Serving the customer AND the brand: Lee Odden connects the dots

Lee Odden at #fusionmex in 2012 - picture by Remy Bergsma

Lee Odden at #fusionmex in 2012 – picture by Remy Bergsma

Do we still have to introduce Lee Odden? I guess not. Lee was one of the keynote speakers at the Content Marketing Conference Europe 2014 in Antwerp on June 10th. Attendees of previous events might remember that Lee, who runs TopRank Online Marketing, joined us once before for great insights on the integration of content, search, social and more.

Lee is back with some clear messages and a model for winning with a customer-centric content marketing strategy that steers away from your eternal best practices. The time to bring the customer experience and lifecycle into the (content) marketing strategy is right now. Part one of our interview with keynote speaker Lee Odden.

When you joined us the first time in 2012 for a two-day event you presented, among others, a keynote session and workshop on digital marketing integration and customer-centric content marketing, the core topic of your book Optimize. You focused on an integrated approach of SEO, social media and content marketing. Have brands evolved in this integration exercise and have your views evolved as well since then?

Lee Odden: More companies are certainly aware of the importance of Integrated Marketing: 90% call it “necessary and inevitable” for mid to large sized companies according to a report from Econsultancy.

However, changes with search engines like Google and social networks like Facebook have made paid amplification more of a requirement than 2 years ago. No brand can succeed on organic marketing alone on those channels.

Also, the volume of content being published by brands and consumers alike has made content competition or “content shock” as Mark Schaefer calls it, an important reality to consider. Content targeting and content quality are increasingly essential to reach and engage new customers.


Hail the connected journey: customer-centricity and the customer lifecycle

Lee Odden: Today I’m more focused on leveraging customer insights along with brand objectives to create content across the customer journey from awareness to purchase to advocacy. Search is still important, but the driver for content planning is to achieve mutual customer and brand objectives. In other words, optimizing for customer experiences and business outcomes, not just keywords and traffic.

My perspective is that companies need to master the ability to create meaningful content that’s easy to find and share with a continuous effort towards optimizing the performance of that content. Doing this at scale is no easy task, but through creative repurposing, connecting with influencers and participation marketing, companies are creating impressive competitive advantages.

Optimizing for consumers, experiences and outcomes transcends Google, social or content, you said. Or in other words: customer-centricity and (measurable) goals first. Along with Bryan Eisenberg you were one of the keynote speakers at the Authority Intensive event and I noticed you retweeted something Bryan said: 80% of companies claim they are customer-centric but only 8% of customers say that’s true. That’s a huge discrepancy. Why is that? How can content help close this gap and what needs to be done in general to allow it to?

Lee Odden: It might be corporate hubris or it might be following industry “best practices” without really knowing the impact amongst customers. Whatever the reason, companies in Europe are definitely focused on improving their customer-centricity.

In the Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Trends for 2014 report, research from Adobe and Econsultancy shows the single most exciting opportunity in 2014 is improving customer experience. 

Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein in Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Trends and Predictions for 2014

Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein in Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Trends and Predictions for 2014: “CEM covers not only customer acquisition but the entire customer lifecycle and across all channels”

I think with the increased availability of direct communications with brands provided by social networks, consumer expectations have risen. At the same time, there’s a lot of pressure to drive revenue on all fronts and many companies still don’t quite understand the distinct needs of their customers outside of what’s necessary to inspire transactions. The result? Digital Marketing programs that aspire to scale through content that is more “mechanical” than “meaningful”.

Also, many brand content marketing programs focus on the sales cycle and not the full customer lifecycle. In essence, companies are creating content to support awareness, interest, consideration and purchase where it essentially stops after transactions. Yet, customers continue to have information needs after the purchase.

To close the gap, companies must understand the customer experience and the continuously optimize for it across the customer lifecycle from awareness to purchase to retention and advocacy. The amazing thing about content that extends across the customer lifecycle is that gaining a momentum of advocacy is far more effective for scaling content marketing performance while being customer centric at the same time.

The driver for content planning is to achieve mutual customer and brand objectives. (Lee Odden)

Another component of being customer-centric is to involve customers in content creation. Participation marketing is a result of the active engagement amongst a community of customers that reveals important insights as well as opportunities to co-create content. A continuous effort at showing interest in what’s important to customers and then acting on those insights through content, collaboration and recognition are essential for customers to feel a brand appreciates them.

The integrated marketing approach: connecting brand and customer with touchpoints

At the occasion of the same event you shared a presentation “How to Be the Best Answer Wherever Customers Are Looking“. I noticed a mix of the need to focus on questions and intent of target audiences on one hand and on the need to stand for something as a brand on the other. Your keynote in Antwerp carries the same title as the presentation you gave. What will be different and where will you focus on?

Lee Odden: How to be the best answer wherever customers are looking is a simple, essential component of what makes an integrated marketing approach successful.

The idea is to acknowledge that customers have multiple touchpoint opportunities to discover, consume and act on information as they research, find and purchase solutions. Being the best answer implies an understanding of customer questions and then creating a content plan to provide informative and often entertaining (infotaining) answers across channels.

The single most exciting opportunity in 2014 is improving customer experience. (Lee Odden)

My keynote in Antwerp will focus on presenting a model for an integrated, multichannel content marketing approach that is structured to solve for customer information needs while communicating brand messaging objectives at the same time. This will be presented through a model, examples and best practices.

Clear messages that will certainly appeal to many forward-thinking marketers, putting the customer experience and lifecycle at the center.

In part two of this interview, Lee shares his views on custom publishing, native advertising and much more.


  1. says

    Love the note of involving customers in content creation. No better way to shout out folks by sharing their feedback in the form of a post, or perhaps addressing their deepest concerns with your next piece of content. Thanks for sharing :)


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