In a previous blog, I noted that while the U.S. FDA might not require new packaging or labeling for your product as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, your customers might demand something different from what you had previously provided.
This is just one example of how your organization might have to respond to new customer or user expectations as a result of COVID-19.
How many other ways have your customer or user expectations shifted in a world that now includes a pandemic? And how do those new expectations impact your content?
To formulate your response, keep in mind three important marketing and content questions about working with customer/user expectations:
- How do you identify and classify customer/user expectations?
- How should you respond – and to what extent and for how long?
- How do you organize your response?
Be Sensitive to Cultural & Emotional Shifts
Before you initiate a plan, consider how cultural norms in your industry and customer base might have changed. And yes, that includes consideration of any new legal requirements for your organization. But also consider that your customers/users are also experiencing a myriad of new pressures, including new legal requirements.
New work circumstances and social expectations have likely been thrust upon them. Some of these pressures are temporary, and some – such as working from home – might linger in some form.
What might linger longer are the stresses and anxiety that individuals and groups have experienced. In a recent interview, Kelly Goldsmith, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University describes the emotional turmoil for many consumers as a conflict between two strong desires: self-protection versus normalcy. She explains:
“We badly want to get paid; we want to feel normal; we want to support the economy; we don’t want our local businesses to fail. But on the other hand, we don’t want to die. We don’t want our parents to die.”
Constantly having to make such choices is exhausting. Professor Goldsmith calls this feeling “ego depletion.” The barrage of content, data, and advice about the pandemic can also be exhausting. The danger that consumers will tune out altogether is real.
Understanding this emotional and cultural picture should be an overarching consideration in your plan to adjust your marketing and content.
Re-Apply Content Strategy & Governance Tools
Content, especially purposeful, structured content, has always considered the current set of customer/user needs. Today, such consideration is even more important. Ann Rockley, the founding mother of enterprise content strategy, recently said in an interview:
“A lot of people’s customers today are changing dramatically….We are pivoting; we are needing to do more with different products.”
She adds, “With structured, modular, reusable content, we can say ‘we delivered this, but now we need to deliver this AND this.’ And ‘what’s the difference between our original and our pivot?’ [Then] you just add that small piece of information.”
To dig deeper into your customer/user content needs and adjust your content to recent pivots, review your dataset and leverage your content strategy and content governance tools. I focus on five such tools here.
- Survey your customers/users
To understand what new expectations your customers/users might have, do the obvious first – talk with them!
If your organization is small and has done no formal customer/user research, you can approach this informally. Start with a basic understanding of your customer/user demographics – who consumes what, when, how, and how often. Identify a few representatives of each demographic (say, from each zip code).
Then spend about 10 minutes talking with each representative. Be sure to have a common set of questions that you ask each interviewee. Include questions about their expectations for your content under these new circumstances. Compile the results in spreadsheets or tables for easier analysis.
If your organization’s original user research included formal surveys, consider rerunning them. If possible, expand those surveys with new questions that probe attitudinal and behavioral shifts resulting from the pandemic. Direct user data obtained through user surveys can augment and clarify the user behavior data that you obtain from your analytics, as Colleen Jones explains in a classic blog post.
- Finally, probe your results for shifts in content needs:
–Are you seeing more need in some areas and/or less in others?
- Also, identify gaps in content:
–Is there content your customers/users expect to see that you aren’t showing them?
- Additionally, determine whether some content, given the current business environment, falls short of customer/user expectations:
–Does the content appear confusing or incomplete to them?
…and other stakeholders
Remember that the expectations of other stakeholders in your organization or project might have shifted, too. What are your partners and investors expecting of your content now? What new content (that still meets a customer/user need) might drive those relationships forward? Add this information to your analysis, too.
Getting this first step right is crucial. Success in each of the following steps depends on having the latest and best customer/user data you can get.
2. Update user/customer personas, journeys, and stories
I am a believer in getting real with customer/user personas: real people that represent a real group of user/customer requirements. More about that in another blog. But the point of this step is to compare the current dataset in your customer/user personas with your discoveries from your recent customer/user analysis:
- Do existing personas have to be revised?
- Do new personas have to be added?
- Are some personas no longer applicable?
Look also at how newly revealed customer/user expectations might impact user journeys, particularly if your data shows that they are now expecting more of one type of information and/or less of another. Be sure that your captures of customer/user journeys are practical and include emotional highs and lows, as Colleen Jones advises.
Additionally, I recommend that you review customer/user stories for existing and planned projects, particularly those stories that have already been approved in JIRA or similar project-planning software. How does your revised set of personas and user journeys alter those stories? Are additional customer/user stories needed?
3. Check tone and word choice
If your organization has been producing content for a while, you probably already have some sort of style guide and approved branding language. You might even have these style expectations integrated into an authoring tool (for example, through a plug-in such as Acrolinx).
Now is a good time to review those rules against your new-found discoveries about your customers or users. What adjustments in words, phrases, and other language structures would better serve their needs? What new words or phrases should your guidelines accommodate?
Keep in mind those emotional and cultural shifts I described earlier. And don’t forget to review your organization’s videos and podcasts to assure that their tone is not too jarring in this “new normal” universe. Kerry Wicks of Kwix Voice Productions told me recently:
“I think the greatest change in meeting my clients’ needs is actually simple…more humanity.”
She explains: “That means more high-touch connection, more EQ smattered throughout social media engagement, content, and communication. It’s not business-as-usual. It’s business-with-heightened-understanding.”
4. Align content projects with your discoveries
After you have re-examined your user information and content governance, look at how you can align your content efforts with newly identified customer/user needs. If you haven’t already done a content audit, now is the time to do one – or to revisit the last one you completed. As you do your review:
- Identify existing content or content components that should be revised and/or repurposed.
- Identify gaps that have to be filled with new content or new content components.
- Prioritize the work so that the most important and most viewed content is developed/revised and published first.
- Adjust as needed.
Now is also the time to decide what to do with those floating pieces of content that describe your organization’s pandemic response. Should they be normalized across your content portfolio? Can they be genericized and archived for the next time your organization responds to an emergency situation?
Finally, consider through which additional content channels your customers/users might now want to seek answers about your organization. Should your organization add a Chabot or another mode of digital engagement, for example? (Thank you to my colleague Jenne Meyer, Ph.D., for her article on this topic.)
5. Keep content quality in mind
We’ve all learned by now that poor-quality content can turn off customers and users, sideline our marketing efforts, and even cost us business. We know that quality matters more than quantity and that high-quality content contributes to high SEO rankings. So the last step in your pandemic-sensitive content effort should be to ensure that your organization continues to produce content that is worthy.
How to develop quality content is the subject of many books and articles. So suffice to say here that a key to high-quality content is consistency, consistency, consistency. Consistent, high-quality content comes from a strong content strategy followed up by careful content governance and successful content reuse. So create a strong content strategy now. Then use your tools and your processes to guide consistency, and you will have moved far along the content quality scale.
In the end, I leave you with the paraphrased definition of high-quality content from our minimalist friends: Deliver only the content that your customer/user needs, at the point at which they need it, and in the format that they can best engage with it.
(I am paraphrasing Patricia A. H. Anson in “Exploring Minimalistic Technical Documentation Design Today: A View from the Practitioner’s Window” in Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel. She wrote that we are seeking “to fill knowledge gaps through the right information, presented at the right time, and in the right place to meet task goals.”)
If you need assistance with your organization’s content strategy, or if you want to discuss these ideas further, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.