According to Boston Consulting Group analysts, “Digital’s potential — the delivery of relevant advertisements to interested users at opportune times — has enticed marketers since the earliest days of the World Wide Web.” They add, “Digital advertising can engage with and benefit consumers by delivering highly relevant content in real time, but many advertisers and agencies fail to fully realize this potential.” Win-win situations are always good, if not always easy, to find. What makes digital advertising a win-win situation is the “highly relevant content” noted by BCG analysts; but, David Kirkpatrick (@davidkonline) reports that creating highly relevant content remains a serious challenge for most marketers. “Ascend2’s latest research, Lead Nurturing Trends,” he writes, “found that 59% of surveyed marketers reported creating relevant content was the most challenging obstacle to lead nurturing success.” Todd Lebo (@ToddLebo), Chief Marketing Officer at Ascend2, told Kirkpatrick, “Creating relevant, trustworthy content is critical to engaging and nurturing leads. Creating content is also the most challenging obstacle to lead nurturing success. Targeting campaigns to deliver content at the appropriate stage in the decision-making and buying process is second.”
Creating relevant content is particularly important as Millennials become the primary target for advertisers. Ron Bowers (@fma_retail411), partner at Ron Bowers and Frank Mayer & Associates, notes, “For many retailers, the millennial consumer is an enigma: They are more suspicious of who to trust and yet, more likely to be influenced by apps and social media than any other generation.” Millennials, more often than not, are looking for information not a sales pitch. Gene Marks (@genemarks) notes that customers want a real relationship with companies. He writes, “The typical customer doesn’t want ads. He doesn’t want to be a marketing target. He wants service. He wants information. And he wants to be in control of how he receives that information.” Alexis Azzie reports on another interesting aspect of Millennial shoppers. “Millennials are extremely interested in the social action that companies are involved with,” she writes. “Companies can actually engage markets and build loyalty by showing that they are socially aware and involved in social or environmental action projects.” For brick-and-mortar stores, the most important factor may be location. For targeted marketing, the most important factor is content.
Dan Berthiaume (@DBerthiaumeCSA) reports that many advertisers believe they are doing a good job at targeted marketing but consumers don’t share that belief. “Before you declare your personalized marketing efforts a success,” he writes, “check with your customers. That is the overriding message from a global study of 1,200 consumers and 200 marketing professionals conducted in October 2015 by Forrester Consulting for hybris. The study, ‘The Contextual Marketing Imperative,’ finds that while 66% of marketers rate their efforts at personalization as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent,’ just 31% of consumers report companies are consistently delivering personalized, cross-channel experiences.” He continues:
“40% of consumers say most promotions don’t deliver anything of interest, and 44% of consumers say they receive too many offers and promotions. Thus it is not surprising that 37% of consumers say they delete most email offers and promotions without reading them, while 40% have unsubscribed or opted-out because they feel overwhelmed. The negative impact of poorly executed personalization goes beyond driving consumers to ignore or opt out of promotions. Among those consumers reporting less-than-satisfactory personalized experiences, 61% said they were ‘somewhat’ or ‘much less likely’ to take advantage of future offers.”
Although it may seem that targeted marketing has been around for a while, Parveen Panwar (@ppanwar007), CEO of Vidaptiv, reminds us that, as an advertising model, targeted marketing remains in its infancy. In fact, he calls content marketing a new frontier. “Today’s consumer typically spends several hours online each day,” he writes. “That’s the good news for advertisers and content producers. However, consumers will give only a few seconds to any sort of advertising. If advertisers want to reach them, they’ll need a new skill: exceptional content marketing. Considered a revolution in advertising, the relatively new frontier of content marketing requires advertising and content to merge into the type of information that a targeted consumer will not only find interesting but also useful.” He notes that the Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “the art of communicating with your customers … without selling.” Admittedly, to define a marketing strategy as something that doesn’t explicitly sell is oxymoronic; but, it highlights how content is becoming king in the marketing world. Panwar elaborates:
“In other words, it’s not the hamburger the fast food restaurants should advertise; it’s the benefits that those restaurants provide busy, on-the-go families. The objective is not to be the stereotypical used-car salesman. It’s to connect with your customers on a deeper level, offering information and articles that are often more relevant than the publisher’s own posts. Content marketers take platform, technology and audience into account when tailoring content for placement. … In 2014, the web reached an important new milestone. For the first time, mobile access of content surpassed desktop usage. For the business world, this was a call to action. This news reaffirmed what many in the content marketing world already knew: strategic content marketing must include user-friendly, mobile access. The average modern consumer has a 4.7″ to 5.5″ screen on which to view your content. Content has limited time and limited space to grab user attention.”
Panwar concludes, “Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the advertiser creating the content to research their consumer, tailor its message and voice, and deliver a product that grabs attention and provides value. Successful content marketing creates a connection resulting in deeper brand awareness and conversion.” Creating that connection, of course, requires data about the consumer that informs advertisers about interests and intent. Cognitive computing systems are now maturing that can help with that type of analysis. Andrea Lehr (@AndreaMLehr), a brand relationship strategist at Fractl, insists, “Content marketing is having a moment.” She explains:
“Content marketing is about attracting attention through a more genuine connection. Instead of something overly promotional, your audience expects something that has high value with very little branding. The goal is to encourage engagement through this content that eventually fosters a relationship and will lead to a conversion. Attention, relationships, and conversions all make up various levels of the sales funnel, and part of content marketing’s appeal is it can reach your target audience at each stage.”
It takes courage to implement a marketing strategy that focuses on content other than an explicit sales pitch. If, however, the pundits cited above are correct, content that is highly relevant to an enterprise’s customers will eventually pay off in terms of trust, loyalty, and sales.
 Paul Zwillenberg, Dominic Field, Mark Kistulinec, Neal Rich, Kristi Rogers, and Samuel Cohen, “Improving Engagement and Performance in Digital Advertising,” bcg.perspectives, 16 September 2014.
 David Kirkpatrick, “Creating relevant content is the main obstacle to success: Study,” Marketing Dive, 14 December 2015.
 Ron Bowers, “For retailers, will 2015 be the year of the millennial?” Retail Customer Experience, 8 January 2015.
 Gene Marks, “Why Target’s Beacon Strategy Is Doomed,” Forbes, 24 August 2014.
 Alexis Azzie, “Are your online marketing efforts missing the mark with Millenials?“ memeburn, 13 November 2014.
 Dan Berthiaume, “Study: What do consumers think about personalized marketing?” Chain Store Age, 14 December 2015.
 Parveen Panwar, “Content Marketing: A New Frontier,” Huffington Post The Blog, 7 December 2015.
 Andrea Lehr, “How A Content Marketing Strategy Impacts Your Bottom Line,” Business 2 Community, 27 October 2015.