Q&A with Ardath Albee re: Implementing The Continuum Experience
Ardath Albee has more than 30 years of experience in the marketing industry, and is an expert in training her clients to make conversions and boost sales. She has had two books published about marketing strategies, and she owns and operates her own consulting firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc.
You have said that as a highly sought-after marketing consultant, one of the most important concepts you teach is creating buyer-centric content? What is that, specifically?
It’s all about creating content that speaks to what the customers care about — what they need to know — rather than what the company wants to say.
Buyer-centric content is not about the company or your product. It’s about what your products enable. What can’t your customers do without you?
It’s often the same issue from company to company. What the marketers know the best is their products; it’s what they believe in, what they want to talk about. The thing they DON’T know is who their buyers are, what makes them tick, what they care about and what’s the context of their problem in relation to why they would need your product.
Creating buyer-centric content is refocusing, turning away from your product and turning toward the buyer and looking at how you can solve their problem. And what is the problem? A lot of them don’t even know.
I spend the majority of my life creating personas for the companies I work for. We need personas in order to create content that’s relevant to buyers.
You talk in your book about the Continuum Experience and how important it is to marketers. Can you explain how this concept works and how marketers can implement it?
The Continuum Experience is a process of storytelling over time.
I’ve been on a rant for years about how we need to kick campaigns to the curb. A campaign is three or four touches over a month or a quarter, etc. Once they get their targets interested, the campaign ends and it’s a new quarter, new theme. The potential clients wonder where the thing they were interested in went. These random acts of content don’t do the job.
The Continuum Experience is telling that story from problem to solution across the entirety of the buying process.
Now I’m working with people to show them how to sell all the way through the customer lifecycle. What happens after they become a customer? How do you continue to engage them? How do you maintain sales? What is that ongoing story? How do you keep building on that to create this momentum, moving buyers or customers along?
Today’s attention spans are shorter than ever. Is it hard to sell the Continuum Experience idea to those who are steeped in our throwaway culture?
Yes. The problem isn’t the buyer, though, it’s the marketer.
We get bored. We already know the story and want to do something new and different. We should be thinking about how to tell the next piece of the story. But the challenge is creating an enduring story.
Another big problem is that marketers are still evaluated on how many leads they produce per month, so they don’t focus on the long term. They want to hit that 500-lead mark for the month. When that’s the criteria, it’s hard to make a case for the Continuum Experience.
How many leads is reasonable?
We have to start thinking of “leads” differently. It’s not a lead if you just take contact information from somebody who filled out a form because they want to read a piece of content and give it to a salesperson. We need to nurture and develop these people into qualified buyers.
Wouldn’t you rather have 25 solid leads than 500 tenuous ones?
You named your company Marketing Interactions. Is that to give people an idea of how you work and what you think is important?
I named the company Marketing Interactions because it was about teaching people how to create interactive experiences with their buyers. It was a big shift at that time, from face-to-face to digital. I was teaching people how to create conversations that begin online and transition them off-line.
But I don’t have an ABC formula that works for everyone. I have a certain way I build personas, but the application is different for each company. It depends on the objectives. It’s customer-buyer interaction, but it’s also my interaction with my client to come up with something that works specifically for them.
What advice do you give your clients regarding reputation management?
We focus on brand alignment, consistency and brand integrity; we try to avoid fragmented experiences. You need to engage your customers without violating the brand.
For companies that are rebranding, we have to ask, how provocative are you willing to be? Most companies are too conservative for big changes. But if you just hint at change, you look a little wishy-washy. It’s a delicate balance.
When you’re making changes, how do you know how much to diversify, how much to offer customers? How did Baskin-Robbins decide that 29 flavors weren’t enough but 32 was too many?
Personas really help with deciding what areas your company will focus on. Marketers need to ask themselves which out of the slate of products makes sense for their buyers.
But it all comes down to what customers want.