Recently, I was sharing notes with a fellow marketer who thought he was doing his customers a favor by not participating in the "digital hoopla" surrounding today's personalized marketing strategies. The reasoning, he said, was because the company felt doing so was averse to respecting customers' privacy.

There's a fine line between catering to consumers and being mindful of their privacy. In today's world, the connected consumer expects to be catered to throughout the purchase cycle—from the pre-shopping and planning phases straight through to the transactional and post-sale stage. Consumers' lifestyles and emotions are associated with how they make purchases, and consumers want to fully realize the self-actualization connected to the purchase cycle.

What I ended up telling this particular marketer (and what I've been telling our own customers) is that not participating in the "digital hoopla" is a very dangerous mindset—one that will eventually cost them to fall completely out of a customer's consideration set.

In our digital landscape, customers have infinite choices available to them. Brands must make sure they have strong presence and deliver consistent value propositions, so that their customers can make educated decisions about what they're purchasing—when and where they want to purchase.

Technology has brought us the incredible ability to provide personalized context and content to customers as they make their way through the purchase cycle. So, you must be sure you're making yourself present in that decision set when and where customers are trying to do their pre-shop research or when they're ready to transact.

For example, many goods and services could be considered simple commodities to customers. So, how we, as marketers, cut through the noise and clutter to deliver a relevant and meaningful value proposition to customers on a personal level can be the difference of whether a customer transacts.

The Right Context for Your Customers

Delivering the right context is a huge part of content marketing; otherwise, we're dealing with pure commodities. The question I always ask is, "Is your product just toilet paper? Or can you elevate your product or service to the Charmin level, so customers understand the inherent and collective value proposition of your particular product or service versus all other options?"

You must embrace connected consumers, or as I like to refer them, the new CMOs (chief marketing operatives). I often tell brands that if that idea isn't on your radar, somebody is eating your lunch and you don't even know it. The brands that will ultimately end up winning are the ones that fully embrace this concept, understand the power of those new CMOs, and employ a content marketing strategy that enables and empowers that connected customer.

By now, most marketers embracing the digital age have figured out that the right mix of content marketing—from owned to purchased to curated—is crucial to success. But what I've found in my experience working with EPiServer customers and during my time at Giant Eagle is that the percentage of that pie is going to be different for every brand. So, you have to adopt a test and learn methodology to really understand what's resonating with your customers over time.

Stirring up Your Marketing Mix

You also have to tweak that mix constantly. You have to figure out how to create content that is most conducive to how the consumer is going to want to receive it in terms of format and in digestible bits that they can pull at will to get either a partial or full picture over time.

For many marketers, the key has been in realizing there are multiple ways to personalize content for customers. Traditionally, transactional history has been a go-to to anticipate the needs and future purchases of customers. However, with the emergence of social becoming a much more inherent behavior of the connected consumer, myriad data sources can help customize the experience.

As we start talking about using social and social graph data, the conversation brings up the important question about how do we, in a very conscience way, use all the data available—behavioral, transactional, and social—to build long-term relationships with customers and prospects so that we are not only serving them with personalized experiences but anticipating their needs with ancillary communications?

* * *

Remember that whatever is working today is not going to continue working tomorrow. You've got to live and breathe your customers' perspectives and adopt a test and learn methodology, so that you're constantly staying abreast of the changing needs and expectations of your consumers. Knowing that will keep your brand top of mind for customers and a constant consideration for consumers making their way through the purchase cycle.

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image of Donna Pahel

Donna Pahel is director of Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Strategy at EPiServer.

Twitter: @hapagirlpgh

LinkedIn: Donna Pahel