Are Marketers Keeping Up With Evolving Buyer Behavior?

According to VanBoskirk, routine purchasing decisions are lead by price, habit and convenience.

“You need to make it easy for people to pick you,” VanBoskirk notes in her research. The fewer barriers there are between prospects and the information they seek, the more likely they are to buy. Viewed through this lens, the buyer’s journey timeline starts to collapse, morphing from months into mere moments and rendering nurture streams and content drips ineffective.

“Digital gives marketers a false sense of precision,” VanBoskirk said at Forrester’s Marketing Leaders Forum in New York earlier in April.

While these tactics are still useful ways to warm up inactive customers or spark interest in an old set of leads, to succeed in customer acquisition and on-the-fly decision support, the content strategy needs to be much more nimble, because audience behavior, and their expectations of brands, have changed.

Moments really matter

Our buyers’ impulsive behavior has marketers talking about moments, not campaigns or nurture strategies, because decisions are being formed in the moments spent waiting for a train, when a challenge pops up mid-task or during team discussions.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP of advertising and commerce at Google, summed it up nicely in the recent Think with Google post titled “How Micro Moments are Changing the Rules”: “Today’s battle for hearts, minds, and dollars is won (or lost) in micro-moments—intent-driven moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout the entire consumer journey.”

Buyer expectations have risen dramatically, due simply to the computing power we all carry with us in the form of smart phones and tablets. When questions arise or an idea is percolating, we whip out our devices and perform a search on the spot. The brand that wins is the brand that has a relevant and accessible answer right then and there.

How brands lose in today’s information marketplace

In this scenario, who are the losers? Brands that haven’t invested in building customer-focused content are the most likely to be overlooked. According to recent research by the Acquity Group (2014 State of B2B Procurement) B2B buyer behavior is increasingly mirroring consumer behavior: the vast majority of buyers (94%) are increasingly conducting more research online, and browsing multiple channels pre-purchase.

However, brands that hide most of their content behind gates will also lose in today’s fast-moving, moment-driven information economy.

Jeffrey Cohen makes a compelling case in his recent Social Media B2B post titled “Your B2B Prospects Want to Binge Your Content,” in which he noted that while Netflix is dropping a show’s entire season all at once – in response to changing customer demand — many brands still use the old-school approach of network TV, controlling the timing and format of content delivery.

Think about it. Instead of presenting the answer to a prospect’s question on the spot, delivering a mobile-friendly experience that serves the prospect’s interest in the moment the query is made, a company that requires the prospect to enter personal information and then serves up the content in a different channel (e.g. email) is going to lose that engaged prospect the majority of the time.

“Let’s assume that you are creating great content that your prospects want and you are using social media, search, influencers and advocates to drive awareness to your content. Every blog post has a call to action that leads to a deeper dive piece of content. And your prospects love it,” Cohen writes. “But what if they are getting on an airplane and they want to read six of your ebooks and watch two recorded webinars? You have created successful content, but you are not all the way there. You must make it easy for people to download more content.”

New content strategy imperatives

The aforementioned Netflix, and its fellow television/streaming video competitors, are a good analogy for the new content imperatives for brands. As customer demand for content has increased, Netflix, Showtime, HBO and others have upped their game, launching high-value and wildly popular shows. The desirability of showsHouse of Cards, Game of Thrones and Mad Men triggered an entirely new behavior – binge watching – fueling demand for original content. However, it was the new distribution model that changed audience behavior and raised expectations. Starting with on-demand shows and now including access to entire seasons and the ability to watch at almost any time, at any place and on a slew of devices, an emerging group of new players changed how tens of millions of people prefer (and expect to) consume television shows.

  • Great content. Great content – information that is relevant, visual, robust and inspiring – is the lynchpin in a successful marketing strategy. Savvy marketers will align the content not with what they believe the buyers’ journeys look like – they will align the content with marketplace interests and aspirations.

“It’s not all about the data,” said Lorraine Twohill, SVP for global marketing at Google, in an presentation by McKinsey titled The Dawn of Marketing’s New Golden Age that discusses the necessary balance of data and digital tools with storytelling with which many marketers struggle. “If you fall down on the art, if you fail on the messaging and storytelling, all that those tools will get you are a lot of bad impressions.’

Hubspot’s CMO Mike Volpe (@mvolpe) describes his approach as the realization that brands need to earn attention, not rent it. In an interview with Openview Partners, he noted that more than 75% of the leads they generate, and 90% of the new customers they acquire come from the inbound traffic produced by the company’s copious and enviably high-quality content program. Hubspot does have a small paid media component in its mix, but Volpe noted that the acquisition costs of the paid programs far exceeded the costs of leads generated by the firm’s content.

  • Communicate in the moment. In addition to developing content that truly speaks to the interests and needs of customers and prospects, brands need to take an honest look at how the decisions to buy are made, and where along that path – if a path even exists – the brand has the opportunity to influence the decision. This requires organizations to deliver and package content that is mobile friendly and fits the prospect’s agenda, not the brand’s. Guard against multiple form submissions standing between prospects and content, and focus instead on serving answers seamlessly when questions are asked.
  • Employ models that fit your organization’s reality. As customers become more impulsive and less tolerant of marketing processes, brands need to ensure their marketing models fit both their customers’ evolving buying behaviors and other marketplace nuances. If the marketplace is relationship driven, for example, or if the brand has a large field sales team, the content needs to be portable and timely, so account teams can easily use it to open doors on social networks, or reinforce conversations as part of their post-meeting follow up. Envisioning a “marketing machine” that fosters interest in live leads by taking people out of the equation is a fallacy when it comes to relationship selling.

Smart, dynamic content is also crucial for brands that struggle with differentiation in their marketplace, and for which price becomes the primary decision factor. Thoughtful content that describes the company’s “secret sauce” and provides expert insight and real-world customer stories are the bases for differentiating the brand and changing marketplace perception.

Technology advances – ranging from the continued acceleration of the use of mobile devices for work related research to the coming age of wearables and IoT – are increasing the noise in our lives and competition for our attention. We feel constantly busy and occupied, and as a result, are more inclined to go with our guts when making fast decisions. The sales funnel – which has been under pressure since social media started to take hold – simply isn’t a valid analogy for the buying process any longer. Marketing success today is built largely upon a brand’s ability to create moments that matter for its audiences, and great content forms the foundation for those moments.

Author Sarah Skerik is a content marketing, PR & social media strategist. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik or connect on LinkedIn:  www.linkedin.com/in/sarahskerik

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