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Strategy

The Content Trick That Keeps Customers Coming Back for More

We know the importance of customer retention, but we also know that there's something else much more important to customer loyalty than giving someone a reward or a coupon. That something is called "education", and there's no better tool for it than quality content

Adam Fout
August 08 2017

Content marketing is all the rage these days, but in an age of content saturation, it can seem like madness to spend any more time on content than is absolutely necessary.

After all, if you’ve slaved away at a content mill before, you know what I mean — and even if you haven’t, even if you’re out there busting your behind on your own content, you know:

  • Precisely how much work goes into a single piece of content,
  • How difficult it will be to shoehorn in yet another piece of content into your packed schedule.

Believe me, I get it.

It becomes a game of “What works best?”

Even if you have a team of writers at your beck and call, most businesses spend the majority of their content marketing dollars on, well, marketing…

The stuff that brings in leads.

The stuff that converts.

The stuff that entices customers back in the door (after they’ve made a purchase and skedaddled, or just skedaddled).

The content that pushes upsells, that cross sells, that adds on…

You know, the stuff that makes money.

Bringing Customers in the Door Is Only Half the Puzzle

The other half is keeping them around.

Look, we know for a fact that a loyal customer is worth 10 times their original purchase. We know that it can cost anywhere from 3–30 times as much to get a new customer as to hang on to an existing one.

There’s no question that we need to retain customers and keep them coming back for more.

And of course, we’ve come up with myriad and sundry ways of doing this, and there are a million and one strategies out there to do so — for instance, the intrepid Sam Hurley’s written a bounteous list of magnetic retention strategies that really only scratches the surface.

So yeah, anyone with half a brain in their head gets that — we need to retain customers, and we need to do it well.

The question, of course, is how.

We usually think of the answer being promotions, deals, loyalty programs…

But what if the answer was content?

Content marketing is something most folks think of as a tool to pump up leads, sales, conversions, etc — it’s not something most folks think of as a strategy for retention.

Content Marketing (And Content Generally) Can Be a Powerful Retention Tool

How?

I’m so glad you asked.

But first, an interesting statistic from our good friends over at Kayako:

“Almost 60% of consumers were unlikely or very unlikely to return to a business they had experienced poor customer service from, even if a trusted friend said the service had improved.

So that seems pretty ridiculous, and yet there it is — the majority of your customers will never forgive you for a customer service slip up.

Why do we care? What does that have to do with content?

Look, surveys are wonderful tools, but they very often reduce complex, deep-dive knowledge to a simple figure and businesses miss what’s really going on with their customers.

Of the 1000 people in that survey above, a majority said that, generally speaking, bad customer service pushes them away from a continued relationship with a company, but that means there is a not-insignificant minority of customers, from the same survey, who would be willing to forgive you if you screwed up.

So what’s going on here? Are 600 people forgiving while 400 aren’t? Did the 600 get surveyed on a bad day after Amazon accidentally sent their new computer parts to their package-stealing neighbor, who promptly set them on fire? Are the 400 forgivers actually church-going folk who constantly turn the other cheek? Are the 400 just innocent fools who’ve lucked out and never dealt with a cashier who enjoyed watching you squirm when they told you your return was just one day too late (and that was debatable, Darla, I bought it at midnight!)?

Who knows — the survey can’t tell us.

But we can take an educated guess — my educated guess is that the relationship between the customer and the firm that existed up to the point where the customer service snafu took place, that relationship’s strength (or lack thereof) had the most direct effect on whether or not that relationship continued.

You Forgive a Friend When They Screw Up — You Don’t Forgive a Stranger

And I think that’s what we’re seeing here in this survey.

We know the importance of customer retention, but we also know that there’s something else much more important to customer loyalty than giving someone a gift, a coupon, or access to the latest, fanciest thing.

It’s education.

Because, the truth is, while traditional customer retention efforts certainly work, they don’t have as powerful an effect as we like to think they do.

But education does….

(And what is content marketing if not education?)

I only remember a handful of the things that my professor harped on during my college Foundations of Marketing class, but the one thing that always stuck with me was this:

“If you give a customer a coupon, they become loyal to the coupon, not to you.”

And that’s the truth. How many of us know the absolute horror of being friends with someone who’s a coupon-cutting, deal-hunting, obsessed-with-getting-the-ABSOLUTE-lowest-price fiend?

These people can give two kitty behinds about the company offering the great deal.

It’s all about the price.

And yet, what do we see with a vast majority of customer “loyalty” programs?

An extremely narrow focus on monetary rewards and special offers.

And so, when we look at this survey, I think what we see is that the 60% who say they will never forgive anyone for screwing up are really saying that they won’t forgive a stranger for screwing up.

But a friend is different.

You forgive a friend, you know?

(And if you don’t, you’re a bad person, and you should feel bad.)

And how do you make friends with your customer? Just like in real life, someone who just gives you a bunch of gifts can become a friend, but likely not a close friend.

However, someone who helps you become a better version of yourself…

That’s a real friend.

So how do you make that mean ole’ 60% up there become a forgiving customer who isn’t going to run away the second one of your reps tells them something they don’t want to hear?

Education ma’ boy, education!

That’s the Trick: Using Content Marketing Techniques to Educate Existing Customers and Inspire Loyalty

And further, to create complete content “marketing” campaigns that are really just customer education campaigns.

And I’m not talking about some onboarding, surface level crap that lasts for a few days or weeks or months and peters out.

I’m talking about a completely separate, completely unique line of content that is created specifically to educate existing customers and help them make the most of the product or service that you offer.

I can’t tell you how much it annoys me to be forgotten the second I become someone’s customer. I get wined, dined, and wooed…

And then suddenly, I’m a notch on some company’s bedpost, and it’s like they forgot I ever existed.

You don’t want to do that to your customers, right? You’re one of the good ones.

When customers become your customers, it only seems right to give them more attention, rather than less.

You spent all this time trying to coax them into a sale. Why let all that effort go to waste the second they become a customer? You’ve poured a great deal of effort into your content, into your promotions, into your advertising — you’ve spent time building the relationship.

Don’t just run off the second you get what you wanted.

This second line of content isn’t just documentation (although that’s included). It isn’t completely content marketing (although that’s included too). It isn’t just educational content (hey, guess what — that’s included too).

It’s a mix — a content mix that’s designed to build a relationship.

What This Content Mix Looks Like Varies From Business to Business, and It Depends Heavily on Your Customers

Rather than give you some generic suggestions, I’m going to make up a fake situation and let you learn from it.

So imagine that I’ve signed up for the latest, greatest MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game).

For those who aren’t keen as jelly beans on what that is, it’s just an online video game that you play with a lot of people — and it’s an extremely long game, so you play for many years.

It’s Software as a Service in video game form.

So I’ve got this game, and I sign up because I’ve seen the ads, I’ve talked to a couple of friends who have played, and it seems like it could be fun.

I make the investment — it’s a one-time payment, but the game is FILLED with purchasable items, purchasable currency, and it also comes with regular, paid upgrades.

It’s in the interest of the company to keep me around, keep me playing, and forge a bond of loyalty.

So they have my email address, and they have a unique form of digital access to me — every time I log into the game, I see a news ticker as the game loads, and they can also send me in-game messages.

They even have my mailing address.

In fact, they have the ability to do something many companies can’t — they can give me all kinds of free items and currency in-game that cost them nothing to produce, which can inspire some loyalty.

So this company can offer me not just promotions or coupons, but actual, “tangible” rewards, rewards that I, the player, will view as valuable, rewards that cost them almost nothing, if not actually nothing, to produce.

Which means that they can follow simple, traditional methods of rewarding loyalty in ways that other firms in other industries can’t.

But they still want me to stick around — an MMORPG depends on having a large player base to exist. Developers aren’t going to sink time and money into expansions for a game that no one’s playing.

They have to retain, and they have to keep the money flowing, both from in-game purchases and from future expansion releases.

How do they build that loyalty? How do they inspire me to stick around?

By giving me the resources and education I need to become an awesome player, to really succeed at the game. To not just play and struggle, but to play and win.

A person who plays a game like this and barely scrapes by isn’t going to consider it much fun. They’re not going to keep playing beyond that initial investment.

They’re not going to become one of those long-term, valuable customers.

But a customer who feels confident and powerful when it comes to this particular service, who feels like they have the tools and knowledge (courtesy of the company) to really kick ass with this service, to win when they play the game…

That customer is going to keep playing. And hell, they might actually spend some money.

So here’s what their content looks like:

  • An aggressive initial content drip filled with tons of guides, walkthroughs, tips, explanations, and tricks to help new players succeed with the game (rather than a surface-level tutorial with zero follow up)
  • Easily accessed, simple in-game tutorials, wizards, and documentation that players can use to learn the game at a granular level
  • Regular, deep-dive analyses, delivered in the form of a fancy ebook/whitepaper, on how best to utilize different playable characters
  • A daily blog that covers, extensively, a variety of levels/areas in the game, what can be found there, and how to best take advantage of said level/area
  • Regularly delivered video content that explains currency/resource farming techniques and suggestions for how best to implement them with a variety of playable characters, character types, or classes
  • Regular digests of top forum posts/stickies on any and all relevant, interesting, or awesome findings/topics from power players

And here’s where you get really innovative:

Deliver this digitally to everyone, but deliver this stuff in print to players who are investing in the game and making regular purchases.

Give them something tangible and meaningful, something that they can hold, read, get into, and connect to tactilely, something that will make them excited to use this service.

Now, the methods of delivery for all these forms of content can vary quite a bit — email, social media, clickable links in in-game menus, even print — but the more of this kind of content that your players get for free (remember, this is content marketing), the more you educate your players on how best to take advantage of this game and succeed, the more likely these players are to stick around.

Basically, you’re convincing someone to keep the complicated service that you offer instead of letting them disappear into the ether because they’re not getting the most out of the service, and you’re doing this through education.

Not everyone will use this stuff. Not everyone will care.

But the players who do will become invested — seriously invested. I’m thinking of a couple games right now that I might have stuck with if I’d had something like this.

And I’m thinking of a few more that would be vastly improved if they did something like this.

In the Example Above, Educational Content Focused Around a Product Breeds Loyalty

So think about your products and services, think about the education that could help your customers take what you offer to the next level, think about how you can produce some really valuable content that your existing customers will appreciate.

And then give it to them. Give them the tools to become masters of the product or service you provide them with.

Nothing makes a customer stick around, feel awesome, empowered, and loyal like becoming an expert with a product or service.

And think about how sweet it will be to have churn settle down a bit, to not have to worry so much about losing customers (or getting new ones).

And, if you’re not sure how many customers you’re actually losing to churn, you might want to read Michael Brenner’s article on customer retention rates.

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Adam Fout

Adam Fout, resident content sorcerer at Blue Steele Solutions, turns blogs and social media accounts into marketing machines for your business. In his free time, he writes strange bits of fiction and posts them on his blog.

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