Sunday, October 30, 2011

Marketing Collateral Remains Critical (But Buyers' Preferences are Changing)

Earlier this month, Eccolo Media released its 2011 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report. This survey focused on business buyers who had been involved in a recent purchase of business technology, and it was designed to measure the use and influence of five types of marketing collateral.
  • Product brochures/data sheets
  • White papers
  • Customer case studies
  • Podcasts/audio files
  • Videos/multimedia files
This survey was limited to technology buyers, so the results may not reflect the attitudes and practices of all B2B buyers. On the other hand, it's probably fair to say that technology buyers as a group tend to be "early adopters" of new communications methods. Therefore, the findings of this survey may provide a good early indication of how other kinds of B2B buyers will use and value marketing collateral in the near future.  You can obtain a copy of the survey here, and I encourage you to review it.

The 2011 survey revealed a surprising shift in the consumption of some types of marketing collateral, so surprising that Eccolo Media conducted a follow-up survey to gain additional insights. (Note:  Eccolo Media has conducted this survey since 2008, so year-to-year comparisons can be made.) I'll describe the change in consumption patterns, but first here are some of the major survey findings.
  • Product brochures/data sheets are the most widely consumed type of marketing collateral, followed (in order) by white papers, video/multimedia files, case studies, and podcasts/audio files.
  • Marketing collateral continues to have a major influence on purchase decisions.  At least 61% of survey respondents said that all five types of collateral were "very" or "extremely" influential.
  • White papers remain the most influential type of marketing collateral.
The surprise in the survey was a significant drop in the consumption of some types of marketing collateral. Compared to 2010, the consumption of customer case studies fell 17 percentage points, white papers declined 14 percentage points, and product brochures/data sheets decreased 11 percentage points.

These results do not mean that case studies, white papers, and product brochures are becoming less critical to effective marketing. The follow-up survey conducted by Eccolo Media addressed five additional types of marketing collateral - company Web pages, social media sites, blog posts, e-books, and presentations. It showed that buyers are using all of the "new" types of content to research business issues and learn about products and services.

So, what's happening is that companies are offering marketing content in a wider variety of formats, and buyers are taking advantage of the expanded options to consume content in the format they prefer.

The results of these surveys contain three important lessons for B2B marketers.
  • Informative, valuable, and compelling marketing content is more critical than ever for successful B2B marketing.
  • The number of content formats available to companies is increasing, and many of the newer formats are attractive to potential buyers.
  • It's becoming important to deliver the same basic content message in a variety of content formats. For example, B2B buyers view white papers as highly influential because they present valuable information in a objective, non-promotional way. This type of information is still essential for marketing success, but it's now important to embody that information in Webinars/Webcasts, podcasts, and presentations, as well as in white papers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Building the Business Case for Marketing Asset Management

Even if you're certain that a marketing asset management solution would be beneficial for your company, you'll still be required to justify the investment to your senior management team.  Today's business decision makers are more skeptical and frugal than ever. They are demanding that any investments they make produce positive, measurable results on the bottom line - and the faster the better. An investment in a proposed MAM solution will be viewed no differently.

To get the go-ahead for a marketing asset management solution, you'll need to present your senior leaders a business case that demonstrates the value of the solution in clear and convincing terms.

A well-prepared business case for a marketing asset management solution will contain five components.
  • A description of the problems, issues or challenges that create the need for an MAM solution
  • A description of the proposed MAM solution
  • The expected financial results of acquiring and implementing the proposed solution
  • A discussion of the non-financial benefits the proposed solution will produce
  • A discussion of the risks associated with the proposed solution and the risks of not acquiring the MAM solution
All of these components are important, but the focal point of a business case is the financial analysis. This is where you will calculate the estimated ROI, net present value, and payback period for the proposed MAM solution.  Both the ROI and the net present value calculations require you to input the value of the MAM solution.  Therefore, one key to building a persuasive MAM business case is to develop a credible estimate of that value.

Like any business product or service, a marketing asset management solution creates value by enabling a company to reduce existing costs, avoid future costs, or increase revenues.  To estimate the value of your proposed solution, you'll need to analyze the two major types of benefits that MAM solutions typically provide. One group of benefits includes those that improve the efficiency of the marketing materials supply chain. These benefits create value primarily by enabling you to reduce or avoid costs. The second group of benefits include those that improve the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. These benefits create value primarily by enabling you to increase revenues.

I've just released a new white paper that describes these benefits in greater detail and explains how to calculate their value when building business case for marketing asset management.  If you'd like to review the new paper, send an e-mail to ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Content Marketing Really Matters

Content marketing has become an essential marketing tactic for many B2B companies. According to research by Junta42 and MarketingProfs, nine out of ten B2B companies now market with content.

Content marketing is the practice of providing valuable and primarily non-promotional information to potential buyers for the purpose of persuading them to begin or continue a relationship with your company. The basic idea of content marketing is to provide information that will demonstrate your company's expertise and create or nurture the perception that your company would be a knowledgeable, capable, and reliable business partner.

Most marketing thought leaders agree that effective marketing content is critical for B2B marketing success.  Marketing content provides the fuel for lead generation and lead nurturing programs, it is a critical component of a company's website, and it plays a central role in social media marketing efforts.

All B2B companies can benefit to some extent from using content marketing, but it is more critical for some kinds of companies than others.  There are six circumstances that make content marketing particularly important and highly valuable.
  • When the product or service you provide is complex (technologically or otherwise), or when the product or service addresses a complex business problem, issue, or challenge.
  • When purchasing your product or service requires a substantial financial investment by the buyer.
  • When the buyer must rely on your expertise to achieve success with your product or service.
  • When the purchase and use of your product or service requires the buyer to make significant changes in its business processes.
  • When the purchase of your product or service requires (formally or practically) a long-term commitment by the buyer.
  • When the product or service you offer is not purchased frequently, and potential buyers have little or no experience with the type of product or service you provide.
The connection between content marketing and the first circumstance is obvious. When potential buyers are trying to address a complex problem or challenge or evaluate a complex product or service, they need a lot of information to help them understand the ramifications of the problem or challenge, how the product or service works, and what benefits the product or service will provide.  Content marketing is the most effective way to provide prospects the needed information.

The other five circumstances all relate to the buyer's perception of risk. We now know that fear is the most powerful emotion at work in the B2B buying process.  Business buyers can be extremely risk averse, and they aren't likely to move forward with a purchase until the perceived risks have been eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level.  Content marketing is a highly effective tool for mitigating the risks perceived by your potential buyers.  For example:
  • White papers, articles, and webinars can be used to demonstrate that your company understands the issues and problems your buyers are facing and knows how those issues or problems can be successfully addressed.
  • Customer case studies can be used to show how similar businesses have used your product or service to solve difficult problems and/or reach significant business objectives.
  • Value justification tools and ROI calculators can be used to quantify and prove the value of your product or service.
If some or all of these six circumstances apply to your company and your marketing and sales environment, content marketing should be at the core of your marketing efforts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How Content Marketing Accelerates the Buying Process

Today's business decision makers are more skeptical, more frugal, and more easily distracted than ever. As a result, it's harder to create engagement with potential buyers, sales cycles are longer, and sales opportunities that once appeared solid can unexpectedly fall off the tracks.

Overcoming these challenges is not easy, but the starting point is to recognize that the single most important job of marketing and sales is to remove friction from the buying process.

In military science, friction is the term that's used to describe anything that can get in the way of the perfect execution of a military operation.  Therefore, friction includes things like the effects of weather on soldiers and equipment, soldier fatigue, misinterpretation of orders, equipment breakdowns, and unexpected enemy actions.  Because of friction, no military operation goes exactly according to plan, even though commanders try very hard to anticipate where and how friction will arise and to devise ways to minimize its effects.

In B2B marketing and sales, friction is anything that slows down or stops a potential buyer's progression through the buying process.  The friction gremlins live everywhere in the buying process.  Friction can (and usually does) pop up at every stage of the process, and many of the causes are beyond your control.  For example, any of the following unforeseeable and uncontrollable events can delay or stall the buying process.
  • A change in the prospect's business condition
  • A change in the make-up of the prospect's senior management team
  • A change in the prospect's business strategy
  • The illness of a key decision maker
While it's not possible to anticipate or eliminate all of the friction from the buying process, you can substantially reduce it.  Many major causes of friction are related to information.  To keep moving through the buying process, potential buyers need the right information at the right time.  When they don't get that information, the buying process can stall.  For example, a potential buyer's progression through the buying process can be slowed or stopped if he or she:
  • Doesn't understand or appreciate the costs or negative ramifications of the status quo
  • Doesn't know or fully understand how the status quo can be changed or improved
  • Perceives that the proposed purchase will involve substantial risks
  • Doesn't have an accurate picture of the ROI that the proposed product, service, or solution will generate
All of these issues can usually be resolved with appropriate and persuasive information.

Both marketing and sales are responsible for reducing friction in the buying process, but marketing's share of the job has grown significantly because of changes in buying behavior.  Today's business buyers are performing more research on their own, and they are postponing conversations with sales reps until later in the buying process. In a recent survey by DemandGen Report, 77% of B2B buyers said they did not engage with a sales rep until after internal research was conducted, and 36% of buyers said they didn't engage with a salesperson until after a preferred list of vendors was established.

With potential buyers avoiding and/or delaying interactions with salespeople, marketing content must be the primary tool for eliminating friction from the buying process. In fact, marketing content is often the only effective tool for dealing with the friction that arises in the early stages of the process.

Today, many marketing and sales "gurus" are offering a variety of techniques that promise to accelerate the buying process.  My take is that it is rarely possible to push prospects through the buying process any faster than they are willing to move.  The best way, therefore, to accelerate the buying cycle is to use relevant and compelling content to eliminate or reduce the friction that slows prospects down.