The consensus is clear. It’s past time to shift your thinking about your approach to marketing activities as an event, project or campaign, to continuum and process thinking.
In my mail yesterday I received my hot-off-the-press copy of Ardath Albee’s new book, Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results. While I haven’t yet read it, this morning LinkedIn delivered an interview-based article that introduces a key theme of the book.
LinkedIn: Why is it important for marketers to view marketing as a continuum?
Ardath Albee: Marketers typically think of their B2B marketing efforts as a series of campaigns focused on specific parts of the buying decision. The problem is, if a B2B buyer is at a different stage in their buying process than the content you distribute suggests, you could miss engaging them entirely.
This theme is especially important for your thinking about your content strategy and operations.
Continuum and process thinking applies to how you collaborate with or support ALL your customer facing, content constituent functions: sales, your sales channel, executive communications, customer service, HR for example.
I had a terrific conversation recently with a very capable marketing partner who focuses on demand management and marketing automation. The content challenges of his customers are a real problem. They also constrain his company’s ability to optimize results for clients.
We discussed the buyer persona and buyer journey work they do to prepare for lead generation initiatives, especially email campaigns.
One of his new objectives is to help certain clients tailor campaigns by buyer personas, as well as to move beyond traditional email campaigns to stage-based nurturing practices.
To confirm his understanding of how we might help his clients resolve their content constraints, he framed the classic scenario (in essence):
“So, we use a spreadsheet tool, where the columns represent the buying stages. We look at the content they have that might fit each box, and identify the gaps where we need new or different content. You would help them get that content, right?”
Buyer Personas and Content Mapping
Like any practice, the concept of maturity, or competency levels is important. Play a sport, an instrument, or for any skill area, and there are different levels of proficiency that are possible. Levels of outcomes typically relate to levels of skill proficiency.
To create quality, audience-useful, and vendor differentiated content requires persona work at a deeper level than is required to define a campaign plan, or a sales process.
Mapping content is another example of a universally accepted prescription of “what to do.” “How to do it” is supported by a plethora of templates. The problem occurs in what we refer to as “How to operationalize” this work.
Breakdown occurs in the execution of this practice. This due in part to a lack of appreciation of the requirements from this work for content creation compared to general marketing or campaign planning. Lack of well-defined and documented use case requirements is both a symptom and major contributor of this problem.
Without persona and buyer journey work at a sufficient depth, buyer engagement of any kind — “messages,” content, conversations, campaigns — will be weak and performance will suffer.
Focus on Decisions, Information and Questions
The essence of good persona work isn’t profiling. It must be to gain as deep an understanding as possible of the decisions buyers must make, and exactly how they make them, at each stage of their buying process.
Again, persona work can’t be an isolated event, think continuum. It must be instituted as a continuous acquisition and assessment process. This is an area where collaboration with sales colleagues can benefit the productivity of both groups.
Buying decisions are made when the important information is obtained and questions are answered.
For the B2B buying process this is seldom the effort of a single, isolated person. This has important implications. Buying teams of 3, 6 or significantly more are common, depending on the size and complexity of the problem, solution and buying organization.
Each team member brings a different viewpoint, beliefs and objectives (among many other factors.) Team decision-making requires consensus and alignment. Typically individuals must make trade-offs.
This activity requires a series of education and enrollment conversations. Not all conversations can or do take place live, between people. Many are conducted through content. For complex or critical ideas content is a critical support element for both forms of communication.
Contingency Planning and Content
This is so important I’d like to illustrate with an analogy. The decision making process of a buying team can be compared with an airplane that is flying from Boston to San Francisco. Technically, the plane is off-course all the way until touchdown. Each member of a buying team may be at different stages in their thinking and understanding. They may not fully align until the final hours of a decision.
But sellers must gauge if each team member is proceeding in a common direction and in close enough proximity to keep the project moving forward. Strategies are required to address divergent or stalling actions. Content, be it conversations or physical media (or both), are required to address these issues to re-align team members.
Deals don’t close until all key decision makers are aligned and enrolled. But this assessment work will help you and your sales colleagues identify risk points. You can develop and respond with appropriate tools. Perhaps you’ll know sooner if the deal will be “dead on arrival.” This may be a key reason so many B2B projects end in “no decision,” to the surprise of sales reps and forecasting managers alike.
This is an example of why depth of analysis is important to produce better business outcomes and better content. Apply continuum or process thinking to avoid any tendency toward “one-and-done” thinking that will atrophy the quality of this critical activity.
Map Content to Buying Questions
Rather than map content to a buying stage, a better practice is to map content to critical buying questions.
Questions can be common across personas. But questions are best assigned to a specific stage. How else would you identify the “stage” for a specific individual on the buying team? Sales professionals refer to these as critical “touchpoints.”
Now your content work becomes clearer and simpler. Yes, but not easier. Clearly there is more work to do:
- Identify and document all the decisions (seemingly trivial and important), information and questions buyers must have and make.
- Align each to key buying stages and tag to personas — this is a good time to triage levels of importance.
- Organize or develop answers to important questions (see Conversation Support competency) Think through the content requirements to support information needs.
- Map and assess existing content to critical and important decisions, questions, information, answers and information requirements. Document gaps, especially for priority areas.
- Assess existing industry and competitor content to understand both your content competitive landscape (think content as a “product”), as well as to identify, capture and map “safe” third party content you can leverage to your content map. Determine the best competitive positioning for your new content and to justify content investments.
- Document content specifications for all new content (be sure to include social postings, emails, landing page copy, short form outlines for blogs or articles). This is especially important input to major content work (see Content Requirements Document).
Let buyer questions and information requirements, mapped against existing industry and competitor content, be an important practice of your content strategy. This way you will invest time, resources and dollars creating high value, hopefully long life, differentiated content assets.