creation. Being captured by a story is no matter of mere taste, it is an universal pattern that dates back to prehistoric times. After all: everyone likes good stories.

Humans need stories

Did you know that we are “wired for stories” in terms of evolution? Everbody can tell from first hand experience: if we read or hear about a well described character, who makes it easy to relate to, and then he or she runs into some sort of conflict which suddenly intensifies and finally – as you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse – surprisingly dissolves. This is a classic storytelling arc.

Whenever presented in this pattern content does not only stick and is far easier to remember. In fact, it exerts some sort of hypnotic thrill which is difficult to escape and we are dying to learn more to see how the story ends. All blockbuster movies and best-selling novels work along theses lines to get their audience ‚hooked‘. Why is it that this works so well?

After food, shelter and society, stories are what we need most in this world.” Philip Pullman

In fact, fairy tale and story telling (as well as children’s learning through role-playing) is not just a tradition that has been loved for thousands of years. They once were an evolutionary advantage. 

Narrated experience allowed people to learn effectively from (sometimes mortal) danger already in primeval times, without putting themselves in threatening situations. Rules and strategies of hunting and living together could be discussed, difficult challenges planned, important (oftentimes vital) knowledge passed on. Telling and passing on stories was a matter of survival.

The mirror – not a fairytale motif but a neurophysiological basis

All great storytelling adhered to this recipe of cooking a story for thousands of years. Only in the 1990s did the discovery of mirror neurons physiologically proof that in fact learning by observation and imitation is typical for humans (primates), and how and why it works.

By Jan Brascamp [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Information is grasped and understood best and easiest when told according to certain patterns. These patterns correspond with our inherited patterns of thought on the one hand. But they are on the other hand also culturally forged and enriched with motifs that were individually acquired over the years. Change in evolution is slow. So today we still need storytelling skills that adhere to these old patterns of narration.

What does this mean for content marketing?

Stories are not restricted to the realm of private and leisure, like watching a movie or reading a book. We meet stories in day-to-day professional life on every corner. As marketers we all too often evaluate texts, images, and video content by focusing on information accuracy, legibility or catchy phrases and authentic presentation.

All this is important, but not enough for good stories which should be the basis of successful content marketing. What we need on top is traditional story patterns, to make sure that the audience can follow, understand, and remember the key messages.

And one more thing is crucial yet easily forgotten: the addressee of our content, the listener! In a classical oral narration setting never could the storyteller forget or ignore his or her audience: they are sitting right opposite, reacting or interacting as the story is being told. By means of a medium and in the anonymous setting of online communication we no longer have this immediate feedback. The audience and their needs are easily forgotten or missed as they are simply not visible. We realize that content has failed to engage with the customer only when it is too late and the user is lost.

Not every well-made content is ‘good’ in the sense that it fits the customer. Content can be called „good content“ only when it is relevant for the reader. Relevant content stands out from the noise of loads of daily information that we have learned to filter out and ignore. Only relevant content will actually reach people.

Seth Godin

Digital Marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day. Our culture has become increasingly turned off to the clickbait titles and the hard sell celebrity endorsements. We’ve welcomed a generation that is now asking companies, “WHO are you” vs. “WHAT can you offer me?”

One of the most important components of great marketing is the art of storytelling. Connection is key on all fronts, from your social engagement to your mission statement. How are you currently telling a story within your branding? #CopperheartCreative #TellYourStory

A post shared by Copperheart Creative (@copperheartcreative) on Sep 6, 2018 at 7:19pm PDT

The content will be relevant when it addresses an oftentimes very narrow sub-segment of the target group (the technical term in content marketing is ‘persona’). This means that the topic and story must not only be spot-on in general. It must also be designed for a specific readership.

Relevance is additionally determined by a good timing. The question “For whom exactly?” is thus joined by the question “When exactly?“ Whether somebody is open to certain topics depends very much on the mood, the phase of communication and the context in which it is presented.

This means that even persona-related suitable content can be amiss: when it reaches the right person at the wrong time.

Content marketing is also an integral part of e-commerce

This is particularly evident in the example of customer communication and content marketing in e-commerce. The entire interaction process is mapped in the so-called “Customer Journey”. 

It goes without saying that, depending on the phase in the customer life cycle, the customer must be addressed differently; a first contact expects a different approach and different content than an existing customer.

For three years we at OXID have been consulting together with our partners on content in commerce and have accompanied the meteoric rise in all areas (B2B2C) and industries. (iBusiness 06/2017: “There is no way around a “solid content commerce concept in e-commerce”, says Roland Fesenmayr, CEO OXID eSales AG.”)

ow a shopping situation is of course an entirely different setting than telling stories at the campfire. What is more, on a website you have less freedom, time, and space to build a captivating story.

Nevertheless: an audience is still an audience who can be served and who will react positively on certain triggers. Every channel has its challenges and advantages: while long and complex articles are loved by readers on an expert platform, they are not a good match in an online-shop or in social feeds.

On the other hand, pictures and videos are excellent for telling stories whenever time to interact with you client is limited. However, even then marketers will only be able to chose the right topics and media elements if they know their audience really very well.

Content benefits from neuro-marketing

Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies research the basic mechanisms of perception and decision making that apply to all human beings. From this, interesting impulses can be derived that are also useful for the craft of marketers. These findings often run under the buzzword “neuro-marketing” and explain recurring patterns such as the fact that an oversupply leads to paralysis in decision-making, why online reviews convey the security of the herd instinct and much more.

If we trust in trend prognoses, then an enormous potential is hidden in the persona- and individual-related display of contents and real-time personalization. However, a deep knowledge and understanding of the audience, the client‘s disposition and intention is crucial. 

Without collecting data and ist continuous, comprehensive analysis, finding a good match is mere guesswork. In many cases, companies thought they know their clients all too well, when the truth of their actual behavior took them by surprise. (Example: Walmarts User Experience Error, Alex Gilev, “What people say they need is not what they actually need

Personalization + content in e-commerce: from “fits for many” to “fits for you“

The CMI Report mentioned at the beginning of this article also talks about these challenges. Therefore, a particularly important question for companies is whether the content elements are also timed for the right moment. Here, only 49% state that they are already satisfied with the results (https://de.slideshare.net/CMI/2019-content-management-and-strategy-survey).

But how can one determine the one favourable moment in advance? Here again the special feature of the digital channel comes to bear. Through ubiquitous web tracking, supplemented by well-maintained user profiles and algorithms, the appropriate content can also be automatically displayed – to each addressee according to his or her own needs. Instead of hoping that customers will all by themselves find what they are interested in, they will get personal suggestion.

In recent months, more and more scenarios in media use and digital commerce have been enriched with artificial intelligence. Self-learning systems are no longer dependent on the fact that all possible variants have been planned and programmed in advance.

Systems can react in real time to user behavior and not only use the right moment, but also collect valuable information while they are working on it. The content offered is then individualized to the very precise situation. Learning more about the customer is then – in fact – never completed.

Bringing Content and AI together: for individual shopping scenarios

n addition to the neurophysiological aspects of the storytelling craft, which are suitable for everyone, content marketing will thus add a further component. With the possibilities of personalization, we can now consider not only the generally valid but also very individual customer interests in communication. 

Starting with the customizing of shopping environments, through the personalization of content and offers, to assisted shopping services, this new content-oriented marketing understanding takes on a further dimension. 

And those who feel understood prefer to shop. In our experience, AI-based personalization can increase conversion rates by up to 25% in an otherwise not enhanced scenario.

Thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone digital content is being carried everywhere. And meanwhile digital devices with touch screens are being built into brick-and-mortar stores to enrich retail experiences. With successfull digital storytelling reaching stationary retail as well, personalized content has grown into a multichannel topic and is no longer limited to pure online retail anymore.

To learn more about AI use cases please this recent study by IFH Köln https://www.oxid-esales.com/studie-kuenstliche-intelligenz/ (in German).

About the author:

Caroline Helbing is Senior Analyst and Content Writer at OXID eSales AG. The communications expert graduated in Paris and Munich and has been active in e-commerce for 17 years. Since 2007 she has been with the Freiburg Open Source eCommerce manufacturer OXID eSales. Caroline analyzes and evaluates trends and markets with regard to growth impulses and technologies that change the industry. Focal points are “Omnichannel”, “E-Commerce in the Age of Industry 4.0”, “B2B Business Models” and “Customer Experience”. She is active in e-commerce juries and as a speaker, and regularly shares her knowledge with video conferences and lectures in the OXID Academy.