Business–to-business customers have gained access to almost perfect information regarding those companies who serve them. Customers are now able to keep fewer brands top of mind by outsourcing brainwaves to Google to supplement the information they know with readily available digital resources. This reality makes it even tougher for challenger brands to break through and drive interest and consideration in a competitive marketplace. Knowing that few companies have the financial wherewithal to invest in massive amounts of brand building activities, there are a few practical steps to forge ahead.
"Given the state of customer mistrust, this “old-school” tactic may be more relevant than ever”
Nobody Wakes Up Waiting to Buy Your Widget
If you've ever watched “The Jerk” starring Steve Martin, you probably chuckled at the scene of him as an employee of Tri-Consolidated Telephone Company where he excitedly exclaims “the new phone book is here.” Few B-to-B vendors have products which engender that type of enthusiasm. Prospects are most interested in the problems you can solve. As a result, creating incredible content still matters. Breaking your content down across awareness (thought leadership topics or how-to guides), consideration (customer use cases, ROI calculators) and preference (how to deploy, connecting into an ecosystem) is important not only to your ability to drive the critical search engine results. This breakdown also helps fuel the required channel and sales enablement materials to move prospects through the purchase cycle--whether via a direct touch process or channel enablement activities.
At the start of my career, I interned for a Young and Rubicam (Y&R) agency. While there, I learned a simple tip for crafting an effective message when creating any sort of advertising or marketing materials that I still use today. Y&R followed a simple Who-What-What form: Who is your audience? What do they think today? What do you want them to think after they've heard from you? It starts by effectively defining your target audience. Too often, companies fall into the trap of segmenting customers like their internal business model. The business model is often built around a technology or geography and has little to do with the target audience. Effective marketers specifically define their audience. For example, it is not simply “IT decision-makers,” it is “IT decision-makers who want to flexibly deploy new communications and collaboration capabilities on a pay-as-you-go basis.” The tighter the definition, the tighter your ability to target specific segments, geographies and messages--which leads to better results.
Mapping Buyer Journeys is a Fool's Errand
Recent marketing thought leadership has focused on exquisitely charting buyer journeys, multi-attribute content mapping and buyer personas. Most of this work has centered on prospects going through high involvement purchase processes. The reality is that buyers make decisions in a wide variety of ways. Moreover, buyers enter, exit and re-enter the decision cycle from various points, making it almost impossible to map a traditional buyer's journey. As marketers we seek a straight line answer and what we find is a series of results as unique as snowflakes. Instead of trying to map out a point to point journey, we can use our access to the magnitude of data to determine macro level trends and identify possible patterns. A more productive effort is to determine if a certain type of customer gets stuck in a given buying stage and then determine how to move them forward – either via a program, content asset, other outreach effort and so on. The key is to look for patterns, this allows you to make directional changes and avoid point case overreaction.
Brand Still Matters But Not in the Way It Did 20 Years Ago
Faced with information overload, our brains keep fewer brands top of mind today. Not too long ago, most of us could identify practically every Fortune 500 company. Incredibly, a research by the Olin School of Business at Washington University shows that 40 percent of the current Fortune 500 companies will not be in business by 2025. Our relationship with these brands has changed dramatically and in many instances our interaction has shifted from long-term relationships to become more transactional in nature – especially as we seek more fit-for-purpose solutions (think about the craft beer movement as an analogy for almost every B-to-B category, as tools like 3D printing and small batch production runs become mainstream).
Our fundamental trust in brands has been broken by notable companies, governments, business and politicians who have misled their constituents - and in doing so, have made most of us more cynical than ever. Social media, third-party endorsements and press coverage all help contribute to rebuilding trust, but they also can clutter buyers’ minds as they go through the decision process. A brand now builds credibility by the company it keeps, so it becomes even more important to prove how your solution fits with another trusted brand to create new ways to solve a specific problem.
Back to Basics
In a world where the number of apertures to connect with customers and prospects grows daily, it is easy to be sucked in to the latest fad and lose sight of the core principles required to drive customer demand. Targeting still matters, content is still king, and more importantly, the ability to convey a clear message about the problem your brand solves ultimately determines your ability to be successful.
Interestingly, few brands go beyond asking for Facebook “likes” to ask for customer referrals anymore. Given the state of customer mistrust, this “old-school” tactic may be more relevant than ever. Even though customers or prospects can get all the information they want online, people still seek to belong and the role of an effective user community remains as important to your brand as ever. The strongest brands have well-formed user communities who help shape not only the strategy and tactics of a firm but continue to provide real insight into how to build solutions which customers will gladly pay for. It is clear that the future of our marketing success still depends on our ability to execute on long held principles from the past.