Consumers have dramatically changed the way they buy products and services in the past seven years. Today, buyers are taking the lead in the decision-making process, so companies must create new strategies to deliver content that will attract and retain customers.
In the past, salespeople interrupted the buyer’s behavior to capture attention. But this is no longer effective, because buyers are more selective about the content they consume. Since 2012, click-through rates for unsolicited email messages have flattened, according to research by MailerMailer.com. Only 5% of B2B marketers cite electronic newsletters and email as highly effective top-of-funnel tactics, according to Forrester.1
In addition to being more selective, they have also chosen to interact with companies later in the buying process. Where salespeople previously shepherded prospects through the buying process, buyers now turn to Internet sources before consulting salespeople. Research by the Corporate Executive Board Company shows that the average B2B customer had completed more than half of the purchase decision making process prior to engaging a supplier or sales rep directly.2
As companies shift strategies to engage buyers at the right time, they must also communicate through the right channels. While traditional outbound marketing has declined, inbound marketing is thriving as consumers tune into more online content, including podcasts, infographics and videos.
To capitalize on changing buyer behavior, companies need to enhance their content strategy. First, they must deliver compelling content that addresses specific types of customers. Salespeople must intercept customers amid their organic buying patterns and engage people as they search for solutions. Plus, companies should communicate consistently through several channels and use the most effective tactics for each stage of the buying cycle.
Create Engaging, Substantive Content
High-quality content is still king. When buyers create shortlists of vendors they’ll consider, 79% base their lists on the vendor’s level of relevant content, according to a study by IDG Connect. Vendors that deliver irrelevant content are 25% less likely to make the shortlist.3
Create content that focuses on the buyer’s journey, not the products. Research by marketing expert Tim Riesterer shows that 86% of the unique benefits touted by vendors were not perceived by consumers as unique or having enough impact to create a preference.4
When first crafting content, don’t focus on marketing tactics. Don’t focus on the platform—whether to use blog posts, email or other channels. Instead, determine who the buyers are, how they interact, what buying stages they go through, which channels they prefer and what information they need.
Conduct an audit to ensure that all marketing and sales content is aligned to the buyer’s journey. Then, enhance content to address any gaps in messaging or opportunities to reach buyers.
Determine core KPIs that the company is targeting, by channel. Decide how to analyze data from each channel to optimize marketing efforts.
Analyze your marketing mix to identify the channels and tactics that are working and the ones that aren’t. Reallocate spending accordingly.
Align Content to the New Buyer Journey
Timing is everything. It’s crucial to deliver the right message at the most opportune moment. Research shows that 85% of companies say they are doing content marketing, but only 36% say they are doing it effectively.5 A primary problem is that marketers fail to match content to the appropriate stage of the buyer’s journey.
Discovery Stage Align content by customer personas—who they are, what their goals are, how and why they make buying decisions. At this stage, the customers are searching for similar companies or people who share their challenges.
Exploration Stage Here, the buyer is trying to determine requirements that will steer decision-making, so address the customer’s specific issues and goals.
Buy Stage It’s critical that content offer the customer quick validation. After a purchase, engage customers within 30 days to ensure they understand the benefits and values of the product, the service and the company.
Engagement Stage Create customer loyalty and inspire customers to tell friends and colleagues about the product and brand.
Use Persona-Driven Marketing Based On Insights
While companies must deliver timely content, they must also tailor messages to resonate with certain types of customers. To achieve this, companies need a process to study and understand buyer behavior.
To better understand the buyer, pinpoint the stages of the buying cycle and identify the buyer’s needs, interests and goals at each stage.
Figure out where buyers spend time, and deliver content through these channels. Determine what stage of the buying cycle customers are in as they engage with your content.
Facilitate consistent interaction between marketing and sales personnel. This will ensure a smooth hand-off as customer interaction moves from marketing to sales.
Develop a strategy to acquire customer contact information, and nurture leads throughout the buying cycle.
Use a Consistent, Integrated Content Distribution Strategy
Consumers have not only taken the lead in the buying process, they have also taken the process online, expanding the number of marketing channels to include social media, mobile devices and more. To boost the power of content, companies must communicate consistently through several channels and use the appropriate channels for each stage of the buying cycle.
Discovery Stage Here, buyers primarily use search engines and other online resources, so deliver content through corporate communications and online ads.
Exploration Stage Engage customers through mobile campaigns, apps, blogs, forums and social media. Consider using press releases, infographics, videos and images. Through consistent communication, the company can track and measure data across channels.
Buy Stage Utilize the company website, reviews and consumer references, while also using the sales team to engage customers directly.
Engagement Stage Communicate with customers through customer service representatives and the company website.
Include a Mix of Paid, Earned and Owned Channels
An effective content strategy includes a mix of paid, earned and owned media. Keep in mind that the mix will vary by company. For example, research shows that B2C companies rank PR as the second most important channel, while B2B companies rank PR sixth in importance. An Outsell study shows that social media is effective for B2B and B2C companies, but press releases actually rank ahead of social media.6
Keep in mind the importance of earned media. People engage one page of a typical article for more than 15 seconds, but they engage a native ad for about 5 seconds, according to Chartbeat research. While 71% of readers scroll down editorial content, just 24% scroll native ad content.7
Changing buyer behavior dictates a new paradigm for effective customer engagement. It’s critical to reach prospects in the right channel at the right time. To do that effectively, companies must deliver consistent, compelling content that’s designed to address buyers’ needs at each stage of the buying cycle.
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MailerMailer, “Email Marketing Metrics Report, Click Rates, July 2010 Edition”; Oceanos, “The List Intelligence Report, Spring & Summer 2011”; Forrester (L. Wizdol), “2012 Tech Marketing Planning Guidance—With Proliferating Tactics and constrained budgets, Targeting and Focus are a Mandate, 2011” (from webinar slide)
The Corporate Executive Board Company, “The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing,” 2012 (from webinar slide)
IDG Connect, “ Buyer Research Provides Irrelevant Digital Content Impacts B2B Vendors’ Bottom Line,” February 2014.
Tim Riesterer, “ Three B2B Value-Proposition Rules That Create Preference, Not Just Parity,” 2010.
PR Newswire, “Driving Success in the Age of the Customer,” August 2014.
Outsell 2014 Advertising and Marketing Study