Originally published in CMSWire July 2, 2012
The customer journey consists of multiple touchpoints, which are the interactions with any and all enterprise functions, employees, and marketing / digital channels. They all matter – they are the milestones of the customer journey. Touchpoints are also components of multi-channel marketing, which has the challenge of nurturing and sustaining a unified customer experience across all channels, and for the customer journey.
The buying process or customer decision journey – where customers go through various stages to reach a decision about purchase – is a significant piece of the B2B customer journey. Content marketing can bring value to all aspects of the customer journey – all customer engagement opportunities. But particular attention to the buying process is an essential aspect of successful content marketing strategies.
Content and the Customer Journey
The buying process for B2B software can be complex and involve multiple steps for the customer, both for arriving at a decision and for making the purchase itself. The "customer" frequently consists of multiple roles: techies (IT), line-of-business decision-makers, financial and budget managers, executives, and sometimes the actual users of the technology. (One of the flaws on the buyer side of the equation is too often the "end" user of the software solution is left out of the decision-making process.) Content marketing has a fantastic opportunity to help potential buyer roles with the decision steps and foster positive experiences as part of the customer journey.
"What do Suspects want? What you Know, not what you Sell"
Eloqua's Joe Chernov has produced a lot of solid work advising B2B companies on how best to implement content marketing. Chernov and Elle Woulfe recently released a slide deck on Mapping Content to the Buyer's Journey:
- Content has minimal value in absolute, but tremendous value when mapped to the right stage in the funnel
- When it comes to distribution, think of suspect-stage content as "many to many," prospect-stage as "one to many," lead-stage as "one to few," and opportunity-stage as "one to one"
- When it comes to prospects, content that assuages professional fears tends to be most effective
- Mismatching content to stage can backfire … mitigate by asking yourself, "Is this piece of content, delivered at this time, advancing the buyer's journey?"
Customer Segmentation for the Journey
Work done for target customer segmentation and for mapping the customer journey is very useful for organizing types of content, and how and when content is made available to various customer roles and needs. Some content will be tagged to certain steps in the buying process: key customer roles for each step, what topics matter to them, what kind of content, where do they prefer to consume it. Some content will help existing customers use technology solutions for greater benefit and find out more that the vendor can do to help with business success. Some content is meant to pique interest for anyone unfamiliar with the vendor.
The key milestones in the B2B buying decision process happen when:
- Something changes, and your prospect recognises they have a potential need
- They conclude that solutions are available, and that there is an economic case for change
- They define their requirements and decision criteria
- They identify and shortlist technically and financially feasible options
- They identify a single preferred solution
- That solution successfully navigates the investment approval process
Eloqua's Content Grid v2 (excerpt)
Content for the Customer-as-Buyer
è Content Value is Strictly from the Customer Point-of-View
Just as the customer alone owns the customer experience, the perceived value of content solely rests with the customer. Learning customer desires for content is where a lot of time should be spent. Just like software solutions must be right-fit for customers needs, the same goes for content. Just as vendors should be segmenting target markets and target customer roles for being able to connect their solutions to customer needs, the same segmentation should be used for content.
è Insights, Critical Thinking and Expert Knowledge-sharing
Software vendors need to provide content about current problems and future directions for topics that matter to customers. With so much content available on the internet, writing about yesterday's issues is not engaging to most customers, unless yesterday's issues address problems still plaguing customers. Then the content should look at what might be done to solve those problems. Customers realize that technology is in constant flux, in good and bad ways. Helping customers to see into future trends that could benefit their businesses, and the potential gotchas of new technology, is likely to provide valuable content from the customer POV.
è Diversity of Content
Content can be expressed in many forms, multiplied by many channels – which means companies really must understand for each target customer role what are the preferred content types and preferred channel for each content type. Mobile platforms present good but difficult channels that must be understood and handled well. Opportunities are increasing for more interactive components related to content. Creative, sophisticated approaches to most content should be considered – simplicity and clarity are other constructs to consider. Developing several related pieces of content for a particular topic can enrich how content marketing aligns with the customer journey. People come back for the next installments, and the vendor can develop more in-depth coverage via different media and different channels.
è Quality over Quantity – and reliable continuity of quality content is vital
Customers and prospects don't want to waste their time on junk content or thinly disguised brochure-ware. Imperatives for effective content marketing artifacts are quality, creativity, hot topics, deep insights – essentially respecting the target audience by producing excellent work. Constant and reliable content creation is important, but what this means will vary by content type and channel.
There are a lot of reasons why content marketing doesn't work for some companies…But the biggest culprit (and it's not even close) is a lack of consistency, and, in some cases, a content stoppage. Research from IBM in 2010 stated that about 80 percent of corporate blogs never post more than five entries (hat tip to Rebecca Lieb). That is a truly unbelievable stat…
è People, Money, Time
Content marketing is sustained only by realistic allocations of resources: people, money and time in particular. B2B software companies should be tapping internal subject matter experts (SMEs), as well as external ones, to deliver the kind of content that customers want. Internal tech experts are also needed as reviewers and editors to ensure that content is accurate. Strategic-thinking enterprises cannot expect their employees to participate in content marketing on their own time or to work it into already busy work schedules, as a "sideline". Upper management has to make sure that content marketing participation for an employee is a recognized part of regular compensated responsibilities.
The responsibilities of creating relevant content must come from company staff:
Content marketing is brand marketing, cubed, and as such requires the full attention and supervision of your team. Prospects and customers now expect to engage with you— and by engage with you we mean get to know your brand—through your content. Creating content assets to support content marketing is a centralized strategy that relies on a consistent brand voice and vision to work. It's a bad habit left over from legacy thinking to allow your marketing organization to create content as one-off campaign or program assets without thinking of the broader implications.
Strategies to Deliver What Customers Need
The work to be done to understand how to deliver the right content to customers and prospects is the same work that B2B software vendors should be doing to deliver the products and services that customers and prospects want and need. The work being done to identify optimal target markets and customer roles for products should be extended to segmentation for content marketing purposes. In all of these cases the ultimate "product" for the customer should be high quality, reliable, useful, easy to put to work.
There are a lot of great ideas for the tactics of content marketing, but it's not likely that sustained success will result without multiple strategy levels in a given enterprise. Even if Marketing and other teams develop a good content marketing strategy, it cannot be effective if Marketing does not have a strategic position in the overall enterprise, backed by upper management. And before we can make the journey to a well-crafted content marketing strategy, upper management must make the commitment to be an inter-operative enterprise that is customer-focused, market-driven, and process and data savvy. Enterprises must ensure the creation of integrated systems and processes for internal and external customer interactions. Content marketing is not a short term campaign or project; it is a strategic commitment that impacts most of the enterprise – for the entire customer lifecycle.
About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished software industry analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights. Her 25+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side, to customer-centric work in solutions strategy, competitive selling and go-to-market strategies. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategic Product & Market Intelligence Services