Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series about the Content Era. To read the previous post, click here.

If you want to know how successful companies build relationships with their customers, you don’t have to look any further than their online presence. That’s because unlike in the past, when sales and marketing teams were the gatekeepers of the information that prospects needed to make their purchasing decisions, today’s consumers simply turn to Google instead. Thanks to company websites, social media, and numerous other online channels, buyers can empower themselves with much of the information they need without having to reach out to a salesperson.

Make no mistake, this marks a huge change in how companies do business because it means that in today’s online world, content is the primary driver of customer relationships.

Because customers also value these relationships, winning their trust is essential. To earn it, you need to think about your online content as your ambassador and as a way to attract, engage, and retain customers.

Let me share a couple of data points to illustrate the relationship-building power of content. In a 2012 survey about product documentation, participants offered their opinion about how the quality of instruction manuals affected their perceptions of companies. Sixty-nine percent of respondents reported that clear and useful instructions made them feel that a company cares about its customers. On the other hand, 42 percent noted that poor instructions made them wonder where else a company might be sloppy.

In other words, content has the power to influence brand image and perceptions of quality. As a result, it can either burnish or tarnish the trust at the core of companies’ customer relationships.

It’s all about your content

All of your company’s content assets — your technical content, your website copy, your marketing brochures, your product manuals, etc. — help shape how your customers see you. That’s why it’s important to ensure that your content isn’t just communicating the factual information that you want to convey, but that it also paints the right picture of who you are as an organization by being accurate, consistent, and warm, and by demonstrating your attention to detail.

The bottom line is that customers not only notice when companies pay attention to their content, but also when they don’t. Sloppy content with typos, errors in grammar, and wrong or inconsistent tone of voice can make your customers doubt you and even question whether or not they really want to build a relationship with you. That’s a risk that most companies cannot afford to take.

Beyond a heightened need for high-quality content, there are two important implications of content’s power in driving relationships that I’d like to point out:

  • Sales and marketing no longer control how customers access their content. In particular, the order in which they consume content is entirely up to the customer. As a result, it’s a good idea to consider every piece of content as if it were a customer’s starting point in getting acquainted with your company and building a strong relationship.
  • Because order is unpredictable, everyone in your organization who generates customer-facing content is essentially part of the marketing team. Which is to say, every content creator contributes to building your customer relationships. As the importance of this sinks in, we’re likely to see more companies looking at content as something that requires executive-level oversight.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this?

It’s that content has a new role to play as the foundation upon which great customer relationships are built. That means that every piece of content your company creates can either help or hinder those relationships. As a result, your job is to make sure that your entire organization is creating content that not only rises above the noise, but also connects with customers and keeps them coming back. In my next post in this series, I’ll focus on how to create effective content.