Are We Trying Too Hard To Segment Content For The Buyer’s Journey?
Mar 4, 2015
As a marketer, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about your potential customers and the information they need at different stages of their buying process. And you probably carry that thinking out to the point of defining different types of content and different channels for those different steps of the buying journey. You might determine, for instance, that buyers early in the process (awareness, discovery, etc.) need to find high-level information about your service – the biggest picture value that it provides. So you might choose to create an “overview video” or high-level infographic. For later in the buying process (selection, selling internally, etc.), you might think people need validation of thinking; so a customer testimonial might be what you pinpoint as the perfect content to push. And those can certainly be powerful pieces of content.
But some new research suggests that might be the wrong way to apportion your message.
The 2014 IDG Enterprise Customer Engagement Survey was done to gain better understanding of the various content types and volume of information consumed by technology buyers, throughout their buying journey. The entirety of the report is certainly worth your time if you’re a marketer – of technology products or services, or something different. But I’m going to focus on a few of the key findings surfaced in the report here.
1. The research indicates that buyers want content to be relevant to their jobs and roles, but they aren’t necessarily interested in — or susceptible to — being marketed to by the perceived stage in the buying process. Only 17% of respondents said they like that type of targeting.
2. According to the numbers, buyers engage with more of the same types of content throughout the journey rather than varying greatly by phase. Further, marketers don’t seem to be aware that buyers don’t care for that. For instance, the most preferred content type named by the buyer is categorized as “Product Testing/Reviews/Opinions” (87%). But tech marketers only use that particular content type in their mix 12% of the time. (That’s a really big gap in understanding.)
3. 81% of IT decision makers say it’s challenging to locate enough high-quality information when trying to make purchase decisions.
So what do those three things tell us? I would say it’s this: Marketers are wasting time segmenting content based on buyer’s journeys. And not spending enough time getting their more universal messages into the right channels to be found.
Take a look at the chart below. It lists (one version of) the phases of the IT buyer’s journey. And it lists the type of content that buyers found most influential during those phases. I’ve added the color-coding to help you see where buyers are listing the same types of content as most influential in different phases:
Product Testing/Reviews/Opinions is in the top two spots of “most influential” in four of the six phases. And it’s just as high in the “Determine Tech Requirements” phase as it is in the “Approve/Authorize/Purchase” phase. Product Demo/Product Literature is also highly influential across the varied stages of the journey.
But if you were to ask marketers the same question, I’d be willing to bet that they would be doing their best to make sure the Testing/Review/Opinion content gets found early (awareness, comparison, etc.), and the Demo/Literature content gets found later (sell internally, purchase, etc.). They’d be doing their best to create a perfect “one thing leads to another” chain of content, when that’s simply not the way buyers minds work.
This is important stuff. Because when trying to create that map, and carefully place content into only one category, your making a lot of decisions that could actually do more harm than good. Targeting by phase determines the channel in which you place and promote your content, the tone of voice of the pieces, the level of detail in the communication, what the call-to-action is, and myriad other aspects. All that hyper-targeting by phase… you could be targeting your content right out of relevance.
Now… does that mean you should stop trying to understand your audience and their mindset at different steps in the buying process? Absolutely not! It’s still important to understand the needs of your potential customers as they progress through their journey. But it does mean that there isn’t as much difference between “early stage” and “late stage” content as you probably think. And therefore there is no need to try to delineate content so specifically for the sake of checking “phases covered” off a list. You should make more universal content.
“The types of content [buyers] engage with at each stage of the process reflect a non-linear approach to content consumption,” is Amanda Farmer’s assessment. It’s spot on.
And I’d add this: Non-linear content consumption requires a different approach to content creation and placement. Instead of creating too many pieces of content specific for each step of the buyer’s journey, create more universal, pillar content that your audience says they find most influential.* Then spend more effort using bits of the content to make it more findable via search and social.
*A Word of Warning: Universal content doesn’t mean “every piece of content needs to say everything.” It just means you shouldn’t define the message based on the buyers phase. Rather, the message should be defined by value.
Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Those days launched me down a path that included layout and writing for the college paper; communications strategy for political campaigns; marketing strategy and graphic design for Gensler (a global design and architecture firm); and the implementation of new programming, animation and design techniques for Centerline. Today I specialize in content marketing strategy and building digital deliverables to execute those strategies. But it’s about more than just creating killer digital content. At Centerline, we help clients succeed in the digital marketplace using a three-pronged approach: strategic (message creation, brand strategy), tactical (design, development), and analytical (measurement and adaptation). This experience-tested approach allows me to build campaigns that are both well-designed and effective for clients like IBM, GE and National Instruments.