Sunday, January 26, 2014

Traditional Content Formats Still Dominate Consumption and Influence

Eccolo Media recently published its 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey Report. The 2014 report describes the findings of Eccolo Media's sixth annual survey of technology buyers. All of the respondents in the 2014 survey were responsible for influencing or making technology buying decisions in the six months prior to the survey.

As with the previous Eccolo Media surveys, the 2014 survey (conducted in the fall of 2013) focused on what types of content resources technology buyers used in making purchase decisions, which types of resources they considered most influential, and how they consumed content during the buying process.

The 2014 survey findings reveal the continuing importance of "traditional" content formats (white papers, case studies, etc.) and the growing use of newer formats such as webinars, social content, and web slideshows.

The five most frequently consumed types of content identified in the 2014 survey were:
  • White papers (49% of respondents)
  • Product brochures/data sheets (46%)
  • Case studies/success stories (36%)
  • Detailed technology guides/implementation scenarios (36%)
  • Video/multimedia files (35%)
Eccolo Media also asked survey participants to describe the influence of various types of content on their decision making process. The five most influential types of content, based on the percentage of respondents who said the content is very or extremely influential, were:
  • White papers (50%)
  • Infographics (49%)
  • Detailed technology guides/implementation scenarios (49%)
  • Case studies/success stories (48%)
  • Video/multimedia files (42%)
The 2014 survey report contained a couple of findings that, on the surface, seemed surprising. First, it revealed that the consumption of some very popular types of content resources has declined, as shown in the following table:

In my view, these statistics do not mean that white papers, brochures, case studies, and videos are becoming less critical to effective marketing. What's happening is that B2B companies are offering content in an ever-increasing number of formats, and buyers are taking advantage of the expanded options to consume content in the format they prefer. Therefore, the percentage of buyers consuming a particular type of content can decline, as buyers use a greater variety of content formats.

The second surprise in the Eccolo Media report was an apparent drop in the influence of content. The authors of the report noted that in the 2010 survey, 41% of respondents said that white papers were very or extremely influential. That percentage increased to 65% in 2011, then dropped to 57% in 2012, and fell to 50% in 2013. The report authors said they saw similar results in other content categories.

These findings do not indicate that content is becoming less influential. In fact, research by other firms has demonstrated that content is becoming more influential in the B2B buying process. What has occurred is that buyers have become more discriminating when it comes to content. The growing popularity of content marketing means that buyers have access to more content than ever before, and they are more willing than ever to distinguish between good content and bad content. Only content that provides real value will be viewed as influential.

The Eccolo Media survey also provides insights on this aspect of the influence issue. The survey asked respondents about their likes and dislikes in white papers, case studies, and videos. Here's how the report authors described what respondents dislike in white papers:

"Respondents are most disappointed by too much focus on vendor or product information. That's supported by recent findings from other studies. Technology buyers rate 'too much marketing hype,' 'lack of truly independent, unbiased information,' and 'information is too general' as their top three content problems, according to IDG Enterprise."

The most important takeaway from this report is that B2B companies must continue to produce compelling white papers, case studies, and other "traditional" forms of content, but that it's also critical to offer content in several of the "newer" formats.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

You Still Need "Promotional" Content - As Long as It's Done Right

Numerous research studies have demonstrated that B2B companies should feature marketing content that is educational and insightful. Research has also repeatedly shown that promotional content is largely ineffective and can actually be a turn-off for potential buyers. For example:
  • In a survey conducted last year by the CMO Council, participants were asked what characteristics they most dislike in B2B content. "Blatantly promotional and self-serving" was the second most disliked attribute identified by survey respondents, trailing only "too many requirements for download."
  • In the 2012 Content Preferences Survey by DemandGen Report, participants were asked:  "What general recommendations would you make to solution providers who are creating content about business issues?" Seventy-four percent of survey respondents selected, "Curb the sales messages."
  • In a 2012 survey by UBM TechWeb, participants were asked:  "What are the biggest mistakes technology vendors make when producing information?" Seventy-seven percent of respondents selected, "Too much marketing 'fluff.'"
The reality is, most business buyers simply don't like, trust, or value content that is overly promotional, which means that much of the content used by companies today is largely ineffective and a waste of precious marketing dollars.

I'm not contending that all forms of promotional content are useless or that promotional content should be completely eliminated from the content mix. What I am suggesting is that we need to change how we create promotional content if we want it to be effective.

Most promotional content is about a company or its products or services. When it's done well, company- and product-focused content provides value to potential buyers, and therefore this type of content is an important component of the content mix. In a recent survey of over 1,500 consumers by CEB, the most desirable and valued type of content identified by survey respondents was content that helped them learn about new products. It's also true, however, that company- and product-focused content can easily become the kind of promotional content that potential buyers dislike, distrust, and largely ignore.

So, how can marketers improve the effectiveness of company- and product-focused content? The most important step is to make this type of content primarily descriptive and explanatory. Take a close look at your brochures, product sheets, and similar content resources and remove most, if not all, of the flowery language and self-serving claims. It's fine to describe what your company does and to explain the capabilities of your products or services, but make those descriptions as factual and "objective" as possible. Style and tone really matter for these types of content resources.

When I review these kinds of content resources for clients, I use a simple process to help me determine if the materials pass the promotional "smell test." I ask myself this question:  If an independent and respected journalist were writing an article about this topic, would it be similar to this content resource?

Company- and product-focused content is still an essential component of the marketing communications mix. It's somewhat counterintuitive, but the key to making this kind of content effective is to avoid excessive promotion.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Stop Making Lame Excuses for Marketing/Sales Misalignment

In a recent blog post, Dan McDade with PointClear wrote that in "chaotic" organizations, 70%-94% of leads generated by marketing are ignored by sales reps. Dan's statistic pertains to what he considers to be poorly-performing companies, not average firms. Nevertheless, this statistic seemed to be shockingly high, so I decided to look for other recent research regarding sales follow-up on marketing leads.
Even if the CSO Insights study provides the most accurate view, it's clear that there's still a significant disconnect between marketing and sales in many companies.

Let me be blunt here. In 2014, successful B2B demand generation requires a coordinated effort by both marketing and sales, and a lack of alignment between marketing and sales is now both intolerable and inexcusable.

Marketing/Sales Misalignment is Intolerable

The lack of marketing/sales alignment is intolerable because it results in waste and significant lost revenue opportunities. As proof, consider the following research findings.
  • Companies' inability to align their marketing and sales teams around the right processes and technologies has cost them upwards of 10% or more of their total annual revenues each year. (IDC)
  • Companies with highly aligned marketing and sales functions achieved an average of 32% annual revenue growth, while less well-aligned companies saw a 7% decrease in revenues. (Aberdeen Group)
  • B2B companies with highly aligned marketing and sales operations achieved 24% faster three-year revenue growth, and 27% faster three-year profit growth. (SiriusDecisions)
Marketing/Sales Misalignment is Inexcusable

The lack of alignment between marketing and sales is inexcusable because the process for creating alignment is well known. The marketing/sales alignment puzzle has four major pieces.

Value Creation - This refers to how you create value for customers. Marketing and sales must be aligned on this issue because it's the foundation of your entire demand generation system. To create alignment, marketing and sales should agree on your core go-to-market value propositions.

Target Market Definition - This includes both the kinds of organizations that will make your best prospects and the identity of the individuals within those organizations who make or influence the decision to purchase your product or service. If marketing and sales use a common target market definition, there will be fewer disagreements about the quality of leads produced by marketing.

Messaging - This refers to the content you use to tell your story to potential buyers. There is often a huge disconnect between marketing and sales when it comes to messaging. Various studies have shown that between 50% and 90% of the content resources produced by marketing are not used by sales and that sales reps spend hours every month creating their own sales materials. These problems can be avoided if marketing and sales agree on the major components of your company's messaging.

Lead Management - In this area, alignment means that marketing and sales have agreed on:
  • What constitutes a "sales-ready lead"
  • How the hand-off of leads by marketing to sales will be handled
  • How sales will follow up with leads supplied by marketing
  • When leads will be passed by sales back to marketing for additional nurturing
None of these steps is particularly complex or difficult to implement. The only thing preventing better marketing/sales alignment is the unwillingness of marketing and sales leaders to put aside cultural baggage and take the necessary steps. The time for lame excuses is over.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why You Can't Ignore the Personal Side of B2B Buying

The essence of content marketing is providing relevant and valuable content to a clearly defined and understood target audience. Relevant and valuable content usually means content that:
  • Explains the ramifications of an important business issue of challenge
  • Describes how an important business issue or challenge can be addressed
  • Describes the business benefits that a company would obtain by addressing an issue or challenge
I've italicized the word business in this list because most B2B marketing content focuses on some aspect of business value - the value that the prospect organization will realize by addressing a business need, issue, or challenge. Focusing primarily on business value is understandable and appropriate, but B2B marketers are making a mistake if they ignore the personal dimension of the B2B buying process. Here's why.

B2B buying decisions are complex and multi-faceted. They usually involve a mix of rational thinking, emotion, instinct, and post-decision rationalization. In addition, B2B buying decisions almost always involve two dimensions of value.
  • Business value - the benefits and value the prospect organization will realize by purchasing and using a product or service
  • Personal value - the benefits that will flow to individual members of the "buying group" if the purchase is successful
Sales experts have recognized the importance of the personal dimension of B2B buying for years. For example, in their 1985 book Strategic Selling, Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman emphasized that a successful salesperson must deliver both positive and measurable results for the prospect organization and personal wins for each member of the buying group.

New research by CEB, Google, and Motista demonstrates that the personal dimension of B2B buying remains as critical as ever. CEB and its research partners tested the impact of more than 70 brand benefits on a broad range of "commercial outcomes," including familiarity, consideration, preference, purchase, repeat purchase, premium payment, internal advocacy, and external advocacy.

The researchers divided the benefits into two categories. Business value benefits were those that flowed to the prospect organization and drove improved business performance. Personal value benefits were those that flowed to individual "buyers." These benefits included professional benefits (career advancement, etc.), social benefits (popularity, admiration from colleagues, etc.), emotional benefits (confidence, happiness, etc.), and self-image benefits (pride, feelings of accomplishment, etc.). The CEB study found that personal value benefits had twice as much impact (lift) on commercial outcomes as business value benefits.

So, how can marketers incorporate personal value benefits into their marketing content resources? One of the best ways is to use case studies that cast the customer (and, by implication, the individuals who made the purchase decision) in the role of the "hero." Another powerful technique is to include brief "success examples" in other content resources like white papers and e-books. It's always important to be subtle when discussing personal value, but the personal dimension should play an important role in your content marketing efforts.