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Could digital transformation lead to customer resentment?

Despite all the obvious benefits, there's a real risk that 'digital transformation' will also highlight a growing disparity between what a brand says and what it does.

It doesn't need restating that consumers are increasingly demanding more personalised experiences from brands. That's one reason why so many businesses are undertaking complex digital transformation projects.

But once customer experience becomes more dynamic, data-driven and helpful, what of marketing communications? A disconnect between being good to visit and annoying to hear from will be more pronounced than ever before - and in a vocal, socially connected world, very bad for business.

Even more dramatically, what happens when a consumer champion brand suffers a data breach or the world's most reliable car becomes the least trusted? Actions speak louder than words - and by then it's too late to advertise your way out of trouble.

We all get it wrong now and then, but those that love us find it far easier to forgive. To sustain trust, you need credit in the bank. That's why it's business critical to build an audience that buys into what you genuinely stand for.

This isn't just an ode to content marketing - make loads of useful and entertaining stuff and people will forgive you any mishaps - but the way you invest in content has profound implications for building a trusted, resilient brand.

Having explored these questions with clients ranging from Unilever, Ford and ITV to Pearson, M&S and EON, we've seen two big trends emerge. Addressing both is critical to realising the commercial potential of content marketing.

What do you really believe in?

We all read a lot about 'purpose'. But it's not just about the planet, it's about playing a role in people's lives. I'm not talking traditional brand purpose - what makes your brand relevant to them. It's about a customer-centric, editorial purpose - where in their lives you can play a role. Culture-first, not brand-first.

It's quite a profound shift - think how the Mail and the Guardian have loyal, passionate and very discrete audiences, despite covering the same news, in the same channels, at the same time. Purpose IS differentiation - and it has to be heartfelt and unique.

So if your digital transformation is about becoming more customer-centric, is it driven by a genuine devotion to your audience - one that extends beyond what you do and into everything you say? Or are you still talking about yourself the whole time?

Define an efficient model

Many businesses we talk to have absolutely grasped the need to embrace content marketing. But it's often being created by traditional agencies using an outdated campaign-based process. It's slow, expensive and replicates advertising rather than complementing it.

There are often in-house teams plus lots of agencies (with lots of land-grab). So it's no surprise that despite pockets of success, no-one's quite sure why things work - or why they don't. There's also a tonne of duplication, lots of clunky repurposing, and no consistency of tone or metrics.

This isn't about having one agency to do it all - you don't need Ridley Scott to direct your Vines - but you do need one operating model for content.

Content strategy often focuses on what to say, to whom, when and in what channels. But what about the 'how' - the blueprint for who's going to do what? It's a very specialist skillset that understands these new structures, processes, roles and responsibilities.

Avoiding inefficient and ineffective 'advertising-lite' requires real clarity on the role of content - not just in campaigns, but throughout the customer journey, engaging people within what they care about AND bringing them through to purchase. It needs a consistent view on measurement and accountability throughout. And it needs a faster, more flexible and more joined-up model for what you make and where it lives.

The last pieces of the content jigsaw

Regardless of where you are in your organisation's digital transformation and the role of content marketing within this new world, don't sign off any content strategy that fails to address these frequently missing pieces of the jigsaw.

Without them, you're leaving yourself open to huge risk. Not just wasting time and money on inefficiently churning out content that doesn't make a meaningful connection. But more importantly, letting people down if (when?) the customer experience fails to match the perfection promised in your advertising.

Robin Bonn, Director of Marketing & Business Development