Sunday, July 10, 2016
Why B2B Marketers Need to Care About "Casual Learning"
Much of the conversation in the B2B marketing world over the past several years has revolved around the emergence of empowered and independent buyers. A wealth of easily-accessible information now enables buyers to perform research about business issues and possible solutions on their own. The most widely-discussed result of this development is that many - though by no means all - buyers are postponing direct interactions with potential vendors until later in the buying process.
Information abundance has also led to a dramatic increase in what I call casual learning. As I'm using the term, casual learning refers to learning and information gathering activities that occur before an intentional buying process has begun.
Most traditional models of the B2B buying process assume that the process begins when a company's leaders or managers recognize a need or problem, and decide to address the issue in some way. These "buyers" then gather information about the need or problem and possible solutions, they evaluate the available options, and they may or may not decide to purchase a product or service to address the problem or need.
So, our traditional view of buyer behavior is that most information gathering occurs after an intentional buying process has started. Today, however, information is so abundant and readily available that many business people routinely consume information about business issues long before they have formed anything close to a "buying intent."
In their book, Absolute Value, Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen call this type of information gathering "couch tracking," and they argue that couch tracking is one of the major emerging trends in consumer decision-making. The same abundance of easily-available information that drives couch tracking by consumers also drives casual learning by business decision makers.
The growth of casual learning has important implications for B2B marketing, but many marketers have not fully appreciated its significance. Most B2B marketing tactics and programs are designed to identify business people who are ready to begin a buying process, or to encourage those already involved in a buying process to move toward a buying decision. At any given time, however, most of the people affiliated with potential customers are more likely to be "casual learners" than "buyers."
Creating relationships with casual learners is important because the impressions they form during casual learning remain influential when they become involved in a buying process. Therefore, if a company can create and sustain positive relationships with casual learners, it will have a competitive advantage when those casual learners turn into buyers.
Unfortunately, most B2B companies don't have marketing programs or content resources that are specifically designed for casual learners, and therefore, they aren't particularly effective at building relationships with this important group of "embryonic buyers." In a future post, I'll discuss how B2B companies can successfully engage with casual learners.
Illustration courtesy of Craige Moore via Flickr CC.