In the age of the increasingly fragmented customer experience, how do marketers compete for attention? Columnist Jim Yu believes the convergence of content and search is key.
Nearly half a century ago, Motorola released the first handheld mobile phone. It was a bulky predecessor to today’s sleek 4-ounce touchscreens.
A game of pong on such a device was inconceivable, let alone access to the world wide web (which didn’t even exist at that time). It wasn’t until 27 years later that the first mobile ad, an SMS text, would introduce a world where people’s lives were divided into a series of micro-moments as brands set forth their influence in the mobile world.
Fast-forward to 2017. Boundaries between the physical and digital realms have blurred to the point that, for many of us, there is little if any distinction between the two at all.
The undeniable ubiquity of mobile devices — with Ericsson estimating there will be at least 6.8 billion smartphone users, or the majority of the world population, by 2022 — has created a perpetually connected society for which there is little need to differentiate between life online and offline.
But mobile is old news. Artificial intelligence is greeting your customer with curiously accurate intel; voice search is connecting their needs with very local solutions. Extremely fast shipping (like Amazon’s same-day service), hyperlocal SERP indexing, and no shortage of multi-channel loyalty marketing apparatuses mean that whether customers are clicking their way through a digital storefront or redeeming rewards in-store, their lives as consumers are taking place simultaneously on earth and in the cloud.
The fact is, consumers transcended mobile long ago.
Turbulent waters: The fragmented customer experience
The great mobile search disruption of the 2010s changed the game and introduced new levels of digital attention fragmentation. But by now, that’s old news — particularly because new technology is fragmenting consumer attention even further.
Voice search and artificial intelligence have arrived in force — and are believed by over a third of marketers to be the “next big thing”; they’re further rendering traditional display ads largely useless. And, given their fast growth (20 percent of mobile searches are conducted using voice search powered by AI), they’re putting marketers in the precarious position of being well behind the times.
Marketers are competing for attention across a broad spectrum of channels; experiences are fragmented across those channels. And customers, rather than sticking to one venue to consume the content, goods and services they crave, are rapidly hopping from one channel to the next, all while using ad blockers or simply ignoring ineffective display ads.
With mobile growing and disruptive technologies piling atop it to fragment customer attention more than ever, one would hope that marketers would be working proactively to deal with the changes coming their way. Unfortunately, this is not so, with as many as 57 percent of marketers claiming that they have “no plans” to implement any element of artificial intelligence — which includes marketing for voice search appearances — this year.
All of this adds up to a serious problem in putting together the connective tissue necessary to ensure marketing success. If marketers aren’t putting their product in front of customers where they’re spending the most time — namely in mobile searches powered by voice, locality and artificial intelligence — then consumers are missing as much as half of all content marketing materials, while marketers have little in the way of a solution to change that.
Unseen content, then, is a car wheel spinning in the mud — a utility with no traction — and marketers aren’t sure of how to push themselves out of that rut.
If the ever-expanding martech space and increases in chief marketing officer spend are any indication, it would appear that some in the marketing community think that more software, listening tools and other technology will help marketers solve their consumer engagement problem. But if that were the case, wouldn’t our marketing problems be solved?
Marketing in the age of fragmentation
The solution to this attention scarcity is quite simple — marketers need to focus on their audience, even over the technology.
We marketers need to think of ourselves, to some degree, as agile providers.
Rather than shouting solutions from the rafters and hoping that our audience hears us — and we’ve already established that over half of people aren’t — we need to be thinking ahead about what our customers want, when they’ll want it, and where they’ll look to get it.
Searching for answers: The secrets your customers share
It’s no coincidence that the word “search” keeps coming up in this article — as a matter of fact, search is absolutely critical to both understanding and reaching your audience in the age of data saturation, digital immersion and attention scarcity.
In a world where people search for stores they’ll shop in even as they walk the streets, search has become the linchpin on which success in marketing is largely built. And if marketers want their solutions to be seen, content marketing in particular must be brought into contact with search.
In Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s “Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are,” the former Google data scientist-turned-author claims that people reveal more to the services to which we submit our search queries than we ever would to friends, partners, family, and even anonymous surveys. This might seem like a bold and even salacious claim until you think for a moment about your own search history.
Now, while we marketers aren’t necessarily interested in trafficking the secrets that people share with Google, we can learn a lot from how Google comes to understand the search intent of its users through its micro-moments model — which uses cues like the linguistic elements we deploy, our search history and how content aligns with keywords or other intent signals to provide users with the best results for whatever they’re in search of.
For example, “shopping” and “shopping near me” will likely provide two different results; the former might reveal a store like Amazon on the SERP, while the latter would signal a localized intent that would then produce SERP with nearby brick-and-mortar establishments.
Of course, developing a sensitivity to those intent signals and optimizing content to perform well organically — the sine qua non task of search engine optimization — is only the first, but critically important, step. If you want to capture the conversions, engagements and traffic you’re aiming for, you have to know what customers want, and when and how they’d like it delivered. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that.
Converging content and search: The sweet spot for marketing success
Content is important. We recognize that. Search marketing is important. Marketers also seem to understand that. What we sometimes miss — particularly if we take a siloed approach to customer outreach — is that bringing these two elements together makes them much greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Why? It’s simple: Content that can’t be found amid all the noise on the internet can’t attract traffic. Content that doesn’t attract traffic can’t be engaged with. Content that isn’t engaged with can’t earn conversions. If your content is doing none of the above — which is only possible either through sheer luck or intelligent content marketing — then it is accomplishing nothing at all.
Rather than spinning your wheels in place with do-nothing content, marketers should take the intelligence gathered from understanding their audience and its search habits to create content that’s aligned with customer needs and habits.
Rather than waiting for customers to come to us, we should go to them — sometimes on their desktop computers, but most often on their mobile devices and AI-powered voice search assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.
We should seek to understand the best practices for producing mobile-first and voice search content and adopt them with the awareness that, at any time, the algorithms could change — so we should be ready change with them.
The sheer amount of information coursing through a world where the boundaries between the digital and physical are practically nonexistent gives marketers a great deal of competition in capturing customer attention.
It can be daunting for us to even think about taking meaningful action to address that. But those who look to the wealth of information our customers are sharing with us in this data-rich world — and develop strategies to reach our audiences where they want to be reached — are poised to succeed.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.