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How To Scale Content Production By Focusing on Operations

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How To Scale Content Production By Focusing on Operations

The content team should deliver more for the business.

Almost every marketer has heard a version of that directive at some time or another. But cranking up your brand’s content machine to deliver bigger and better results isn’t easy.

To help you figure out how to scale your content operations, we asked the experts presenting at Content Marketing World for their advice. Their ideas tackle everything from the big, strategic picture to the newly realized value of AI to tackling your existing operations – including processes, tools, and people.

Adopt a holistic view to scale content operations

Many components go into content operations. To scale your content marketing, consider each element and work to fit them together.

Prioritize and practice patience

  • Start with your strategy. Stay focused on your strategic goals and know how those are prioritized for your business. Maintain focus on your target audience. Ensure that all your content creators, editors, and strategists understand who you’re talking to and what actions you’re trying to get them to take.
  • Look at your team and tools. Make sure you have the right resources to create an efficient and effective content solution that can ideate, create, optimize, and distribute your messages on the right channels for your audience. Don’t forget to include resources to measure, optimize, and test content performance; otherwise, you won’t be able to constantly improve and show the impact of your content.
  • Document your processes. This is the first step to identifying what AI tools may be helpful or where you might find efficiencies in your workflow. It also ensures an easier transition of personnel when you’re onboarding new employees.
  • Be patient. Content marketing is not a campaign. It’s not a single project. It’s a strategy. It takes time to build trust and relationships with an audience. It takes time to measure changes and to assess the impact. Give your content time to work, and trust the process. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester

Standardize the framework

Creators need the freedom to create based on content requirements. The role of the operations team is to build the foundational layer of the process on which good content creation can exist. They should focus on strategy, identification of roles and responsibilities, agreement on quality levels, standardized processes, and documented guidelines/templates. Then, let content creators create. – Colleen Smith, senior vice president global marketing, Avid Technology Inc.

See the bigger content production picture

Many people associate content operations solely with content creation. They think about what assets to create next and how to fill an editorial calendar. However, content operations involve a broader scope. It’s about connecting that content with the rest of the organization, making sure that sales reps, success reps, and even other members of the marketing team, such as account-based marketers, can easily find the right content to share at any given moment.

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Sometimes, instead of focusing solely on creating more content, we need to take a step back and consider how to effectively activate and make our content readily available to stakeholders who engage with our buyers. Ultimately, it’s about bridging the gap between content creation and content utilization to maximize its impact. – Randy Frisch, co-founder and chief brand officer, Uberflip

Instead of creating more, consider how to activate #Content and bridge the gap between creation and utilization, says @RandyFrisch via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Establish governance

Marketers overlook content governance. Content governance involves implementing systems, guidelines, and standards to manage, create, distribute, and maintain content across various platforms. Doing this ensures consistency, accuracy, and compliance.

Content governance includes not only brand and content guidelines but also SEO strategies, inclusive language, and policies on approval, archiving, retention, and deletion. How do you ensure you are following your policies? Conduct regular content audits, track content effectiveness, and establish clear metrics for success. You can’t improve what you can’t measure. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop x KMC

Think distribution

Distribution often challenges the ability to scale. For example, a group will have an incredible video production team but no budget or plan to distribute beyond organic channels. As soon as a video gets the green light to produce, there should be a distribution plan with dollars attached. Otherwise, decide if you’re OK making art for art’s sake. – Adam Pierno, managing director of brand strategy, Arizona State University

Follow these steps

When organizations struggle to scale their content operations, they often overlook starting with a solid content strategy. Setting clear goals, defining target audience personas, and establishing content guidelines for consistency should come first.

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Step two is planning, organization, and governance. Having a documented process for content creation and distribution, along with an editorial calendar, keeps things on track. And content governance is often neglected. It’s important to have clear roles, responsibilities, and workflows to ensure collaboration and accountability. Get the right people in the right places and define their roles clearly.

The very last thing should be investing in the right technology and tools. It can make a huge difference, but only once your people and processes are in place. – Ahava Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group

Assemble the puzzle

Most content teams understand the parts needed for success: a calendar, a decent SEO strategy, a manager focusing on content, etc. But, having all the right parts is only the first step in building an efficient content engine. They must be assembled, tested, and calibrated piece by piece. This means analyzing each step in the content workflow (e.g., planning, creation, distribution, conversion) and finding out what is working well. Teams that rush to scale will be frustrated by the performance and unable to deconstruct what is going wrong. – Jesse Harris, digital marketing coordinator, ACD/Labs

See content through to the end

Content operations (like governance) as a practice is often overlooked. People/teams think about individual processes and tasks to be done but rarely consider the complete ideation-to-archive of the content. That’s what a true content operations practice entails.

Organizations need to step back, look at everything being done in terms of content, map it out as it is currently being done, look at the technology they have access to, and then align the process to maximize the capabilities of the technology, adapting processes, not customizing technology, to create efficiencies and improve content performance. – Cathy McKnight, chief problem solver, TCA

AI can help grow your options

Artificial intelligence presents many practical implications for content marketers and may help scale content operations.

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Add AI tools to expand content

Use AI to open up new channels. If you create podcasts or videos, use GlossAI to turn those files into social posts or video snippets.

If you create white papers or e-books, use ChatPDF to create blog posts or landing page content. If you write product descriptions, use Writer or Google Sheet Automation to create them at scale.

If you invest in PPC ad campaigns, plug those terms into DemandJump or Jasper to create web content at scale to improve organic search. If you create technical support documents, use Synthesia to build talking-head videos. If you create webinars, use Happy Scribe to create transcripts to clip into blog posts. – Morgan Norris, senior brand and content manager, TREW Marketing

Analyze AI potential for specific uses

Document every step in every process and review them all, asking if AI can help with that specific use case. Even finding a few can make certain team members more efficient. This can gradually reduce the total workload over time.

I know (and share) the concerns about AI’s impact on the labor market. I am answering this question as if I was asked by a close friend in need of help. Productivity tools make teams more efficient. This has always been true. – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and CMO, Orbit Media Studios

Productivity tools (including #AI) have always made teams more efficient, says @Crestodina via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

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Think about your existing content and operations

Your content marketing already happens, so scaling doesn’t require starting from scratch. And when you analyze existing operations, don’t forget content isn’t created only by the content marketing team.

Focus on the basics

Traditional editorial processes. Learn them and optimize them. Don’t cut corners. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder and chief strategy officer, MarketMuse, Inc.

Stick with what you know and already do

  • Stop trying to do everything for everyone. Before you consider starting a podcast, launching a blog, producing more videos, or launching a new-for-your-brand social media platform, optimize what you already have. So many organizations underestimate the value of existing content. It’s so informative for figuring out what’s working and what’s not. Plus, a lot of your content can be tweaked to be current way more quickly and easily than making brand-new content.
  • Don’t jump from hot potato to hot potato. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Embrace performance audits, ongoing optimizations, and re-leveraging existing content. Get your house in order before you expand and venture into the next shiny new thing.
  • Never underestimate the value of supplemental talent. Have already established go-to freelancers, contractors, and consultants at the ready to help with bandwidth during busy seasons. Investing in content creator partners helps in a pinch and avoids the need for over-hiring (and then laying off) team members who aren’t truly needed year-round. – Jennifer Harmon, content strategist and creator, Convince & Convert

Use the tried-and-true methods

This may seem boring, but it’s the truth: Process, rules, governing strategy, change management, and communication. Scale gets lost in the bottlenecks. Organizations without clear roles and responsibilities tend to fail the most in these areas.

Having a clear process around how strategy is decided, how work is divided, and how content is produced is critical. Rule books that dictate style, messaging, and tone of voice are critical to minimizing back-and-forth when producing content.

Introduce these things in a way that is easy to accept. People don’t like it when their way of working gets questioned. You need to bring them along for the ride. – Inbar Yagur, co-founder and CEO, Radical – B2B Tech Marketing 

Sync existing and innovative approaches

Scaling content means being able to perfectly match digital and emerging capabilities, such as AI, with the empathetic and differentiating content marketer. It’s the melding of strategy and insight to build core content that AI and robotics can quickly scale for other uses. This requires agility and the ability to think beyond. – Tiffany Grinstead, vice president, Nationwide

Look inside

Some organizations can be more efficient by looking within rather than looking to new content to scale their operations. Many companies have multiple marketing groups operating in silos that may be creating complementary content that could be easily adapted for different audiences and purposes. Organizations can often find value in creating an editorial board made up of representatives from different divisions who can discuss critical topics, especially those that may have an impact on other groups. – Matt Harrington, creative director, Pace Communications

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Don’t gloss over the details

Scale implies a large team working toward a shared goal with specialists or specialized teams focused on a narrow part of a larger picture. The difference between successful scaling and chaotic activity is synchronization. Teams agree on the challenge and the process to address that challenge and know their role in achieving team success.

The part many visionary leaders skip is the details. They often assume that a clear goal will unify the team into a synchronized machine, but taking the time to agree on a single path forward, assign roles, define success metrics, and listen to feedback and refinements is essential to scaling content operations in a way that can deliver sustained results. – Jenny Magic, founder, Better Way to Say It

The difference between successful #Content scaling and chaotic activity is synchronization of strategy, process, and teams, says @JennyLMagic via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Find efficiencies in existing processes

Scaling up is all about understanding how your content operation gets things done and then pinpointing the efficiencies that save time and money. For example, can you bring localizing content in-house and freelance the initial longer piece? If you create multiple case studies a quarter, can there be a repeatable workflow to get the most out of that content? Take a hard look at how you’ve traditionally gotten things done and understand what takes the most time and where you need your in-house vs. external people to focus. (Talk to your team.) – Chloe Thompson, head of global content strategy and thought leadership, Reward Gateway

Move to the center

Organizations struggle to scale their content operations because they work in silos. People think that with a narrow focus, things can get done quicker. Wrong. When you centralize content operations, you build a strong content foundation to scale from – creating reuse and repurposing of content.

And don’t overlook the benefits of a content marketing platform. The investment is worth it to help deprecate redundant tools and streamline the content lifecycle across teams and contributors. – Jill Roberson, vice president, digital marketing, Velir

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Organize (and consider hiring) people to scale

Even with an AI assist, people remain the core drivers of content operations. By reassessing who’s doing what and why and identifying gaps, you’re more likely to successfully scale your content operations.

Think microscopes, not paintbrushes

Specialization. Marketing has become more science than art. The specialized skills needed run the gamut from creative to data science. Additionally, in some cases, leadership oversimplifies what it takes to achieve desired results, placing unrealistic expectations on understaffed teams. – Bernie Borges, vice president, content marketing, iQor

Hire strategists and analysts

The biggest gaps I have seen in content teams are strategists and analytics specialists. Organizations create churn-and-burn functions to create more and more content without having people in place to guide why they’re creating all that content and if they are successful.

They also often lack a strategic overall content plan. Companies will get more bang for their dollars spent creating content if they have a company-wide plan for content and people in place who can be thoughtful about why content is being created, who it’s being created for, and how to measure the success of the content. Even if your organization is small, you need someone who can see across all the elements of your marketing efforts and connect the dots. – Andi Robinson, content consultant, Hijinx Marketing

Designate a content owner

Most don’t hire in-house content producers. This, still, is the biggest problem. Unless someone truly owns content and is fully dedicated to it, it doesn’t get done.

The other big reason for failure is companies, especially those of enterprise size, aren’t gutsy with their content, rarely push the envelope, and have way too much red tape to do original things. – Marcus Sheridan, vice president, Marcus Sheridan

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Hire a program manager

Many organizations struggle with scale because they lack proper content operations and enablement. Businesses focus too deeply on the what and not the how. Having a program manager and program management tool will make or break how you produce your content. Many fail to do it because of the time and budget it takes to set up a PM function. However, once content operations are running smoothly, they can help proactively scale your content by reducing production headaches. After content is produced, it can help enable other teams to use and even reuse the content. It can also help your sales team self-serve to find useful assets to help with the sales cycle. – Amy Higgins, director, content strategy, Lyra Health

Invest in content chefs before equipment

The challenges surrounding the scalability of content operations stem from underlying issues with people and processes within organizations. Many marketing operations or content operations managers tend to adopt a common strategy, continuously seeking out new shiny objects or fancy tools and software in hopes of improving their work. However, no amount of kitchen appliances can transform a bad cook into a skilled one, nor can they magically enhance the quality of poorly crafted recipes.

If you truly aspire to scale your operations effectively, prioritize and heavily invest in your people and processes. Remember, regardless of the tools you acquire or currently possess, the synergy between your team and well-defined processes will ultimately drive successful scalability in your operations. – Christopher Penn, chief data scientist, TrustInsights.ai

Develop a system operated by great people

Keep in mind that content operations are just that: operations. Having good tools for tracking and planning content, digital asset management, governance, and quality assurance is just as important in content operations as in other parts of the business. Content teams need great leaders who are good people managers, but those managers need embedded team members who are excellent operations managers to help scale their efforts. – Zontee Hou, director of strategy, Convince & Convert

#Content teams need good people managers, but those managers need excellent operations managers to help scale their efforts, says @ZonteeHou via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Establish inclusive routes

Team success is defined by what your team accepts.

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People and governance are at the heart of successful content operations. Taking time to understand who can improve outcomes of the what and the how to reduce obstacles around alignment and delivery.

One way for content leaders to address this challenge is to create a clear path for team and individual success. Defining workflow and processes, writing down and clarifying roles and responsibilities, and offering training and support to help team members thrive are the building blocks for success.

Being inclusive, clarifying definitions for metrics and quality, and creating a safe place to experiment (and learn) are critical for psychological safety to drive team performance. This can help to ensure that everyone on your team feels comfortable taking risks and trying new things. These small things can make a big difference to the folks on the team and the outcomes you create. – Melissa Breker, change facilitation and support, Breker Group

Make modifications as your team grows

Adjustments to ways of working, especially among team members. You start with a team of one, then two, then five, then 20. At each step, you need to adjust how the team coordinates and communicates. Lots of teams hire and add team members without making the necessary adjustments. – Dennis Shiao, founder, Attention Retention

Get outside help

It’s not necessary for everything to be in-house. Establish partnerships with people who can mutually benefit from collaboration. Building a department that can compete with an established agency can take years. Instead, build external expert teams who can succeed at scale. – Kristyn Wilson, executive vice president of digital PR and communication, Adept

Keep calm and scale on

No matter which scaling advice you implement, heed these words from Wendy Covey, co-founder and CEO of TREW Marketing: “Chaos doesn’t scale. As organizations grow, they need a framework for planning and prioritization that helps them work more strategically, be more efficient with resources, and tackle the most important content projects rather than succumb to the most persistent requestors.

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“Within your framework, build in some flexibility for urgent, important projects because a business is dynamic (the 80/20 works well), and use trade-offs to keep the organization accountable for prioritizing, not overloading.”

Please note: All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by a contributor. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

 Register to attend Content Marketing World in Washington, D.C. Use the code BLOG100 to save $100. 

MORE ADVICE FROM CMWORLD 2023 SPEAKERS: 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

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Only 6% of global marketers apply customer insights to product and brand

While many brands talk about focusing on the customer, few do it. Less than a quarter (24%) of global brands are mapping customer behavior and sentiment, according to Braze’s 2024 Customer Engagement Review. What’s worse, only 6% apply customer insights to their product and brand approach.

“At the end of the day, a lot of companies operate based on their structure and not how the consumer interacts with them,” Mariam Asmar, VP of strategic consulting, told MarTech. “And while some companies have done a great job of reorienting that, with roles like the chief customer officer, there are many more that still don’t. Cross-channel doesn’t exist because there are still all these silos. But the customer doesn’t care about your silos. The customer doesn’t see silos. They see a brand.”

Half of all marketers report either depending on multiple, siloed point solutions to cobble together a multi-channel experience manually (33%); or primarily relying on single-channel solutions (17%).  Only 30% have access to a single customer engagement platform capable of creating personalized, seamless experiences across channels. This is a huge problem when it comes to cross-channel, personalization.

The persistence of silos

The persistence of data silos despite decades of explanation about the problems they cause, surprised Asmar the most.

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Screenshot 2024 02 27 140015
Source: Braze 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review

“Why are we still talking about this?” she said to MarTech. “One of the themes I see in the report is we’re still getting caught up on some of the same stumbling blocks as before.”

She said silos are indicative of teams working on different goals and “the only way that gets unsolved is if a leader comes in and aligns people towards some of those goals.”

These silos also hinder the use of AI, something 99% of respondents said they were already doing. The top uses of AI by marketers are:

  • Generating creative ideas (48%).
  • Automating repetitive tasks (47%).
  • Optimizing strategies in real-time (47%).
  • Enhancing data analysis (47%).
  • Powering predictive analytics (45%).
  • Personalizing campaigns (44%). 

Despite the high usage numbers, less than half of marketers have any interest in exploring AI’s potential to enhance customer engagement. Asmar believes there are two main reasons for this. First is that many people like the systems they know and understand. The other reason is a lack of training on the part of companies.

Dig deeper: 5 ways CRMs are leveraging AI to automate marketing today

“I think about when I was in advertising and everybody switched to social media,” she told MarTech. “Companies acted like ‘Well, all the marketers will just figure out social media.’ You can’t do that because whenever you’re teaching somebody how to do something new there’s always a level of training them up, even though they’re apps that we use every day, as people using them as a business and how they apply, how we get impact from them.”

The good news is that brands are setting the stage for the data agility they need.

  • 50% export performance feedback to business intelligence platforms to generate advanced analytics.
  • 48% sync performance with insights generated by other platforms in the business.

Also worth noting: Marketers say these are the four main obstacles to creativity and strategy:  

  • Emphasis on KPIs inherently inhibits a focus on creativity (42%).
  • Too much time spent on business-as-usual execution and tasks (42%).
  • Lack of technology to execute creative ideas, (41%).
  • Hard to demonstrate ROI impact of creativity (40%).
Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952Screenshot 2024 02 27 135952

Methodology

The 2024 Global Customer Engagement Review (registration required) is based on insights from 1,900 VP+ marketing decision-makers across 14 countries in three global regions: The Americas (Brazil, Mexico, and the US), APAC (Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea), and EMEA (France, Germany, Spain, the UAE, and the UK).

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through ‘Wow’ Moments in Experience Marketing

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through 'Wow' Moments in Experience Marketing

Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing

In an era where consumers are bombarded with endless choices and digital noise, standing out as a brand is more challenging than ever. Enter experience marketing – a strategy that transcends traditional advertising by focusing on creating immersive, memorable interactions. This innovative approach leverages the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity to forge strong emotional connections with customers, making the sale of your core product feel effortless. But how can businesses implement this strategy effectively? This guide delves into the art of crafting ‘wow’ moments that captivate audiences and transform customer engagement.

The Basics of Experience Marketing

Experience marketing is an evolved form of marketing that focuses on creating meaningful interactions with customers, aiming to elicit strong emotional responses that lead to brand loyalty and advocacy. Unlike conventional marketing, which often prioritizes product promotion, experience marketing centers on the customer’s holistic journey with the brand, creating a narrative that resonates on a personal level.

In today’s competitive market, experience marketing is not just beneficial; it’s essential. It differentiates your brand in a crowded marketplace, elevating your offerings beyond mere commodities to become integral parts of your customers’ lives. Through memorable experiences, you not only attract attention but also foster a community of loyal customers who are more likely to return and recommend your brand to others.

Principles of Experience Marketing

At the heart of experience marketing lie several key principles:

  • Emotional Connection: Crafting campaigns that touch on human emotions, from joy to surprise, creating memorable moments that customers are eager to share.
  • Customer-Centricity: Putting the customer’s needs and desires at the forefront of every marketing strategy, ensuring that each interaction adds value and enhances their experience with the brand.
  • Immersive Experiences: Utilizing technology and storytelling to create immersive experiences that captivate customers, making your brand a living part of their world.
  • Engagement Across Touchpoints: Ensuring consistent, engaging experiences across all customer touchpoints, from digital platforms to physical stores.

Understanding Your Audience

Before diving into the intricacies of crafting ‘wow’ moments, it’s crucial to understand who you’re creating these moments for. Identifying your audience’s pain points and desires is the first step in tailoring experiences that truly resonate.

1709033181 544 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 544 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing

This involves deep market research, customer interviews, and leveraging data analytics to paint a comprehensive picture of your target demographic. By understanding the journey your customers are on, you can design touchpoints that not only meet but exceed their expectations.

  • Identifying Pain Points and Desires: Use surveys, social media listening, and customer feedback to gather insights. What frustrates your customers about your industry? What do they wish for more than anything else? These insights will guide your efforts to create experiences that truly resonate.
  • Mapping the Customer Journey: Visualize every step a customer takes from discovering your brand to making a purchase and beyond. This map will highlight critical touchpoints where you can introduce ‘wow’ moments that transform the customer experience.

Developing Your Experience Marketing Strategy

With a clear understanding of your audience, it’s time to build the framework of your experience marketing strategy. This involves setting clear objectives, identifying key customer touchpoints, and conceptualizing the experiences you want to create.

  • Setting Objectives: Define what you aim to achieve with your experience marketing efforts. Whether it’s increasing brand awareness, boosting sales, or improving customer retention, having clear goals will shape your approach and help measure success.
  • Strategic Touchpoint Identification: List all the potential touchpoints where customers interact with your brand, from social media to in-store experiences. Consider every stage of the customer journey and look for opportunities to enhance these interactions.

Enhancing Customer Experiences with Surprise, Delight, and Reciprocity

This section is where the magic happens. By integrating the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity, you can elevate ordinary customer interactions into unforgettable experiences.

1709033181 790 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing1709033181 790 Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing
  • Incorporating Surprise and Delight: Go beyond what’s expected. This could be as simple as a personalized thank-you note with each purchase or as elaborate as a surprise gift for loyal customers. The key is to create moments that feel special and unexpected.
  • Applying the Principle of Reciprocity: When customers receive something of value, they’re naturally inclined to give something back. This can be leveraged by offering helpful resources, exceptional service, or customer appreciation events. Such gestures encourage loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Examples and Case Studies: Highlight real-world examples of brands that have successfully implemented these strategies. Analyze what they did, why it worked, and how it impacted their relationship with customers.

Best Practices for Experience Marketing

To ensure your experience marketing strategy is as effective as possible, it’s important to adhere to some best practices.

  • Personalization at Scale: Leverage data and technology to personalize experiences without losing efficiency. Tailored experiences make customers feel valued and understood.
  • Using Technology to Enhance Experiences: From augmented reality (AR) to mobile apps, technology offers myriad ways to create immersive experiences that surprise and engage customers.
  • Measuring Success: Utilize analytics tools to track the success of your experience marketing initiatives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) could include engagement rates, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction scores.

Section 5: Overcoming Common Challenges

Even the best-laid plans can encounter obstacles. This section addresses common challenges in experience marketing and how to overcome them.

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  • Budget Constraints: Learn how to create impactful experiences without breaking the bank. It’s about creativity, not just expenditure.
  • Maintaining Consistency: Ensuring a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints can be daunting. Develop a comprehensive brand guideline and train your team accordingly.
  • Staying Ahead of Trends: The digital landscape is ever-changing. Stay informed about the latest trends in experience marketing and be ready to adapt your strategy as necessary.

The Path to Effortless Sales

By creating memorable experiences that resonate on a personal level, you make the path to purchase not just easy but natural. When customers feel connected to your brand, appreciated, and valued, making a sale becomes a byproduct of your relationship with them. Experience marketing, when done right, transforms transactions into interactions, customers into advocates, and products into passions.

Now is the time to reassess your marketing strategy. Are you just selling a product, or are you providing an unforgettable experience? Dive into the world of experience marketing and start creating those ‘wow’ moments that will not only distinguish your brand but also make sales feel effortless.


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The Current State of Google’s Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

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The Current State of Google's Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

SEO enthusiasts, known for naming algorithm updates after animals and embracing melodrama, find themselves in a landscape where the “adapt or die” mantra prevails. So when Google announced the launch of its Search Generative Experience (SGE) in May of 2023 at Google/IO, you can imagine the reaction was immense.

Although SGE has the potential to be a truly transformative force in the landscape, we’re still waiting for SGE to move out of the Google Labs Sandbox and integrate into standard search results. 

Curious about our current take on SGE and its potential impact on SEO in the future? Read on for more.

Decoding Google’s Defensive Move

In response to potential threats from competitors like ChatGPT, Bing, TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, Google introduced SGE as a defensive maneuver. However, its initial beta release raised questions about its readiness and global deployment.

ChatGPT provided an existential threat that had the potential to eat into Google’s market share. When Bing started incorporating it into its search results, it was one of the most significant wins for Bing in a decade. In combination with threats from TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, we see a more fractured search landscape less dominated by Google. Upon its launch, the expectation was that Google would push its SGE solution globally, impact most queries, and massively shake up organic search results and strategies to improve organic visibility.

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Now, industry leaders are starting to question if Google is better off leaving SGE in the testing ground in Google labs. According to Google’s recent update, it appears that SGE will remain an opt-in experience in Google Labs (for at least the short term). If SGE was released, there could be a fundamental reset in understanding SEO. Everything from organic traffic to optimization tactics to tracking tools would need adjustments for the new experience. Therefore, the prospect of SGE staying in Google Labs is comforting if not entirely reliable. 

The ever-present option is that Google can change its mind at any point and push SGE out broadly as part of its standard search experience. For this reason, we see value in learning from our observations with SGE and continuing to stay on top of the experience.

SGE User Experience and Operational Challenges

If you’ve signed up for search labs and have been experimenting with SGE for a while, you know firsthand there are various issues that Google should address before rolling it out broadly to the public.

At a high level, these issues fall into two broad categories including user experience issues and operational issues.

Below are some significant issues we’ve come across, with Google making notable progress in addressing certain ones, while others still require improvement:

  • Load time – Too many AI-generated answers take longer to load than a user is willing to wait. Google recommends less than a 3-second load time to meet expectations. They’ll need to figure out how to consistently return results quickly if they want to see a higher adoption rate.
  • Layout – The SGE layout is massive. We believe any major rollout will be more streamlined to make it a less intrusive experience for users and allow more visibility for ads, and if we’re lucky, organic results. Unfortunately, there is still a decent chance that organic results will move below the fold, especially on mobile devices. Recently, Google has incorporated more results where users are prompted to generate the AI result if they’d like to see it. The hope is Google makes this the default in the event of a broad rollout where users can generate an AI result if they want one instead of assuming that’s what a user would like to see. 
  • Redundancy – The AI result duplicates features from the map pack and quick answer results. 
  • Attribution – Due to user feedback, Google includes sources on several of their AI-powered overviews where you can see relevant web pages if there is an arrow next to the result. Currently, the best way to appear as one of these relevant pages is to be one of the top-ranked results, which is convenient from an optimization standpoint. Changes to how attribution and sourcing are handled could heavily impact organic strategies. 

 

On the operational side, Google also faces significant hurdles to making SGE a viable product for its traditional search product. The biggest obstacle appears to be making the cost associated with the technology worth the business outcomes it provides. If this was a necessary investment to maintain market share, Google might be willing to eat the cost, but if their current position is relatively stable, Google doesn’t have much of an incentive to take on the additional cost burden of heavily leveraging generative AI while also presumably taking a hit to their ad revenue. Especially since slow user adoption doesn’t indicate this is something users are demanding at the moment.

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While the current experience of SGE is including ads above the generative results now, the earliest iterations didn’t heavily feature sponsored ads. While they are now included, the current SGE layout would still significantly disrupt the ad experience we’re used to. During the Google I/O announcement, they made a statement to reassure advertisers they would be mindful of maintaining a distinct ad experience in search.  

“In this new generative experience, Search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page. And we’ll continue to uphold our commitment to ads transparency and making sure ads are distinguishable from organic search results” – Elizabeth Reid, VP, Search at Google

Google is trying to thread a delicate needle here of staying on the cutting edge with their search features, while trying not to upset their advertisers and needlessly hinder their own revenue stream. Roger Montti details more of the operational issues in a recent article digging into the surprising reasons SGE is stuck in Google Labs.

He lists three big problems that need to be solved before SGE will be integrated into the foreground of search:

  1. Large Language Models being inadequate as an information retrieval system
  2. The inefficiency and cost of transformer architecture
  3. Hallucinating (providing inaccurate answers)

 

Until SGE provides more user value and checks more boxes on the business sense side, the traditional search experience is here to stay. Unfortunately, we don’t know when or if Google will ever feel confident they’ve addressed all of these concerns, so we’ll need to stay prepared for change.

Experts Chime in on Search Generative Experience

Our team has been actively engaging with SGE, here’s a closer look at their thoughts and opinions on the experience so far:

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“With SGE still in its early stages, I’ve noticed consistent changes in how the generative results are produced and weaved naturally into the SERPs. Because of this, I feel it is imperative to stay on top of these on-going changes to ensure we can continue to educate our clients on what to expect when SGE is officially incorporated into our everyday lives. Although an official launch date is currently unknown, I believe proactively testing various prompt types and recording our learnings is important to prepare our clients for this next evolution of Google search.” – Jon Pagano, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

“It’s been exciting to watch SGE grow through different variations over the last year, but like other AI solutions its potential still outweighs its functionality and usefulness. What’s interesting to see is that SGE doesn’t just cite its sources of information, but also provides an enhanced preview of each webpage referenced. This presents a unique organic opportunity where previously untouchable top 10 rankings are far more accessible to the average website. Time will tell what the top ranking factors for SGE are, but verifiable content with strong E-E-A-T signals will be imperative. –Kate Fischer, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“Traditionally, AI tools were very good at analytical tasks. With the rise of ChatGPT, users can have long-form, multi-question conversations not yet available in search results. When, not if, released, Google’s Generative Experience will transform how we view AI and search. Because there are so many unknowns, some of the most impactful ways we prepare our clients are to discover and develop SEO strategies that AI tools can’t directly disrupt, like mid to low funnel content.” – Brandon Miller, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“SGE is going to make a huge impact on the ecommerce industry by changing the way users interact with the search results. Improved shopping experience will allow users to compare products, price match, and read reviews in order to make it quicker and easier for a user to find the best deals and purchase. Although this leads to more competitive results, it also improves organic visibility and expands our product reach. It is more important than ever to ensure all elements of a page are uniquely and specifically optimized for search. With the SGE updates expected to continue to impact search results, the best way to stay ahead is by focusing on strong user focused content and detailed product page optimizations.”  – Kellie Daley, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

Navigating the Clash of Trends

One of the most interesting aspects of the generative AI trend in search is that it appears to be in direct opposition to other recent trends.

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One of the ways Google has historically evaluated the efficacy of its search ranking systems is through the manual review of quality raters. In their quality rater guidelines, raters were instructed to review for things like expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) in results to determine if Google results are providing users the information they deserve. 

In 2022, Google updated their search guidelines to include another ‘e’ in the form of experience (EEAT). In their words, Google wanted to better assess if the content a user was consuming was created by someone with, “a degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person has experienced. There are some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has firsthand, life experience on the topic at hand.” 

Generative AI results, while cutting-edge technology and wildly impressive in some cases, stand in direct opposition to the principles of E-E-A-T. That’s not to say that there’s no room for both in search, but Google will have to determine what it thinks users value more between these competing trends. The slow adoption of SGE could be an indication that a preference for human experience, expertise, authority, and trust is winning round one in this fight. 

Along these lines, Google is also diversifying its search results to cater to the format in which users get their information. This takes the form of their Perspectives Filter. Also announced at Google I/O 2023, the perspectives filter incorporates more video, image, and discussion board posts from places like TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, and Quora. Once again, this trend shows the emphasis and value searchers place on experience and perspective. Users value individual experience over the impersonal conveyance of information. AI will never have these two things, even if it can provide a convincing imitation.

The current iteration of SGE seems to go too far in dismissing these trends in favor of generative AI. It’s an interesting challenge Google faces. If they don’t determine the prevailing trend correctly, veering too far in one direction can push more market share to ChatGPT or platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

Final Thoughts

The range of outcomes remains broad and fascinating for SGE. We can see this developing in different ways, and prognostication offers little value, but it’s invaluable to know the potential outcomes and prepare for as many of them as possible.

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It’s critical that you or your search agency be interacting and experimenting with SGE because:

  • The format and results will most likely continue to see significant changes
  • This space moves quickly and it’s easy to fall behind
  • Google may fix all of the issues with SGE and decide to push it live, changing the landscape of search overnight
  • SGE experiments could inform other AI elements incorporated into the search experience

 

Ultimately, optimizing for the specific SGE experience we see now is less important because we know it will inevitably continue changing. We see more value in recognizing the trends and problems Google is trying to solve with this technology. With how quickly this space moves, any specifics mentioned in this article could be outdated in a week. That’s why focusing on intention and process is important at this stage of the game.

By understanding the future needs and wants SGE is attempting to address, we can help you future-proof your search strategies as much as possible. To some extent we’re always at the whims of the algorithm, but by maintaining a user-centric approach, you can make your customers happy, regardless of how they find you.

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