Content marketing meets design thinking – focus on the user perspective

Content marketing meets design thinking – focus on the user perspective

Content marketing without the user or customer perspective is not successful. This is a major challenge for many companies and their marketers: no longer just talking about themselves and their products or services, but rather developing relevant content for the target group. In this article I would like to show you how to keep the customer perspective in focus and thus get relevant content. To do this, I combine the approach of strategic content marketing with the innovation method design thinking.

I am an expert in the field of strategic content marketing and have been a consultant in the field of digital communication for over 10 years. I am also a dvct-certified business trainer. I am not a trained design thinker – however, as a digital expert, I have often been involved in innovation projects and design thinking processes in recent years and have integrated components into my consultations and workshops. This led me to keep both approaches together: initially only in theory, but I was also able to inspire some customers in workshop formats and convince the Hamburg Media School (HMS) to offer it as an open seminar. More on that at the end of the article. I’ve even created a rough workshop procedure as a PDF that I’m making available to you.

What is the added value of combining design thinking with content marketing?

I have seen too often that the best strategy, including persona development, is ultimately not followed through and the topics and content are thought out from within the company. Often not out of bad faith, but due to a lack of time and resources. This is a major paradigm shift for marketing, no longer constantly talking about yourself and your products and services.

Another problem I’ve encountered is the path from strategy to execution. The introduction of strategic content marketing is not exactly done that way, since you have to involve other areas, departments or teams. For such processes, it is always helpful to have something tangible, a prototype or MVP, quickly. It sounds strange at first to combine prototypes and strategic content marketing. This is where design thinking comes into play. The innovation method is characterized, among other things, by the fact that results are obtained quickly and customer feedback is obtained at an early stage. Instead of rolling out an entire strategy at once, this approach is used to develop a concrete framework. The advantage of this is that you can implement it faster and, at best, get reliable results: a content MVP, so to speak. You can then go into the next change steps in the area of ​​content marketing strategy.

Content marketing strategy analogous to the design thinking phases: All 6 phases at a glance

For the experienced readers among you, the result in advance: The following graphic describes how I relate the phases to each other and what takes place in each phase. Below we go through the phases step by step with a focus on content marketing.

Phase 1: Understanding – Which (communicative) problem do you want to solve?

Instead of coming up with generic goals (sales, brand awareness, image), you try to address a specific problem. I always like to talk about the wrecking ball: where in the process should it start? In the classic marketing process (awareness, consideration, intention to buy, purchase) there are barriers that prevent the target group from going through the process. Where is your problem or where do you think the biggest lever is? Who is the target audience and what prevents them from coming to you? The more specifically you describe the problem, the easier it will be to start there later.

You come to a thesis here through internal discussion. Of course, the knowledge is more reliable if you already include numbers here. You can find more about this in my workshop instructions, which, by the way, applies to every phase.

Phase 2: Observe – Who is the target group and what is their need?

You’ve probably heard the meaning of persona profiles over and over by now. But the point here is to really get into the person and to fathom the user needs. In this step, you consider the target group and needs completely detached from you and your company. Possibly you already take the classic customer journey (customer journey) and consider what questions and information needs the persona has in each phase. I’m often asked the question: “How many personae make sense?”. At some point you should have looked through the eyes of all target groups. In the procedure here, one or two personae are sufficient. In general, I usually work with around five to six personae at companies.

Regarding the procedure at this point: Brainstorming in the circle of those responsible for marketing is nice. However, it is better to expand the group to include people who have direct customer contact (sales, sales, service, etc.) and it is best to question the target group directly and conduct persona interviews. We follow the approach here Adele Revella (author of Buyer Personas).

Phase 3: Define perspective – where should content marketing start?

In this phase you compare the findings from phase 1 and 2. What do you want to achieve and what does the customer want? What do you notice about the comparison? If you haven’t explored this deeply enough or if the knowledge is not enough for you, I have an additional suggestion. Take the purchase decision funnel and answer it once with the question “What content do we have where?” and once with the question “What does the target group need and where?”.

In the comparison you then focus on the delta:

  • What is striking?
  • Where are there deviations?
  • Where does your previous content not meet the information needs of the target group?

Experience has shown that the yield of knowledge is quite large. Here it helps to cluster emerging ideas – into ideas that only involve small adjustments/optimizations (low hanging fruits) and those where new content needs to be created.

Phase 4: Finding ideas – Which content can help your goal and meet the needs of the target group? (Specific topics and formats)

Now the actual creative process starts. There may already be initial ideas from the previous phases that can be incorporated. It is important here again to open up the brainstorming broadly and, if necessary, to feed it with inspiration (hashtag search on Instagram, Pinterest search, or keyword tools etc.).

It is best to divide the process into two phases: The first very broadly based on the motto “Anything goes!” and in a second phase, you cluster and prioritize the ideas (workshop process, e.g. glue dots). You want to come to a concrete implementation and you should use the idea that you hope for the most (costs/benefits).

Actually, I always recommend separating topic and channel – i.e. first defining the topic and then thinking about possible channels. But that is often difficult for the people and with a topic, an idea for a channel implementation comes immediately. Keep that in mind, but it’s not decisive for the war here.

Phase 5: Develop a prototype – How do you want to prepare the content?

It now depends on whether you should only work up to a scribble from the outset, or whether there is actually already an implementation and test budget. The procedure is the same. You start visualizing the idea: e.g. B. a scribble of a landing page, a configurator or storyboard of a video.

Of course, these scribbles can already be visualized by a graphic artist. It really depends on what you need the results for and how you want them to be followed up. No matter how professional the visualization is: the aim should be to be able to imagine the idea of ​​the target group.

If you are initially only working internally to capture stakeholders: It is always easier to convince people with a concrete example, possibly even haptically, than just with PPT slides.

digression: Real test outside of the classic CMS structure

In my experience, you lose a lot of speed if you want to integrate an idea into the existing system world. That’s why I’m trying to work with content pilots. A simple landing page where you have maximum flexibility for tests and measurements. Traffic can then be directed here by advertising (including dark posts) and the first results can be achieved. These in turn help to argue internally and to tackle changes in the direction of content marketing.

Phase 6: Testing – Quickly get feedback from the target group online or offline

That’s what agile processes and working with the MVP are all about: early feedback from the target group. This can also be done on a small scale with paper scribbles on the street. Of course, it depends on the target group, which may be very specific and must be recruited.

Digital testing has the advantage, if a budget is available for advertising, of addressing the target group via social ads (push) or Adwords (pull) and directing it to the “content pilot”. Here it is important to think about the KPIs and goals in advance (when were we successful?). Depending on the scope of the pilot project and the budget and technology options, A/B tests can also be carried out.

And here, too, the same applies: If you plan to change things in communication in the long term (more user perspective) and have to convince people internally to do so, it is very helpful to be able to come up with initial results as well as an idea.

Transfer the results of a content pilot to the organization

The procedure described here helps to achieve tangible results quickly and to convince even skeptics. But of course, after going through these – hopefully insightful – phases, nothing has changed in terms of established processes and communication procedures in general. This is the next step for which unfortunately there is no blueprint. And which of course brings with it many questions and potential for conflict: Sovereignty over channels and content. I have to admit that I used to underestimate the change in perspective towards the target group and users for companies and that it is bigger on the one hand, but also takes longer. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from tackling it. What definitely helps is sensitivity, creativity and resources in stakeholder management. Also: The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes and the further ahead the competition may be.

The path inspired you? More information to download

If you are experienced with the methods and workshop concepts, you can start right away. Here you will find a PDF with further input for each step and suitable questions. All you have to do is register once. The set of slides is then available to you as a PDF and other content is available. Do you want to learn the procedure together with others? Then I recommend this Content Marketing Camp at HMSwhich I did with my colleague vanessa perform If you are interested in an in-house implementation or other individual variants you can also contact me directly. I am also currently developing a concept for in-house blended learning for a customer.

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