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Content experience platforms: why you need them and how to get started

Introduction

Content experiences bring the power of integrated digital multimedia to your users. Among their many advantages are their ability to wow users with beautifully designed sites, present your message with more impact, and present all the key information in a single place.

But what are content experiences? Are they really any different from regular microsites? What are their advantages in relation to different use cases? Are they equally useful for a marketing team and a pursuits team at the same enterprise, for example? And how can you get started?

For answers to all these questions and more, read on.

Definition

What is a content experience?

Content experiences are online web pages or entire sites that combine multiple forms of digital media (the ‘content’ part) such as text, images, audio, video, and interactive elements to communicate a message effectively and engagingly to a specific audience.

How is this different from a traditional landing page, microsite, or website? Doesn’t most online content feature some mixture of media content to communicate a message?

That’s a great question and the answer is, surprisingly, no. The vast majority of on-page business communication on the internet takes the form of text, supplemented by images (which are often purely decorative, rarely serving to enhance or deliver the message).

To illustrate, let’s consider the difference between two hypothetical web pages with the same aim - to help a pursuits team at a large professional services firm deliver an effective digital sales proposal to their prospects and ultimately generate sales.

Content experience vs. standard pages

Content experiences and standard pages: the differences

The standard approach

First, let's imagine that the pursuits team at our imaginary enterprise has decided to be somewhat digitally forward and instead of sending a PDF sales proposal in response to an RFP have elected to deliver it in the form of a microsite.

That's a great start - microsites have a number of advantages over the traditional sales proposal which we'll get into in more detail later - but it doesn't necessarily follow that a microsite will be more engaging than a PDF.

In this first scenario, let's suppose that the microsite retains all the traditional elements of a sales proposal without integrating additional media elements.

While it's useful that it's a live document that can be updated to reflect changes and is more easily navigable, the experience for the reader is otherwise largely the same as it would have been reading a sales proposal form a printed page in the 1980s.

Indeed, it may be worse than a printed document in certain respects, because it represents a missed opportunity relative to a fully fleshed-out microsite-based content experience.

Why?

Because a more digitally forward and dynamic organization would opt for that, and our hypothetical pursuits team have placed themselves at a potential disadvantage relative to other organizations in their market who do make the most of the selling potential of digital sales proposals.

What would a digital sales proposal in the form of a rich content experience look like, by contrast?

The content experience

In our previous example, the core message was delivered purely by text. Any additional media was largely decorative - anyone unfamiliar with the content would be unable to interpret the content of each page without the main body of text.

With a content experience, this is not the case. Other forms of content such as images (which could take the form of graphs, infographics, charts, or diagrams), audio, video, and interactive elements also serve to convey the core message.

An example of the former approach in relation to images might be a photograph included on the page of a smiling executive shaking hands with a colleague in a stylish corporate office.

An example of the latter might be a flow diagram showing how a service offered by the bidders could transform or streamline core business processes within their HR and payroll teams.

The diagram could be supplemented with an embedded audio track of a member of the pursuits team explaining the value to the prospective client of this transformation, creating an integrated media experience in which the different elements of the page work together to communicate value, rather than relying purely on text to deliver the key message.

Because of this synergy between different elements, content experiences can be far more engaging to look at. Designers can use space that might otherwise have been taken up by long paragraphs of text in more creative ways that reflect the brand identity of their company:

As a result, anyone viewing a content experience is more likely to come away with a clear understanding of the message the creators intended to communicate, regardless of their preferred method of consuming content.

It's not there's anything wrong with text. It's simply that by leaning on it too heavily in relation to other forms of media, the opportunity to take advantage of the potential of digital technology is missed. This is where microsite-based content experiences deliver.

Are content experiences just fancy microsites?

At this point, you may be wondering if the terms 'content experience' and 'microsite' are synonymous.

Since some of the strongest content experiences are delivered in the form of microsites rather than being hosted as subpages of an organization's main URL, it's easy to see why the two might become conflated in the eyes of the casual observer.

However, it's important to distinguish between the concepts of microsite and content experience.

Why?

In business-to-business communications - particularly in sales - professionalism, security, and effective delivery of critical information is essential. And while there are a multitude of 'microsite builders' out there, not all of them have the features required by enterprises.

Simply put, the distinctions between full functioning content experience platforms and micosite builders go well beyond style and corporate branding.

A fully fledged content experience platform will have the following characteristics:

Drag-and-drop editing for non-specialists and easily customizable templates, allowing teams to deliver sites at speed and scale

No coding required to integrate the majority of media. For example, it should be as easy to add a video to a page as it is to insert a block of text

Brand compliance baked in. While many microsite builders do not have specific solutions to ensure pages meet brand guidelines, a fully functional content experience platform will have a feature allowing templates to be fixed according to those guidelines

Support for custom CSS editing, allowing designers and web developers to create microsites in line with what the business needs, rather than what a mass-market site builder is willing to cater to in a one-size-fits-all editor

Detailed visitor analytics, allowing the microsite owner to get an overview of how users are interacting with the site and iterate their messaging and interaction with prospects based upon real data rather than guesswork

Advanced security features and visitor access restrictions, ensuring that only people who are meant to see sensitive information do so

These are the main features of content experience platforms that go above and beyond what a generic microsite might offer in addition to their greater usage of a wider range of media.

To summarise, content experiences go beyond standard microsites by including a broader set of front and backend features more suitable for the world of business-to-business communications.

Enterprise communication

How the world of enterprise communication has changed

Enterprise communication is an ever-evolving field of business with a very broad spectrum of participants and technologies at play.

We’ll begin this section by looking at the dramatic changes the coronavirus crisis has brought to the world of enterprise communication and what it means for digital content experiences before turning to longer term trends.

COVID-19 and B2B

How COVID-19 has changed B2B sales and pursuits

The Coronavirus crisis has brought considerable attention to the advantages that accrue to businesses that are able to conduct a greater range of their activities remotely as well as many of the challenges for those struggling to adapt.

While the most commonly cited examples of businesses that traditionally raise revenue from in-person, human-to-human interaction and have therefore struggled during the COVID-19 crisis are business-to-customer (B2C) companies such as airlines, bars, restaurants, cinemas, and tourist attractions, what's less often appreciated are the challenges the situation has imposed on business-to-business (B2B) activity.

As many in the world of B2B sales and pursuits will be aware, while the initial stages of a bidding process (such as the issuing of a request for proposal, or RFP, and the first responses from those sending sales proposals) are regularly conducted remotely, the crucial stages of the sales cycle are frequently carried out in-person.

The notion that a face-to-face presentation followed by a handshake will 'seal the deal' has been established B2B sales practice since the emergence of large scale corporate activity in the nineteenth century.

Why?

Quality sales practice is built upon the foundation of relationship building. An in-person meeting allows for greater depth of interpersonal interaction, helping to cement trust and humanize sales professionals in the eyes of prospective customers.

This is one reason why securing an in-person meeting is such a priority for salespeople in a range of industries.

The inability to meet in person due to the reasonable restrictions placed upon travel and meeting in groups outside of single households combined with the real need to socially distance has presented a challenge to those companies whose sales philosophy emphasizes real-world meetings.

Those companies have had to play catch-up, as not every organization is in a similar position.

The advantages for digitally forward organizations

The Coronavirus crisis has decisively shifted the balance between those companies prepared to fully utilize digital technology in their communications and outreach strategies and those over reliant on face-to-face meetings in favor of the former, digitally forward group.

Organizations with the tools on-hand to deliver engaging content with a human touch formerly solely the preserve of in-person communication have not suffered from the downturn in economic activity as severely as their less technologically focused counterparts.

At Zoomforth, we have direct experience of this phenomenon as our clients have been able to utilize our digital content experience platform to build relationships with current and potential future clients:

Read Case Study
Digital content experience

The longer term shift towards digital content experiences

However, it would be all too easy to assume that the need for organizations of all kinds - but particularly enterprises - to shift towards technologies that can put remote communication on par with in-person meetings is only a short -term trend resulting from Covid.

Indeed, the history of the last hundred and fifty years in business has arguably been one of a growing capacity to interact and carry out transactions remotely.

Just as the telephone allowed for significantly more 'human' interactions than the electrical telegraph, the growth in popularity of Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or Facetime video calls has added another layer of humanity to remote business communication.

Humans are used to communicating on multiple levels simultaneously and find it 'more direct' to do so. By observing the facial expressions of a conversational partner, we gain a fuller understanding of their meaning than we might have done with the same number of words alone.

This human capacity to absorb, digest, and attribute meaning to multiple types of input simultaneously is one of the reasons branding and design is so important to modern businesses.

As an example, consider the Nike brand identity. The slogan 'Just do it.' on its own conveys relatively little of character of the company. It is with the addition of the signature swoosh, the bold lettering, and the images of urban culture and settings that its full meaning is communicated.

In short, good branding combines multiple elements and conceptually distinct forms of media to build a relationship with its audience.The same is true of web design and online communication more generally.

Content experience platforms are useful assets to remote communicators such as pursuits teams because of their ability to combine different forms of multimedia in highly textured landing pages and microsites in a way that speaks to the human desire to communicate on multiple levels.

In this sense, they improve upon websites or documents that lean too heavily on purely text-based communication.

Content experience use cases

Use cases for content experience platforms

Content experience platforms have remarkable potential for businesses in a variety of areas, but we've chosen to highlight four key areas where we've seen enterprises in particular enjoy success:

Sales and Pursuits

Marketing

Recruitment

Learning and Education

Sales and pursuits

Content experience platforms for sales and pursuits

Sales and pursuits teams are vital to businesses because of their power to raise revenue actively. Waiting for new clients to show up at the door has never been a viable strategy for serious organisations such as large professional services companies.

It therefore stands to reason that such organisations would also see the value of giving their sales professionals the best tools to succeed in their roles.

In the 1990s, that may have meant a fax machine, a simple word processor and possibly dial-up internet in addition to the tried and tested telephone. Today, even after only a few short years, the list of necessary technologies to remain competitive has evolved considerably.

One of the most recent additions has been the content experience platform. These site builders allow even non-specialists to craft impactful landing pages and microsites that creatively integrate a rich variety of content.

This is particularly valuable to sales and pursuits teams for six key reasons:

Independence of action

One of the biggest obstacles to truly creatively designed sales proposals has been the perceived need for sales and pursuits teams to rely on outside resources such as design teams, whether internal or external. Whether it's the hit to the budget this can make or the simple demands of the time involved in briefing designers, the time required to perform the work itself, and then complete the review and approval process, this can seem a non-starter.

High-end content experience platforms get around this through a combination of easy-to-use editing, templates, and quick site duplication and editing. All this makes for impactful content on the fly.

Reduced friction

Another downside of a sales process carried out as a series of email exchanges and disparate text files is the disjointed and inefficient nature of such communication.

Questions such as 'Now, which document was that in?' or 'I'm sure that was in one of the emails she sent, but which chain was that even in?' regularly bedevil such processes. By contrast, a nice tidy microsite with all of the necessary information easily accessible can really speed things up.

The need to stand out (differentiation)

For every sales proposal sent in response to an RFP, it's a good bet that several others have also been submitted. A concise yet beautifully designed digital sales proposal in the form of an easily navigable microsite is a memorable alternative to the standard PDF.

Confidential and sensitive information protected

Pursuits teams in particular are likely to be dealing with highly sensitive information in competitive markets where an unintended disclosure could have severe financial or even legal consequences for all parties involved.

While a limited number of security features may be possible with standard documents such as password protection, those available in content experience platforms such as Zoomforth go well beyond these with security features like two-factor authentication and single-sign on ID.

Brand requirements fulfilled

Another winning feature of a quality content experience platform is the ability to 'bake in' brand design requirements at the onboarding stage. This leads to the creation of templates that comply with all the necessary brand specifications such as how a corporate logo can be presented, limitations on fonts and font sizes, the use of white space, and so on.

With these templates to work from, non-specialists can get to work building stunning content experiences like digital sales proposals without fear of falling foul of the company brand identity.

Real insights from actual
data

One of the greatest challenges for sales and pursuits teams is getting a read on what prospects are thinking about. It's one thing to know that your contact has been sent information and quite another to be sure that they've read it or even shared it with colleagues.

Another key benefit of content experience platforms for sales teams is that the interactive nature of the cloud based software allows for visitor activity to be turned into actionable insights. For example, it might be useful to know if a decision maker at a target client company has read the information about the core offer or not.

Beyond these six strengths, it's also worth noting three demonstrative statistics that relate directly to the value of content experience platforms for sales teams:

95%

95% of today's B2B buyers prefer shorter and highly visual content formats.

Demand Gen

59%

59% of Senior Executives agree that if both text and video are available on the same topic, they prefer to watch video.

Digital information World

46%

46% of all B2B researchers and
buyers are millennials.

Google

Marketing

Content experience platforms for marketing

With the many parallels between sales and marketing, it's perhaps unsurprising that many of the advantages of content experiences that apply in the case of sales and pursuits can also be found in digital marketing.

At a time when the preference for online content among the young, particularly Generation Z, for richer online content such as video has been widely established, content experiences are a clear way to make the most of this opportunity.

89% of Gen Zers use YouTube on a weekly basis

The Manifest

But that doesn't mean that target markets of all generations can't be better served by marketing that utilizes more diverse content formats. According to LinkedIn, only 50% of B2B brands produce content that their audience actually engages with, and video can help with this whatever the demographic:

  • 84% of marketers say video has helped them increase traffic to their website
  • 81% of marketers say video has helped them generate leads

A content experience platform incorporating video can therefore help marketers speak to consumers in a way they prefer.

Recruitment

Content experience platforms
for recruiting

Talent acquisition is a highly competitive undertaking. Candidates want to see your employer value proposition, not just a job description.

Content experiences can help you show your company in its best light with a rich diversity of content that gives your candidates a window on both your company and the recruitment process, potentially meaning smoother hiring processes from the initial application right through to onboarding.

Content experience platforms bring value to recruitment teams in five key areas:

Adding a human touch

It's hard to fully convey the story of your brand through a job description. An enriched microsite goes further toward showing candidates who you are, with highly engaging content experiences. Why tell them about your snazzy headquarters when you can show them? Why not have their potential future colleagues explain your terrific company culture in video?

Providing easy and secure access to key information

During multistage hiring processes, making sure the right person gets the right information at the right time can be a challenge. With Zoomforth, you can link to your content experiences from any platform or candidate touchpoint. And all your microsites can be protected with security features like multi-factor authentication, single-sign on ID, and of course, password protection.

Offering candidates a flavour of your tech savvy company

As we saw in the marketing section above, the Gen Zers and Millennials are more receptive to video communication. This extends to their professional lives as candidates for roles at your company. Attracting top talent is competitive. Get a leg up.

Facilitating action

WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing with drag-and-drop features means no more waiting on overburdened design teams. A microsite platform like Zoomforth can save time and money. This is particularly useful in recruitment, where delivering compelling content at scale can be a real differentiator.

Delivering insights into candidate activity and engagement

If you're wondering whether a candidate you've sent an offer to is seriously considering accepting, it might be helpful to know if they've viewed your digital offer letter recently, or your explanation of the responsibilities of the position. A content experience platform like Zoomforth can give you these kinds of insights down to a level of detail that can give you truly actionable information. For example, has the candidate viewed the section of your microsite that tells them how to take the next steps? If not, maybe a follow-up is in order.

Learning and education

Content experience platforms for learning

Ensuring proper remote training is more important than ever. The modern enterprise demands modern learning experiences that are up to the task.

By using a content experience platform like Zoomforth, employees can learn at their own pace, with interactive virtual learning hubs that provide centralized access to courses, associated materials, and on-demand recordings.

According to research by Rapt Media, 86% of employees learn better from visual content like video rather than text.

Microsite-based learning environments help students and teachers alike by:

  • Keeping materials organized

    Microsites are convenient spaces to bring together a curated set of resources, from PDFs to slide decks, in a cohesive and crisply designed format.
  • Helping to keep costs down

    A microsite platform like Zoomforth doesn't require specialist web designers to build great looking pages, meaning you can achieve professional results without breaking the budget.
  • Boosting engagement

    Engaging content like video learning programs and interactive employee advocacy campaigns can significantly improve uptake and completion rates, even among busy team members.
  • Measuring success

    With detailed analytics, microsite platforms allow you to measure engagement and make data-driven improvements, a potential multiplying factor as you work to increase the impact of your learning and development programs.
  • Keeping your information secure

    Keeping your information secure - Training a team necessarily involves introducing them to information that's not available to the general public. Advanced microsite platforms like Zoomforth help to keep your commercially sensitive content or confidential information secure so only authorized people can access it.
Business transformation strategy

Preparing a business transformation strategy

Now that we've established some of the many use cases for microsite platforms, it's time to consider how they can be rolled out in even a large organization such as a professional services or international accountancy firm.

We recommend doing so through a clear, explicit, and well documented business transformation strategy.

What is a business transformation plan?

Business transformation plans are documents that contain business transformation strategies. They outline your plans for shifting the way an organization does business in some major area such as 'communication' or 'hiring'.

Normally, a business transformation plan will set out the type of change that an individual or team within an organization believes is required to enhance the company's ability to achieve specific business objectives.

You can learn more about business transformations on our blog post devoted specifically to this topic.

Why do you need a business transformation plan?

These plans document a change in approach that’s normally the result of a shift in one of three areas:

1.
Market Change
2.
Opportunities for improvement in business processes
3.
Outside input (from consultants, for example)

Business transformation plans are useful because they make the case for the change and lay out the specifics in clear steps that are accessible by all relevant stakeholders, helping to reduce confusion, get everyone on the same page, make sure everyone knows what they’ve agreed to, and give people a reference point for judging the success of the project.

If you’re considering introducing a content experience platform into your organization - particularly a major enterprise - a business transformation plan is a good place to start.

Implementing a content experience platform

What to look for when purchasing a content experience platform

Here is a comprehensive list of features tech savvy enterprises should look out for when selecting a content experience platform on which to build microsites:

  • Brand compliance built in
  • Secure visitor access
  • Real-time data insights
  • Fully customizable URLs
  • Mobile and tablet friendly
  • WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing - meaning no coding required

This information can help you make the case for a specific content experience platform within your own organization by giving you clear criteria to refer to.

Your team and content experience platform

Readying your team for a content experience platform

Before you can successfully implement a content experience platform, you’ll need to consider who will be using it and making sure everyone is prepared.

After all, what if there’s a new member of your company’s leadership team and the video introduction to their predecessor needs to be replaced on the ‘About Us’ section of your microsite? A site that’s still in use often requires ongoing work to keep up to date and multiple stakeholders may be involved in making that happen.

Additionally, to be as impactful as possible, content-rich microsites draw on the skills of a range of professionals. These may include:

  • Project managers
  • Copywriters
  • Graphic designers
  • UX designers
  • Digital marketers
  • SEO experts
  • Filmmakers and editors
  • Sound editors

Not every microsite will need all of these types of people. Indeed, microsite builders like Zoomforth are ideally suited to a one person team. The point here is to consider who in your team needs to be involved, what they need to know, and what the work flow and distribution of responsibilities will be.

You can find out more about this topic in our blog post on preparing your team for content experience platforms.

Time to get started with content experiences

Now you have an idea of the value of content experience platforms as well as of the preliminaries of getting started with them, this is a great opportunity to discuss these ideas with a member of your team or reach out to us with any questions you may have at Zoomforth.com.

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