Recent research shows that because of the ubiquity of content, most buyers will be 60% of their way to a purchasing decision before they speak to sales or make a purchase online. Of those that are 60% of their way to a decision, only 26% will ever actually buy anything. That means that of the people actually consuming your content and engaging with you, 74% do not “cross the threshold” and buy from you. In looking at the content that you do produce, 70% of it never gets read/consumed at all. And according to IDC the combination of prospects disappearing and content not being used could be resulting in as much as 10% loss of annual revenues for you.

What does this mean to you though? Often we dismiss these research based numbers as not really applying to us either because we feel they are too high or too low, or that they are not necessarily that useful in solving our day-to-day problems. It is just interesting for a moment and then we move on as this does not really offer a solution to today’s problem. But if we look closer there are some important points in this research that should prompt a rethink on how we approach our content strategy.

Often, the first challenge with a content strategy is that the goals are set for the things that can easily be measured. This is a problem though as click-through, dwell time, “engagement” and time on site are not commercial indicators of success. The ideal situation would be a world where each piece of content could be measured in its contribution to a sale. Marketing has struggled for years with sales attribution and it seems that we are still avoiding it with the advent of content marketing.

The second challenge, and to address the point about 70% of your content not getting used, is that content is not only created and managed by marketing. Most organisations, and this can be large and small, B2C and B2B, will find that they have content “silos”. The reality of any commercial organisation is that no single department or function within the business is the custodian of content production. The realpolitik of the situation is that moving to a content strategy that delivers on commercial goals will not work if purely delivered within and through the marketing function. Instead, every customer engagement function must be considered.

Of course, breaking down the silos and behaving in an integrated fashion has been debated, tried, tested and proven largely unsuccessful time and time again. This is because every function still has its own objectives and business requirements that it must fulfil and no single process is going to knit these conflicting interests together. The answer, therefore, is not to try to integrate them at all.

Instead, the answer is to align them around the customer engagement itself, in other words by using an ‘audience engagement strategy’ built around content as the glue that binds these diverse functions together. The organisation must realign itself around the customer, and marketing is the custodian of the content strategy that governs the engagement journey between the brand and the audience at all times – in other words marketing designs, delivers and reports on the audience engagement strategy.

The third challenge is how customers perceive their relationship with a company. This largely determines their brand loyalty and the potential profitability of the relationship. Consequently, companies need to create personalised, unique and engaging experiences, products, services and advice for each customer if they are to successfully maintain and grow the relationship. But unfortunately most companies have done a lot of harm by running sales and marketing running campaigns that are little more than a volume game – the more people you can get your message to the more chance you have of getting a sale. Targeting specific groups happens with the aim of lowering the volume and increasing the response rate. However, success is typically measured by volume of messages sent and not necessarily by the results from all that communication. Sales do occur but, barraged with communications through many channels, people have learned to ignore most outbound marketing efforts. Response rates to these campaigns illustrate the problem: a response rate of 5% for direct mail is considered an outstanding result, but often rates are much lower even for a ‘targeted’ campaign.

The problem lies in the fact that this approach to interacting with audiences does not take into account the individual’s point of view. Simply put, companies need to become more ’customer-centric’ by delivering compelling content that does not just fulfil but exceed expectations. To do so, companies must rethink the audience engagement cycle so that they view each customer as an asset and every interaction an as opportunity to increase the value of that asset. Conversely, every interaction is also an opportunity to decrease the asset value if the message and approach is wrong.

Creating a unique and lasting audience engagement is the critical factor for building brand loyalty, customer retention and profitability. While customers remain mostly satisfied with fast, efficient service and effective protection of data and assets, you can only enhance the value and longevity of the customer relationship by delivering content that is focused on the needs of individuals.

This is why implementing a comprehensive content strategy for managing audience engagement is now crucial. At every phase of the audience journey – from prospecting and acquisition to service and retention – companies need to deliver intentional content that puts the audience’s interests at the heart of each interaction and creates engagement.

When your content strategy can span your entire customer’s journey, and the various departments within your organisation, then you can begin to understand the commercial value of your content and its contribution to your bottom line.