Content in context

Every customer interaction provides context for future communications between brands and their customers. A recent experience, and the marketing communications that followed, reminded me there is always a marketing lesson to be learned. Here’s what happened:

A friend and I recently previewed classes at a new local gym that was preparing for its opening. The franchise studio has locations nationwide, but this was the first one in our neck of the woods. We were looking forward to taking the class, and it was really a tough workout.  During the class my friend started to not feel well—she has epilepsy, which is controlled, but still always a concern. After having a difficult time breathing, we ended up calling an ambulance for her.

It all ended well, but the experience was clearly memorable for my friend and me, and surely for most of the staff members at the studio. However, none of the studio’s follow-up communications (calls, emails and even texts) with either of us called this incident into the conversation or even asked how she was doing.

I found it strange that such a noteworthy experience wasn’t even a consideration when we received follow-up communications about upcoming classes and events. But this is hardly abnormal. Too many brands today silo experiences for customers and do not bring them in to the context of their messaging.

Given this experience, I’d like to share some tips on keeping content in context:

Context is like a conversation. Just like in a real conversation, customers expect that you have seen or heard them and respond accordingly. Imagine telling your friend that you’re allergic to peanuts only for her to come back the next day with a batch of peanut butter cookies to share with you. It would be pretty clear that you don’t have a strong relationship. Brands should think the same way. By taking into account customers’ experiences and preferences, you can build better relationships and show your customers that you care—like the friend who brings you your favorite chocolate cake when you had a rough day.

Identify common occurrences in your business. Not every situation is contextually relevant. Rather than identifying every possible scenario, find the 3 to 5 that are most relevant and applicable.  For an airline it could be that a customer lost their luggage. For an online retailer, it could be a lost or delayed shipment or negative (or positive) experience with customer service centers.  How these situations play out should impact how you will message that customer. Make sure to leave room for extreme outliers – like calling an ambulance during a workout – and have a plan in place for how to account for the outliers. For example, the local gym could have followed-up with my friend via phone to see how she was doing, thank her for coming and invite her back. Then, the next round of email communications wouldn’t have seemed so out of context.

Establish systems and processes for logging events and information. While providing ways for customers to provide feedback about their experiences is important, it is also critical that teams that interact with customers directly have a way to record happenings as well. But even more important, that feedback needs to tie back in to your marketing infrastructure so it can be actioned against effectively.

When providing customers with content, from email to advertising, it always helps to make sure you deliver material that takes into account that customer’s perception and experiences with your brand; good, bad or otherwise.