summer / 2015

The magazine of branded content
Global Content Strategist Kevin Nichols says brands need to re-think their current strategies.
Jun 23, 2015

For a 1998 Harvard divinity grad who transitioned into a career as a content strategist, Kevin Nichols knows more than most the veracity of the saying, “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

Nichols recently left SapientNitro, where he had been director and global practice lead for content strategy, to embark on personal brand-building mission. His experience at Sapient, where he grew the content strategy team from 5 people to more than 40 in 5 years, and his two books—UX for Dummies and Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide—position him better than most in his journey.

“The cross channel optimization way of thinking of content really came from Martha Stewart.”

We spoke to him about Omni Channel content marketing, and he offered advice to brands who are locked in “content-creation silos.”

Content: You’ve said that many brands need to re-think their content strategy and look at it through a lens of Omni Channel. How does Martha Stewart fit in here?
Kevin Nichols: Martha Stewart started as a company that booked events and parties. Then she wrote a cookbook, and then she did her television show and then she did her magazine. She didn’t duplicate the content in each of those channels: she created optimized content that was specific to those channels that would tell a story around similar things. So how do you create the perfect place settings? She cooked the recipe that was in her cookbook and then to find the perfect place setting might mean going to an article in her magazine. The TV show might do a Do-It-Yourself “how you fold the napkins” segment in order to actualize that and then the recipe would be in the cookbook to tell you how to cook the turkey. That whole thinking of this sort of cross channel optimization of content really came from her. That’s Omni Channel: it’s looking at the consumer at the center of a brand experience.

“A lot of companies are set up fundamentally to incentivize their channels as silos.”

OK, so if I’m a brand, and I understand that I’m putting the customer at the center of the brand experience, how does that impact the content I’m creating?
I want to rephrase that question, about your understanding that brands need to put the customer at the center of the experience. They already are at the center of the experience. There’s a fundamental flaw at the ground base if a brand is going to be putting the user at the center of the experience. That consumer already has control over how they want to access content, which channels they want to access it in, what type of content they consume, whether or not they’re going to purchase that product, if they do purchase that product, and what they say about it. They’re at the center of that journey. Whether or not a brand can deliver on a promise, to know what they need to do in various steps of the user’s journey and the content they need to serve up in the various channels to empower users to arrive at their goals and objectives—that’s where the brand’s thinking needs to go.

Many brands lack a strategy to customize content for each channel.
A lot of companies are set up fundamentally to incentivize their channels as silos. So, for example, a budget that determines how much money a department is going to get for the website might be based on how many sales that website generates. That creates the attitude of “Why would I want to push my online traffic to the store to purchase the product when that’s going to hit my revenue target, which is then going to hit my budget?” There are many challenges to Omni Channel and that’s one of the biggest ones.

“The consumer is experiencing the brand as a brand and not as single channel engagements.”

How can I execute an Omni Channel content experience effectively?
You need to have systems talking to each other and you need to change the way in which you measure the success. So, for example, if you think of a conversion and the fact that the consumer’s relationship doesn’t end with the brand conversion, you can say “Well, let’s look at where they convert.” If web is one of the lead-ins to that conversion, then maybe it’s looking at conversions at a more micro level, saying “Conversion number one is pushing the customer to the store to purchase the product.” So if they go online, they see that the product’s in the inventory, they like what they see, which makes them decide to go in store to purchase it: that can be a conversion. It doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to the point of purchase or the point of sale. Conversion goes from one step in the journey to the next because, ultimately, it’s about evolving the relationship with the brand. It’s not looking at that relationship as just one execution of a KPI.

At the end of the day the consumer does not experience these as singular channel engagements. They don’t care that technical marketing creates content for a customer call center. They don’t care that the web team creates content for the online channel. They’re experiencing the brand as a brand and not as single channel engagements. All these silos, while they may be important for an agency, are not important to the consumer.