5 steps to create marketing content with customers

A headshot of Chad Neufeld

by Chad Neufeld

Illustration of different coloured shapes.

Marketing can be a lot of fun (writes the marketing guy… I sure hope he thinks it’s fun). In all seriousness, it necessitates creativity, and opens the door to new, interesting ideas and visuals.

Brands often turn to agencies to craft slick advertisements for their products. While the end product is usually polished and professional, it can be a long and expensive process, and more often than not, the message of the advertisement is created by a small group of people. Sometimes these people have a close connection to customers and consult them as they craft marketing messages. Sometimes they don’t.

In our view, there is no better resource to utilize when developing marketing content than an engaged user of your product or service.

Marketing by Your Customers, For Your Customers

One of the best ways to create wonderful, effective marketing content is to bring your customers, your users, your biggest fans behind the curtain and involve them in the process. How? With a structured program.

The following 5 phase approach follows our unique process for innovation and creativity and is inspired by the principles laid out in James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds. It has been used by some of the world’s greatest brands to create exceptional content and strategy.

Related Read: 6 Customer-Centric Brands Who Co-Create With Customers

Phase 1: Clarify

Choose your group and bring them together. We recommend a branded online community where you have control over communications, designed for your brand’s most loyal customers and stakeholders.

Once you’ve assembled your people, start by challenging participants with divergent, or ‘feeling’ activities in order to expand their thinking and warm up their creative muscles. Perhaps ask them to tell a story about the setting where they would use your product or service, or how it fits into their rituals or lifestyle.

Next, use a convergent, or ‘thinking’ activity that asks your community members how much they know about the product or service and the context in which it’s meant to be used. This will help you to identify knowledge gaps or myths that should be addressed in future communications.

Now you’ve got your community members creatively warmed up, and you have an understanding of their level of knowledge about your product or service. Next, unleash the creativity.

Phase 2: Create

The goal in the Create phase is to understand ideal uses of a product or service, then develop marketing content based on these authentic product experiences.

Have engaged community members reflect on a product memory that illustrates a great experience using the product, then ask them to tell you about that memory. This could be in the form of a nostalgic photo contest of a time spent with family/friends using or benefiting from the product. Community members could upload a photo and explain its meaning with a brief story.

This activity surfaces product use stories, and also allows your brand to listen to real memories and find inspiration in the untapped and unspoken needs that you can only find if you hear from real users.

Don't Miss: Why co-creation drives customer engagement

Now comes time for the creative challenge, the centrepiece of any community engagement program. Let loose the creative prowess of your engaged community members, and ask them to put pen to paper.

With a treasure trove of inspirational user stories at their fingertips, have community members invent a marketing campaign or message for your chosen product or service. They could be asked to create/enhance/select a favourite concept, or they could be asked to show how they use the product in a novel way.

We find it’s best to include creative constraints to keep ideas focussed and manageable, like requiring participants to imagine their idea as a magazine cover, a hashtag, a billboard, or something else practical.

This could also be the point where prizes for exceptional submissions get introduced, as a way for the brand to publicly acknowledge great ideas and hard work. But it’s not necessarily time to give out prizes quite yet.

Phase 3: Iterate & Vote

Before any winners are chosen, an opportunity should be provided for members to modify or adjust their challenge submission based on feedback. A post from the brand could ask members to explain any hazy aspects of their idea, or clarify its target market. If you’ve got the capacity to do so, we recommend having a community manager or a moderator help guide the ideas to either make them more creative, or more feasible (based on your needs, of course).

You can also encourage community members to provide feedback on each other’s ideas, through questions, comments, and suggestions. We find that this friendly feedback among peers often opens up opportunities for improvement and innovation.

It’s time to begin the voting process to choose the winning idea or ideas. There’s a few ways your brand can facilitate this process. The first is to have an expert panel, likely made up of internal team members, narrow the ideas down based on a scorecard. The community could then vote on the short list of ideas in order to choose a winner. The second alternative is to have the community vote on the full list of all submissions, with the winner being chosen completely by members. Finally, it’s also an option to ask the community to narrow down hundreds or thousands of submissions to the top 10, and then have your expert panel make final selections using a scorecard.

So you’ve selected a method to pick a winner, and your community chose their favorite. Now what?

Phase 4: Implement

Well, now it’s time to bring the ideas to life! In this phase, community members help determine how or where your brand should use the winning idea, and how to get the most out of it.

First, ask engaged members to weigh in on channel choice. Are there additional mediums and channels that should be considered, as your brand rolls out the winning idea? What media partners, celebrities, or blogs should be partnered with? How can it exist on social media and the website, in-store, on packaging, etc.?

If You Like This, Read This: 4 Tips on How to Crowdsource Marketing Content

Next, launch a writing activity where the community can get involved in messaging. Challenge members to write a tagline for the campaign, craft a tweet to promote the product, or draft a sound bite for executive to use when talking about the product at an upcoming conference.

The community can also help by A/B testing different combinations of creative messaging and imagery.

Finally, the makeup of the community might lend itself nicely to geographical executions, like special launch parties or pop-up shops in cities that have a significant number of community members. Members could be celebrated as VIP guests at these events, further cementing engagement and loyalty.

Phase 5: Reflect

Your brand’s community has done a lot of great work, and now it’s time to host a discussion with participants about what they liked most about their community experience. Uncover personal inspiration, understand what people found fun and what they struggled with, and learn about what they took out of the experience.

It’s also important for your brand to celebrate the community and its members. Brands we work with like LEGO go over and above to celebrate their community contributors, including trips, events, and photoshoots. You should take the time to honor all contributions, and ensure community members feel that they played a valuable role in any outcomes.

Finally, close the marketing content program with a forward-looking survey, to give everyone in the community one last opportunity to provide constructive feedback about ways to improve the challenge process.

Use a Purpose-Built Community to Co-Create

Utilizing engaged consumers and your brand fans to create marketing content lends authenticity to your advertising, and the process helps you uncover insights into the real-life uses of your products by real consumers. Giving voice to your users is powerful, but it can be difficult to facilitate without a purpose-built community that has functionality to manage the activities and challenges that make up the five phases outlined above.

Luckily, we’ve got ten years of experience building the perfect platform to maximize brand participation. Let us show you around. Schedule a demo today.

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