How to use content to connect with customers: NRF’s Big Show

One of the big fears about the rush forward of new technology is that someday we won’t need people at all.

Little extreme, don’t you think? Mark Evans, the principle of Acumen and Action, doesn’t go as far as the alarmists, but he did point out Sunday at NRF’s Big Show, that customers have a very different relationship with humans in retail than they once did.

And retailers need to adjust — with wise content strategies, among other things.

“The customer and the consumer is going to decide when they want to deal with humans and when they want to deal with the digitized representation of that,” Evans said during a presentation called, “Competing With Content: Acquire Customers, Improve Loyalty, and Grow Sales.”

Evans cited a Forrester study that noted that there are currently 4.5 million people working in business-to-business sales. By 2020, the report said, according to Evans, 1 million of them will lose their jobs. Not in a willy-nilly fashion.

Mark Evans talks at NRF's Big Show

Those who are primarily order-taker or who have roles that simply help customers get through the sales process, will be hurt the most. Those who are more like consultants will be the winners.

The example is a way of saying that e-commerce operations, whether B-to-B or business-to-consumer, have to arm themselves for the new world. They need to connect through prospective customers with content — content that customers are able to discover just when they need it.

Here are four takeaways from Evans talk that might help those finding their way in the new world order:

Content is more important than ever: Evans pointed to Gartner’s prediction that by 2020, B-to-B buyers will be 85 percent of the way to making a purchase before they even talk to a human. The same idea holds for those who buy consumer goods, he says. So, how do they learn about your products and services? Content.

Don’t be bashful: Evans says there are too many companies selling content creation and management tools without having the research to prove their effectiveness. Make those selling the tools explain to you how they help and how they work in ways that you understand. “If they can’t do it, they’re probably full of it.”

Make sure your content is flexible: Your content should be like Legos, small pieces that can be assembled in different ways for different audiences and purposes. If your content is centrally located and accessible to all the different functions that rely on it, teams can build short, medium or long pieces, depending on the need. That allows retailers to present the right content to the right customer at the right time.

Understand what content you need: Don’t simply rearrange the content you already have. Do the work to understand what your customers want to learn about, what their needs are. “Nobody ever needed a drill,” Evans says. “What people need is a hole.”  Be more like a consultant than a salesperson who only delivers up what a customer says he or she needs. You’re selling drills. The customer wants holes. Do you know what kind of hole? What is the substance of the surface they want to put a hole in? How many holes do they need?

Retail will always rely on humans and customers will, too. The trick is to know when a consumer is craving human help and to understand that beyond that your content must be there to serve.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.