By Michael Cannon
Marketing has changed more in the last few years than I’d venture to say it did in a decade or two before. In the not-too-distant past, traditional B2B brand marketing worked in a world without the internet, where buyers had fewer sources of information and your company could somewhat control the message. Over the last few years buying habits have shifted and much is being written about this new “buyers journey”.
For CMO’s and sales and marketing teams, the impact is clear. Through social media and the internet, buyers are now typically 70+% of the way through the buying cycle before they initially reach out to your company to talk with a sales representative. In many cases, companies are mired in the 1 of 3 syndrome, where they continually find themselves one of three possible solutions in the mind of the buyer, are forced to differentiate on price, or worse yet not invited to the opportunity. An ugly scenario for any executive team.
To combat this “bake-off” phenomenon, CMO’s have a new and ever widening arsenal of tools at their disposal. Big data and sophisticated analytics tools augmented with integrated inbound and outbound platforms and marketing automation tools are powering marketing decisions. Content marketing, viral marketing, segmentation, personas, measurements are all in play. Yet for all these tools and new methods, one thing seems to be continually missed, undervalued and negatively impacts market success.
To thrive in this online social paradigm, Marketing must understand the information your buyers value and then deliver that information in a way that is easy for them to access and consume, at the right points in the journey and their relationship with your company. When the message and point of view aligns with their needs, and speaks in the right voice, at the right stage of the buyer’s journey, you create more influential “brand conversations”. And as a result, you establish a more effective brand promise and thereby drive greater demand for your products and not just leads. Yet, studies show that less than 50% of marketing content and sales conversations are relevant to the customer. And less than 30% of marketing content is relevant to sales teams and channels. With all these tools, all this technology and all this data, how can there be such a huge communication gap?
Beyond all the technology, all the process – companies need to create a thoughtful buyer communication framework to close this widening gap. Marketing needs to stop utilizing primarily descriptive communications that talk about their company, products, solutions and platforms in a wordy, generic and anecdotal style – verbal or written. Instead they need to start using more persuasive language the buyer will find more useful and will answer the questions as to why consider your company, why change, why select you, and why now. And have that backed with clear, relevant, differentiated and provable content and discussion. These communications need to be customized by buyer role and objective, by step in the buyer’s journey and used by both Marketing and Sales.
This problem is not as easily solved. CMO tenures still come under increasing pressure to provide the quality leads and sales tools that drive revenue and there still exists a disconnect in many organizations between sales and marketing. To overcome these issues, Marketing must engage buyers with the more influential content and sales conversations. And this can only happen if Sales and Marketing are aligned around a common go to market approach, vocabulary and communication style. As I’ve seen in many companies I’ve worked with, the result of engaging buyers more influentially, more consistently, across more touch points in the buyers’ journey is they create and win more opportunities. After all, all the ‘big data’ knowledge and insights and inbound and outbound marketing campaigns are useless unless you are transferring valuable information to your potential customers and turning your competitors’ reasons to buy from them to supporting points on why buyers should buy from you instead.
Welcome to the new branding world. Brand and the messages supporting the brand are more important than ever. But it is not about colors and designs, snappy tag lines and outbound communications. It is about a point of view expressed by engaging in more meaningful conversations with buyers. It is sharing information that is valuable, timely, sometimes even entertaining – white papers, videos, case studies, research, pictures and online interaction and comments.
Along with your sales and marketing teams, get out and talk with your customers and prospects. I’ve found that you can learn a great deal on how to structure more influential brand conversations that create greater competitive differentiation in today’s social media-dominated world. But, I cannot stress enough that you need to do it now with a sense of urgency. The new Buyers’ Journey is real and impacting you now, whether you realize it or not.
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