Sunday, April 29, 2018

Buyers Take a "Trust But Verify" Approach to Vendor Content

TrustRadius recently published The 2018 B2B Buying Disconnect report, which provides several important insights regarding how business technology buyers research potential purchases, and how they view their vendors.

The report is based on the results of two surveys. One was a survey of 438 individuals who played a key role in a significant business technology purchase during the previous year. The second was a survey of 240 individuals who worked for business technology vendors in a marketing or sales capacity.

A primary focus of this research was to identify what sources of information buyers used to support purchase decisions, and which sources they deem to the influential and trustworthy. TrustRadius provided survey participants a list of 15 sources of information and asked them to rate each source in terms of use, influence, and trustworthiness. The following table shows the five most widely used sources of information according to surveyed buyers.

Unfortunately, the TrustRadius research contains rather sobering news for B2B content marketers. When surveyed buyers were asked about the influence and trustworthiness of each source of information, vendor-provided sources of information scored as the least influential and trustworthy. The following table shows the four most influential and trustworthy sources of information identified by surveyed buyers.

And the next table shows the six sources of information ranked least influential and trustworthy by surveyed buyers.

Things May Not Be Quite As Bad As They Seem

These survey findings paint a fairly bleak picture for B2B content marketers, but there are reasons to believe that things aren't quite as bad as the survey results seem to indicate. The TrustRadius report contains several quotes from surveyed buyers. Here are just a few examples.

"Salespeople, no matter how honest, will always have a strong bias and be the least objective voice in the process."

"Websites can be helpful for finding objective facts like technical specs, etc., but at the end of the day, they're a marketing tool and therefore not going to give you the full picture."

". . . The [vendor provided] use case studies typically do not get into the details of what was involved with implementation and are not tailored for the specific use cases we are looking to tackle."

The quotes contained in the report provide context for the survey findings, and what they indicate is that most business technology buyers are unwilling to rely solely on vendor-provided information.

In some cases, buyers view vendor-provided information as biased (but not necessarily deceitful), and in other cases, vendor-provided information just doesn't adequately address some of the specific issues that buyers are concerned about. In addition, the quotes and the survey results show that today's buyers want direct experience with a product (via demos and free trials) whenever possible.

Trust, But Verify

In the 1980's, President Ronald Reagan made extensive use of a Russian proverb during nuclear arms negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev. The English translation of the proverb is "trust, but verify."

The TrustRadius research indicates that many of today's B2B buyers have adopted President Reagan's mindset. They expect vendors to provide information, and they will use that information in their decision-making process. But they also want to confirm important points via first-hand knowledge or experience, and/or via information sources that are independent of the vendor.

It's important, of course, for B2B marketers to provide potential buyers with content and information that is credible and trustworthy, and I discussed how to make content more credible in this post. But we also need to recognize that many of our prospective buyers will want to access independent sources of information, and we need to make such sources of information an integral part of our marketing efforts.

Top illustration courtesy of via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Surprise! Buyers Want Trustworthy and Authoritative Content

Business buyers are continuing to rely heavily on content to inform and support their buying decisions, but they are becoming more selective about the content they consume, and they show a strong preference for trustworthy and authoritative content. These are some of the major themes of Demand Gen Report's 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report.

Demand Gen Report has conducted the content preferences survey annually for the past six years to gain insights regarding how B2B buyers use content in the buying process and what types of content they prefer. The 2018 survey produced 168 responses from B2B marketing and sales professionals. Ninety percent of the respondents hold C-level, VP-level, director-level, or manager-level positions.

The 2018 survey revealed that content continues to play a vital role in the purchasing process. Thirty-eight percent of the survey respondents said they consume five or more pieces of content when making a purchase decision, and another 40% reported consuming between three and five pieces of content.

Research by other firms has shown that business buyers are becoming more selective about the content they consume, and the 2018 Content Preferences Survey also provides evidence for this increased selectivity. Demand Gen Report asked survey participants to indicate their agreement with this statement:  "I place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness of source." In the 2018 survey, 78% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement, up from 75% in the 2017 edition of the survey.

The content preferences surveys have also consistently shown that business buyers want content that is authoritative and evidence-based. In each survey, participants were asked what recommendations they would give to improve the quality of the content provided by B2B vendors. Demand Gen Report provided a list of possible recommendations, one of which was:  Use more data and research to support content." The following table shows the percentage of respondents who strongly agreed with this recommendation:

Buyers' desire for content that is objective and authoritative is also reflected in the types of content they give more credence to. The following table shows the percentage of respondents in the 2018 survey who said they occasionally or frequently give credence to five types of content:

As the table shows, these survey respondents are most likely to give credence to content created by users and content authored by a third-party publication or analyst. They view vendor-created content as least credible, but even so, 61% of the respondents said they would occasionally or frequently give credence to such content.

Most of the findings of the 2018 Content Preferences Survey aren't particularly surprising, but they do provide support for several established principles of content marketing. Specifically, this research demonstrates the value of using third-party content and the importance of creating content that is credible and authoritative.

Top Image Source:  Demand Gen Report

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Alice, the Red Queen, and Effective Content Marketing

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen takes Alice  on a run in a forest. Alice and the Queen run very fast, but they never leave the place where they started. When Alice wonders why, the Red Queen explains:  "Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

Today, most marketers can identify with Alice and the Red Queen. Marketers now have access to an impressive array of tools and techniques that didn't exist only a few years ago, but they're also facing new pressures and challenges. And despite the new tools and techniques, marketing success remains difficult to achieve. If anything, successful marketing requires more resources, more effort, and more expertise today than it did in the past - a classic example of the "Red Queen effect."

The impact of the Red Queen effect is particularly visible in content marketing. Over the past few years, the volume of marketing content has exploded, and this bounty of content has enabled consumers and business decision-makers to become more "choosy" about the content they consume.

In a 2016 survey of 1,644 executives by The Economist Group, 75% of the respondents said they had become more selective in their consumption of thought leadership content over the previous 12-24 months, and 82% cited the volume of content as the main reason for their increased selectivity.

The primary impact of the Red Queen effect in B2B content marketing is that content of average quality is far less effective today than it was a few years ago, as the following diagram illustrates:

In this diagram, the diagonal black line represents the relationship between content quality and content performance that existed when the spread of content marketing was still in its early stages.
The red curved line represents the relationship between content quality and content performance today, and it shows that you need better content today to be successful at content marketing, another classic example of the Red Queen effect at work.

Does this mean that companies should stop using content marketing? Not at all! It does mean, however, that most of the "easy victories" have already been won. It also means that business and marketing leaders need to have realistic expectations about the benefits that effective content marketing will produce and the resources (time, effort, money, etc.) that will be required to make their content marketing program successful. There's reason to believe that this more realistic view of content marketing is beginning to emerge.

For the past several years, Gartner has plotted the evolution of content marketing in its "Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising." The 2014 edition of the hype cycle showed that content marketing was approaching the "peak of inflated expectations." In the 2016 version, Gartner indicated that content marketing was nearing the "trough of disillusionment." The 2017 hype cycle shows that content marketing is about to emerge on the "slope of enlightenment," where both the benefits of content marketing and the requirements for success will be more widely understood.

Top image courtesy of KCBalletMedia via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The State of Personalization in 2018

The personalization of content and messaging has been widely discussed in marketing circles for more than two decades. Numerous research studies have shown that both consumers and business buyers want companies to understand their individual needs and interests, and then tailor experiences accordingly. Virtually all marketing thought leaders agree that personalization is vital for delivering outstanding customer experiences.

So, just how far have we come in our personalization efforts? New research by Dynamic Yield provides important insights regarding the current state of personalization. The Personalization Maturity Assessment report is based on a survey of 700 marketers and executives in various business roles drawn from several industry verticals. Forty-two percent of the survey respondents were located in Asia-Pacific, 34.1% in EMEA, and 23.9% in the Americas.

This research revealed a strong belief in the value of personalization. Globally, about 26% of respondents said that personalization is at the core of their marketing/customer experience efforts, and another 46% said they understand the benefits of personalization.

Dynamic Yield's survey found that many companies have made significant progress on the personalization front. For example, 23.57% of respondents said they have a single view of the customer that enables them to personalize experiences across marketing channels, and another 23.14% said they personalize most experiences.

The survey also revealed, however, that many companies have more work to do to maximize the potential of personalization. Only about half of the respondents (49%) said their organization has prioritized personalization as a company-wide strategic initiative. And only about 52% reported having sufficient resources (money, time, personnel, etc.) to deliver personalized experiences across all marketing channels. In addition, only about 22% of the respondents said they have a centralized, cross-functional team that executes personalized campaigns across all channels.

Dynamic Yield also found that many companies need a more integrated technology stack to reap the full benefits of personalization. Only about 24% of respondents reported having an integrated tech stack that allowed them to personalize customer experiences across all touch points. Another 33% said their personalization technology is integrated with some, but not all, of their other marketing/customer experience technology systems. These findings are generally consistent with Econsultancy's 2018 Digital Trends study, in which 40% of survey respondents reported having a highly or somewhat integrated technology stack.

So overall, the Dynamic Yield study paints a fairly positive picture of the state of personalization in 2018, although it also clearly shows that there's room for improvement.

It's possible that the Dynamic Yield research slightly understates the level of personalization maturity in larger organizations. About 42% of the respondents in this study were with companies having $50 million or less in annual revenue, and 23% were with companies having under $10 million in annual revenue. It seems fair to say that larger enterprises are likely to have more experience with personalization and more resources to devote to their personalization efforts.

Image courtesy of Brian Solis via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

How to Persuade Prospects to Leave the Status Quo

Most B2B marketing and sales professionals recognize that their more formidable competitor is usually the status quo. The grip of the status quo can result in longer sales cycles, stalled deals, and the dreaded "no decision."

Persuading prospects to move away from their status quo is a significant challenge, and there is no "silver bullet" technique or tactic that will work with every prospect. However, recent research by Corporate Visions has identified a messaging framework that can improve your odds of defeating the status quo.

The Corporate Visions Research

Corporate Visions (in association with Dr. Nick Lee, a professor of marketing at the Warwick Business School) designed an experiment to test what type of messaging is most effective at persuading business executives to move forward with a purchase. Corporate Visions discussed the experiment and the results in a very interesting report, but here's a brief description of how the experiment worked.

Study participants were asked to imagine that they are an executive at a vegetable processing company. The company has traditionally processed vegetables in large batches using large-scale equipment, but the most promising growth opportunity is organic and specialty vegetables, which require small-batch processing. The company's existing equipment is not suitable for small-batch processing.

Study participants were then divided into six groups, and each group was given a sales presentation relating to small-batch processing equipment. All of the presentations were economically equivalent, but each presentation used a different combination of message elements. After the presentation, each study participant rated the presentation based on how impactful he or she believed the message was across four dimensions:

  • How urgent is the need to purchase?
  • How important is the purchase to future growth?
  • Confidence that the purchase is a good business decision
  • How likely he or she would be to make the purchase right away
The presentation that scored highest in all four of the rated dimensions used three message elements - a description of the relevant business issue, followed by a description of unconsidered needs, followed by a detailed, quantitative ROI analysis.
In terms of breaking the grip of the status quo, the key element in this messaging framework is unconsidered needs. Corporate Visions identifies three basic types of unconsidered needs:

  • Unknown needs exist when there is a problem or risk that a potential buyer is unaware of.
  • Under-valued needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem or risk, but doesn't understand or appreciate its impact, or how quickly the impact will be felt.
  • Unmet needs exist when a potential buyer is aware of a problem or risk, but believes there's no way to effectively address it.
Emphasizing unconsidered needs is a effective way to loosen the grip of the status quo for two reasons. First, it makes the potential buyer think about a problem or threat that he or she had not previously considered. But more importantly, unconsidered needs tap into the inherent human desire to avoid losses.
In the late 1970's, research by psychologists Daniel Kahneman (who later won a Nobel Prize in economics) and Amos Tversky established three core principles of human decision-making:
  • When choices are framed in terms of gains, most people are risk averse. They will usually choose a certain benefit rather than a gamble that may produce a greater benefit or no benefit at all.
  • When choices are framed in terms of losses, most people become risk seeking. They will resist a choice that will result in a certain loss and will prefer a gamble that may result in a greater loss, but also may result in no loss at all.
  • Humans are more sensitive to losses than to gains. We are more likely to act to avoid losses than to win gains.
Unconsidered needs are effective for breaking the grip of the status quo because they enable us to frame the flaws or weaknesses of the prospect's status quo as losses that are immediate, significant, and, most importantly, certain. When prospects recognize the reality of these losses, they become more willing to consider change.

Image courtesy of Nichole Burrows via Flickr CC.