Heart-strings, not purse-strings: humanisation and content touchpoints

All articles | Content Marketing
Published May 23, 2013 | Written by Jeremy Knight
One of the creepier (but strangely apposite) terms to come out of the marketing industry in the past few years has been that of "touchpoints" - the number of potential contact opportunities you get with a customer or prospect during the process of communicating and transacting with them. 

Formerly, touchpoints were simply a glorified form of reminder, with an associated sales objective – your eye test is due, your car insurance is about to run out, you still haven't taken advantage of the special offer we're running if you join our partner programme. But an interesting thing is now happening in the field of touchpoint communication. It is moving from the propagandist (pushing a clear message to incite a clear sales action) to the informative (making a show of the communicator's expertise, knowledge, openness, informality, humour, and so forth.) 

In short, touchpoint communication is moving toward a B2B content writing model, humanising your brand. As I commented in a previous post, likeability is now a precondition of saleability! 

Touching a nerve

But this content must tug at heart-strings, not just at purse-strings. It must press human buttons, not just move business levers. Here, for my money, are some examples of the most innovative content touchpoints I have recently encountered – and why they succeed. 

1. The canine communicator – If you have a dog, you'll know the anguish of leaving it in a kennel. One kennel in England exploits this to brilliant effect. It sends a photo of the dog in the form of a postcard to the holidaying owners, with a “wish you were here” tagline and an  assertion (from the dog) that it wants to spend its holidays in the same kennel next year! 

This is effective content marketing on several levels. It invents a new touchpoint where none previously existed, so it produces one more pretext to communicate with the customer, as this recent Harvard Business Review pieceexplores. It also gives the kennel increased emotional credibility in the eyes of the owners, because it implies that the kennel understands the pain of separation in the same way the owners do. As Professor Robert B. Cialdini has noted, people tend to like what most closely resembles themselves! 

2. Photo-story accountancy –  At a recent presentation, I saw an accountancy firm in the East Midlands explain how, when it notifies a company that it has received their end of year accounts, it no longer sends a formal letter. 

Instead, it produces content in the form of e-card, supposedly sent by the accounts paperwork itself, confirming that it has reached its destination safely and is now having a comfortable rest in a room with lots of other like-minded bits of paper, ready to be processed. It is essentially a photo story, showing the actual paperwork in situ, its planned journey through the process and the people who are responsible for it at each step of the way. 

You might think it's difficult to feel human empathy for a stack of paperwork sitting in an accountant's office, but a personalised photo-story suggests the customer's paperwork is receiving exactly the kind of special attention the customer thinks it deserves. 

Once again, the subtext is that both customer and supplier share the same values and priorities.  The nerve jangles, the heart-strings twang. 

3. The comic-book case study –  I recently came across a company that decided to rewrite all its case studies and customer testimonials as comic book stories! 

Case studies and testimonials are indispensable touchpoint fodder, showing the world you have a viable business with real customers and implying the endorsement of those customers. But the comic-book versions have an added advantage. Not only can they be used in all of the situations in which a traditional version is appropriate, but their sheer novelty value also justifies the creation of new touchpoints – Harvard again - simply as a vehicle for the attractively reinvented content! 

Timed to hit customers' desktops on the last Friday of every month, these highly graphical, entertaining, readable comics are a perfect excuse for the reader to stop whatever else they were doing and read the content instead. How many case studies that you (and I) have written get that kind of response? 

Content cravings 

The move to treat touchpoint communication like established B2B content marketing, and the quest for ever more innovative, humanising forms of that content, is an encouraging trend. But not everyone is on board yet. 

Next time you receive a touchpoint communication from whatever brand, take a good look at it. Then compare it to the Content Marketing Institute's list of  The 21 Types of Content We All Crave and see how it stacks up. My guess is that, in more than a few instances, you will crave much of the “content” you receive about as much as you would crave a root canal appointment reminder from your dentist. 

And, sadly, in some instances there won't be much difference in the way either is written.

Image from: The Comic Shop

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Published by Jeremy Knight May 23, 2013
Jeremy Knight