Content marketing represents a significant investment, consuming over 26 percent of total marketing budgets annually, according to surveys of 1,100 marketers by the Content Marketing Institute.
This already significant spending is increasing, with 51 percent of respondents indicating plans to increase their content marketing spend over the next 12 months.
However, even though budgets are significant and growing, marketers have serious doubts in the returns on these investments, with only 41 percent indicating that their content marketing efforts are effective.
Junta42 and MarketingProfs surveyed over 1,100 North American B2B marketers from diverse industries and a wide range of company sizes. The survey responses indicated a decided lack confidence in newer tactics like social media, blogs and videos, and even some stall worth tactics such as white papers and case studies.
Content marketing: a crises of confidence. Examining the sentiment in detail, 60 percent of respondents reported that efforts in new marketing channels such as social media and blogs are being reported as ineffective / less than effective, and over 50 percent indicate effectiveness doubts with videos and white papers. Even print magazines, case studies, eNewsletters and webcasts are ineffective or less than effective for more than 40 percent of respondents. There is clearly a crisis in confidence in content marketing.
One of the reasons for the crisis in confidence is that content marketing success is measured, more often than not, not by how effective the content is at facilitating sales, but by how much content is produced in the shortest amount of time, and how it is distributed through as many channels as possible – success by the pound. As content continues to proliferate, relevancy to buyers is often lost in the mix, as buyers become overwhelmed by the sheer volume that needs to be weeded through.
Relevancy is a requirement. According to IDG Connect’s IT Buyer Survey, current content marketing strategies are producing too much content that is not relevant to buyers, and seen as ineffective. And this lack of relevancy has a significant cost including:
- Driving up content creation costs
- Increasing the buyer’s decision making process by two weeks or more
- Reducing the chances of making the buyer’s selection shortlist by one-third
- Shrinking the chance of getting the sale by almost 50 percent.
Making content more relevant to buyers can have a substantial impact, improving effectiveness and driving a tangible ROI to the business. In fact, the level of relevant content affected whether made the vendor made the short list of alternative choices, with 86% of respondents indicating that relevant content drove the buyer’s decision (“Making the Case for Shorter Content,” IDG Connect, Bob Johnson, Analyst, n=389, October 30, 2008).
With relevancy being key to content marketing effectiveness, is there a strategy to better focus the content that is produced so it can be more precisely developed / targeted to be more relevant to buyers, and to ultimately drive effectiveness success?
Achieving relevancy by mapping content to the buyer’s journey. In order to improve content relevancy, content development needs to be concise and important, with the right content developed to best facilitate buyer’s decisions, and enable sales to leverage the content to engage most effectively.
Content marketing and the buyer’s journey. One way to achieve relevancy, is to be sure content is aligned to help guide the buyer’s journey, facilitating the change management process that buyers need to go through within their own organization, with multiple stakeholders and executives.
The buyer’s journey consists of several different steps that a buyer goes through to make a decision.
In the beginning, the Discovery phase, the buyer has to realize they have an issue and want to change. The pain point needs to be recognized and prioritized, and the existing status quo needs loosened in order for the process to proceed.
Once the buyer has committed to a change, the Consideration phase is next, where the buyer explores potential solution options, and then commits to a solution set (but not necessarily to a single provider). The selected solution set, especially in today’s frugal times, needs to be justified, providing stakeholders and executives with a quantification of key financial indicators that the project is worthy of investment, including bottom-line impacts, investment requirements, return on investment and payback calculations.
Once the solution is justified, a particular provider needs to be selected in the Decision phase. With buyer’s so frugal, often the lowest purchase price is a dominant criteria for selection, however, this may not deliver the lowest total cost over the useful life of the product / service, may require untoward risks, or may not deliver all of the expected benefits. In the final selection phase, the best overall value is selected.
For a marketer the buyers’ journey represents an opportunity to provide content and tools better aligned to help the buyer overcome resistance at each step in the decision making cycle, providing specific deliverables to facilitate buyer’s decisions. For sales enablement, tools need to be provided to sales in order to empower engagements at each step in the process, especially earlier in the sales cycle where sales professionals are often excluded from the decision making process.
With content now having a specific purpose, aligned to facilitate each step, the overall amount of content needed can often be substantially reduced, relevancy improved, and effectiveness assured.
Facilitating the buyer’s journey. Across the buyer’s journey different branded content tools can help facilitate buyer’s decisions, and help sales better connect, engage and sell using this content. The more aligned the tools are to helping the buyer through the journey, the better.
For today’s more conservative buyer, it is often easier to do nothing, than to change because change that comes with an investment in resources and capital, and has risks that many are not willing to take. In the beginning of the buyer’s journey, during the discovery phase, interactive research and diagnostic tools can be used to be provocative, helping confirm and prioritize the buyer’s current issues, as well as potentially uncovering issues they might not know they have. The insight from these diagnostic tools can help the buyer realize that addressing a specific issue and changing the status quo is a priority, and worthy of pursuit.
Later during the buyer’s journey, economic focused executives demand that every investment deliver a bottom-line impact, positive return on investment, and quick payback. For marketers, it is vital to proving the value of the solution to ever more frugal buyers, quantifying the potential savings, incremental benefits, and that the selected solution represents the lowest total cost / best value.
Buyers demand more: interactive versus passive content It is harder than ever to connect and engage today’s more overloaded, skeptical and frugal buyer. These buyers are demanding marketers to create content that is more concise, relevant and personalized.
Traditional content such as white papers, case studies and even webcasts and videos are often created for a broad audience. The one-size-fits-all approach means that the content often has to be lengthier than today’s time pressed buyers want, and often contains irrelevant content. For example, the same white paper is often used to connect and engage a manufacturer and a financial services executive, or an enterprise and a medium- sized business.
New technology is available however to profile users, serving up content to better match their unique needs.
Interactive tools go further, letting the buyer completely personalize the engagement, delivering content perfectly tuned to their needs and opportunities.
Personalization can pivot content around the buyers industry, geographic location, size, as well as around the buyers’ stage in the buying journey, role in the decision making process, and pain points. The customization can include qualitative information, such as presenting only case studies matching the buyers industry and size, or just the opportunity overview and solutions that match the buyer’s pain points. Quantified information can also be personalized, including presenting personalized diagnostic benchmark comparisons to peers and leaders, personalized benefit and ROI quantification, or a tally of expected total cost of ownership savings versus legacy solutions or competitive options.
The bottom line
Content Marketing is a significant investment, yet most marketers have little faith that their current content marketing strategies are effective. Marketers often measure content marketing success “by the pound,” yet buyers, already suffering from information overload, want only the right information at the right time.
Marketers who map content to the buyer’s journey can help reduce the amount of content that is produced to just the relevant content needed to facilitate purchase decisions. This enables buyers to make better / quicker decisions, and sales to leverage content to engage earlier and more effectively.
Taking advantage of the latest personalization and interactive content can further improve the ability to connect, engage and close today’s more empowered, skeptical and frugal buyer.
Tom Pisello is chairman and founder of Alinean.