Friday, September 17, 2010

The End of Marketing as We Know It: Overcoming Buyer Challenges with Interactive Smart Content

The past decade has seen an exciting and dramatic increase in new digital marketing channels including Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, search engines, webinars, virtual trade shows and more. These new channels have made it easier than ever for marketers to reach out to prospects, and marketers are certainly taking advantage of the available efficiency. For example, the typical B2B prospect receives an average of 20.3 email pitches per week, up 32 percent from 2006 according to sales and marketing research firm SiriusDecisions.

With marketers who seem more focused on gaming the channels themselves than in the value of the dialogue being created, buyers are now inundated with more product related and meaningless offers than ever. As a result, buyers now suffer from Information Overload. Reaching out has never been easier, but making meaningful connections has never been harder. The question any marketer needs to ask - Are your marketing efforts adding to the clutter, or driving a valuable dialogue and as a result, connecting meaningfully with prospects to advance the buying cycle?

Making the information overload issue worse, two economic downturns in the past decade have made these inundated buyers more frugal than ever. This has resulted in a condition known as Frugalnomics, where buyers are now immune to empty product pitches and promises, instead demanding quantifiable proof that a proposed solution will drive bottom-line impact and represents more value versus the competition. To this end, are your marketing efforts connecting with these frugal buyers who don’t care about product features and benefits, and are instead value focused?

Rounding up the challenges, recent studies indicate that 9 out of 10 of buyers say that when they are ready to buy, they find you. With ready access to an unprecedented wealth of on-line information, and skepticism toward vendors as a result of direct marketing overload, buyers have revolted and taken the buying cycle into their own hands. Prospect driven buying cycles mean that buyers research solutions on their own, and do their own due diligence, engaging sales much later in the sales cycle. To meet prospect driven purchases, as a marketer, are you providing more of the right content at the right time, presented to fuel buyers when they are researching and progressing through the buying lifecycle?

Although new channels drove the growth in digital marketing over the prior decade, the next decade of marketing innovation will be driven by strategies and tools to address these significant and fundamental changes in buyers:
  1.  Overcoming Information Overload;
  2. Fighting Frugalnomics;
  3. Fueling Prospect Driven Buying Cycles.
These three issues are having a measurable impact on marketing. According to IDC research, 62% of B2B vendors now need more leads in order to generate the same amount of sales, and 72% indicate an increase in sales cycle time over the past 6 months. Although a challenge, it is clear that overcoming these issues can improve qualified lead generations, drive more conversions, and reduce lenghthening sales cycles.


The Smart Content Revolution
In our research, we have developed the Smart Content Revolution, a staged set of three proven best practices that can help marketers evolve their current efforts to overcome these new challenges:


  1. Overcoming Information Overload with Dynamic Content
  2. Fighting Frugalnomics with Value Marketing
  3. Fueling Prospect Driven Buying Cycles with Decision Cycle Mapping
Let us explore these recommendations and the impact they can have to your marketing effectiveness:


Dynamic Content
Ever get a white paper, case study, direct mail or other product promotion and wonder why the marketer sent the promotion to you? It was a case study about an enterprise, and you are a small business, it was outlining benefits for companies in Europe when you are located in the US, or it illustrated case studies for the health industry, and you are in high tech.
In a world of information overload we are inundated with useless information, making it harder to break through the noise and find the important content we need to be more successful as decision makers and buyers.

Dynamic content represents one solution to help break through the clutter, as it allows marketers to build messages piece by piece based on specific recipient characteristics. According to MarketingSherpa and KnowledgeStorm surveys, when content is customized, buyers indicate that the content is much more effective at converting prospects into buyers. The study examined the customization technique and percentage of buyers who indicated customized content is more valuable when customized by this technique, with results as follows:


  • By Industry = 82%;
  • By Role / Job Function = 67%;
  • By Company Size = 49%;
  • By Geography = 29%.
Customization of the content can be generated prior to presenting the content, such as using registration profiles to customize the e-mail blast, or in real time, like a dynamic white paper that asks the customer a few questions and then completely tunes the white paper based on profile, stage in buying cycle, opportunity and need.

According to a marketing automation firm Silverpop survey of B2B marketers, even though customization is very effective, only 35 percent of marketers said they were using dynamic content. However, of those that did, the results of personalized content have been impressive, with 93 percent said it worked better for them than traditional content, and 43 percent reported that it “worked great.”


Value Marketing
Ever been asked to invest tens or hundreds of thousands in a solution without proof of significant savings, fast payback and return on investment? Unfortunately, marketers do this all the time with promotions that talk up product features and functions, but do little to prove benefits and value.

With Frugalnomics, buyers are inclined to not make significant investments or changes, and as a result, customers need to be armed with the tools to “make the case for change. According to Randy Perry, VP Business Value Selling at IDC, “Today's buyers are more conservative than ever, and over 90% now demand that every proposal provide quantified bottom-line impact.” There is a "cost to doing nothing", but customers need to be armed with the tools to quantify the cost of indecision and the positive bottom-line impact these changes can have.

In order to attract, connect and capture these frugal buyers, marketers need to produce content that raises economic interest, quantifies value, and boosts urgency in a time where it’s easier to do nothing than make a wrong investment.

How fundamental is the shift from product / solution selling to value selling / marketing? According to Forrester analyst Scott Santucci, “Today, buyers are looking for business partners that will help them drive business results or outcomes – rather than bundle their products and services into solutions.” As a result, Mr Santucci indicates that, “A distinct and important supplier caste system is emerging between a Business Outcome class – those who align their resources to help their customers achieve results, and a Commodity class.”


Decision Cycle Mapping
Ever get a product sales pitch for a problem you don’t have? Ever get a competitive comparison ofor a product when you don’t even know what the product does and why you care?


Not only is it important to provide the right content to create a dialogue with overloaded and frugal buyers, but to present the right information at the right time.

Many customers are not fully aware of what issues they have, or what urgency they should place on various opportunities they have. During these early phases, buyers are most looking for diagnostic advice and consultative ideas. According to SiriusDecision buyer studies, the most favored source of content during the early stages of b-to-b decision-making are white papers, with the rankings as follows:
  • white papers (64.4%);
  • peer referrals (51.1%);
  • webinars (48.9%);
  • trials or demos (42.2%);
  • analyst reports (37.8%).
White papers help customers learn about the typical issues customers like them face, and educate the buyer on best practices others have used to resolve the issues. Interactive white papers can be even more powerful, delivering customized content to match the prospect’s profile, opportunities, and stage in buying cycle precisely.

Even newer types of decision support tools such as interactive executive assessments can be used by prospects early in the buying lifecycle to self-assess and diagnose issues, as well as obtain prescriptive advice based on what issues were uncovered. These assessment tools ask about current practices and issues the customer is facing and compares the responses to a database of best practices to highlight where the prospect is doing well, and where improvements are needed. Peer comparisons can be used to drive urgency, showing the prospect where they are falling behind competitors.

In the middle stages of the buying lifecycle, prospects know they have an issue, and know that there are solutions, but need to get educated on which specific solutions would be best, and what these solutions can specifically deliver. At the middle stage, buyers need to understand product features and savings / benefits that can be derived. Assuring that the solution delivers bottom-line benefits is key at this stage. Content such as relevant case studies illustrating the value others have received, benefit and ROI calculators help to prove bottom-line impact and assure that solving the problem will drive savings and other business benefits.

In later stages of the buying cycle, the prospect needs to understand what the solution will cost, and whether the solution represents the best competitive value. At this later stage providing buying guide content and tools such as quoting and configuration tools, TCO comparison tools, feature comparison tools, testimonials, trials and pilots can help skeptical buyers to be assured that they are making not only a good choice for their business’s bottom-line, but the choice that represents the best value.






Throughout the buying lifecycle, buyers are skeptical, and vendor credibility is an issue. According to SiriusDecisions buyer surveys, the more the B2B vendor can use third party validation, the more credibility can be raised. Survey results indicate that the most trusted sources of marketing content information through the buying lifecycle are industry analysts (cited by 31.4% of respondents) and peers (28.7%), especially early in the lifecycle. Using these trusted sources to help drive and validate the decision support content is a requirement in creating a meaningful dialogue with prospects, and converting prospects to customers.


The Bottom-Line


The past decade has seen a revolution in new channels to reach prospects like never before, however these innovative channels and macroeconomic conditions have wrought new challenges. Marketers are facing buyers suffering from Information Overload, Frugalnomics and Prospect Driven Buying Cycles.


To drive sales, marketing needs to realize that buyers have fundamentally changed and must change their playbook to match. Three best practices to help overcome the challenges of the next decade include:
  • Overcoming Information Overload with Dynamic Content
  • Fighting Frugalnomics with Value Marketing
  • Fueling Prospect Driven Buying Cycles with Decision Cycle Mapping
We predict that those marketers that realize the unique and significant challenges to buyers over the coming decade and deliver smart content to match changing buying lifecycles and requirements will be the winners.

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