In the world of YouTube and Reddit, everyone considers themselves to be an expert. 

As content marketers, this means the audience you’re trying to reach may come to the table with their own knowledge and expertise (and a few biases to boot). 

This also means industry experts may not pull as much weight in this “expert” saturated market. According to Gartner’s report, 5 Ways the Future of B2B Buying Will Rewrite the Rules of Effective Selling:

High-quality supplier information no longer provides as clear differentiation as it did just a few short years ago. Our recent customer survey on information quality showed 89% of buyers felt the information they encountered in a recent purchase was generally of high quality, relevant and evidenced.” But that doesn’t mean they’re acting on it. In the same report, the authors add that 50% of respondents said, “The amount of trustworthy information we encountered as part of this purchase was overwhelming.”

How should this affect your content strategy? 

First, in most cases, you can assume that your customer base knows enough about the product, service or experience you’re marketing and does not want the same information regurgitated to them. Rather than selling them on your expertise or industry authority, sell them on a new or revolutionary aspect (e.g., if you’re in the consumer electronics industry and are trying to appeal to audiophiles, don’t waste your time explaining the benefits of features they already understand. Unfortunately ‘better sound clarity’ no longer makes the cut). 

Second, leverage your audience’s existing knowledge and utilize them as subject matter experts (SMEs) for your content. Gather and share interviews, survey findings, and feedback directly from them. Build relationships with them. They will feel appreciated and respected, and you’ll have a new way to market your product  – one that feels unbiased and decidedly human

What About Industry Experts?

This isn’t an either/or situation. You don’t need to hang up the phone on traditional SMEs. I’ve worked in a variety of niche industries throughout my career – everything from consumer electronics, healthcare to homeowners associations. Each of these industries has experts with the certifications, knowledge, and experience to add significant credibility to the content you’re creating. Their knowledge and availability to you as a marketer is irreplaceable. However, in a market with such enhanced exposure and awareness levels, you’ll have trouble standing out if you only rely on traditional experts. 

I’ve Heard This Before…

In some ways, you may be using the “customer SME approach” in your content marketing strategy already. After all, customer opinion and influence reign supreme. To create great content, you measure how your audience responds and what interests them (via open rate, click-through rate, time on website, etc.). You may also survey them, conduct focus groups and ask them to share their opinion. And of course, you rely on testimonials. But are you utilizing their knowledge, passion, and experience to the fullest? There lies the untapped potential.

The Insiders’ Appeal

To truly leverage your customer as a subject matter expert, you need to start with an understanding of who they are and build a relationship with them. This goes beyond a survey or one-off interview. Create an “insiders” group and appeal to their expertise and their knowledge – they may have unique insights that even some industry experts may not have. Your audience will greatly benefit from the perspective shared by your customers, primarily because they're relatable and come from a place free of bias. 

The Trust Factor

The benefit of utilizing customer SMEs is significant. As a content marketer, you know that trust and credibility are closely entwined with brand loyalty. When a brand gains the trust of their customers, loyalty often follows. Bringing in a neutral entity (the customer SME) to help build that credibility is key. Your customer SME technically has nothing to gain from sharing about your product or experience aside from the value associated with being an expert. The rest of your audience knows that.

The True Test of Content Success

So are customer SMEs your 'new' golden ticket? Should you rely solely on them?

As a rule of thumb, don't assume anything until proven by data. The best content marketing strategies are multifaceted and their success relies on multiple factors. Hence, it’s critical to track how well customer SME-focused content is doing, particularly compared to your standard content. To help you measure your content’s effectiveness, start with these two foundational questions:

Does a customer SME make sense for our industry? 

Don’t try to fit a square peg into your round content strategy. For instance, if you are working on a campaign for home appliances, having customer SMEs is a home run. If you’re working on content for a highly technical and specialized medical device, having a highly qualified industry expert to provide credibility is more important. 

Do customers care about what other customers have to say? 

Test engagement with customer SME content (e.g., interviews, survey data, customer-written articles) versus engagement with traditional content that features industry professionals. Your audience may be extremely interested in what their peers have to say. Or, they may be skeptical. The only way you’ll find out is by measuring each outcome and determining whether it’s making an impact on your content marketing goals (e.g., lead generation, brand awareness, etc.)

It’s not new to look to unbiased opinions and reviews to prove your brand’s value. Content marketers of all industries understand the value of a great testimonial. But I would propose that there’s inherent value in taking that a step beyond. Build campaigns around your customer SMEs. Create “insider” groups, survey them consistently and conduct regular interviews. If understanding your audience is key to great marketing, involving them in the process will certainly allow you to break through to them.

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