Is B2B Content Engagement Heading In The Wrong Direction?

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Tony Zambito

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by Juan Pablo Bravo
by Juan Pablo Bravo

Sometimes more is truly less.  When it comes to the state of B2B content marketing and engagement, this proverb is on the mark.   According to a recent study by Track Maven, one among a few on this topic, shows both B2B and B2C marketers have increased their publishing of content in 2015 by as much as 35 to 40%.

This study, as well as others, shows that more content creation does not always translate into more engagement.  The Track Maven study found that content engagement decreased by 17% in the same period.  Track Maven referred to this as the “content marketing paradox” when publishing the study.

I am not sure it is a paradox.  My interaction with buyers, via hundreds of B2B buyer interviews in multiple industries, leads me to believe this outcome is a correlation as opposed to a paradox.  A paradox suggests you may not be able to make sense of such as outcome for it is not the expected outcome.

From my perspective, I think you can.  One is causing the other.

A Main Culprit

There is one development that has happened in the past 2-3 years, which may be causing the exact opposite of intent to increase content engagement.  This is:

Marketing and Sales Overly Focused On the Buyer’s Journey:  This approach has come into vogue the past 2-3 years.  And, as all things that come into vogue, they are usually fraught with unintended consequences.  This in vogue approach has led to attempts to make an “automated science” out of the B2B marketer’s view of the buyer’s journey.  This is attractive.  It is neat, suggests easy ways to align or adapt content, and leads people to believe they understand the buyer’s trip to a purchase.

The result, however, is an unfounded need to keep creating multiple content assets throughout a perceived journey.  For example, in one organization I helped recently, they perceived there were 7 stages for a generalized buyer’s journey of their target customers.  They also believed there should be 3 to 4 types of content for each stage.  This type of approach put them in a frantic mode to create 28-30 individual content creations.  When you also factor in multiple channels or platforms, this number perceivably can go to 80 to 100!

And, let’s not forget that B2B companies believe they may have 3-4 unique buyer personas.  Thus, such companies can wind up with devoting resources towards developing over 500 content creations!

Some analyst firms propagate this view, calling it adaptable or aligned content to the buyer’s journey.  We have seen attempts to “automate” this approach through new cloud applications.

I am not sure this is the right approach.

Let a buyer speak out on this:

“One thing I have noticed is an uptick in emails and information sent to me.  Some of what they send are okay but, for the most part, it is too much.  I don’t know.  It seems like a switch was turned on and there is just a lot more.”

Senior Director, Operations

Here is another short one:

“God forbid I download something from some of the sites I might search.  The floodgate opens and I am bombarded with stuff.”

Vice President, Supply Chain Management

Buyers Frame Their Issue Through Scenarios – Not Journeys

Based on my 15 plus years of interviewing literally thousands of buyers via buyer persona research, I am convinced buyers are not thinking within the frame of a buyer’s journey in the way as marketers believe they may be.  They think in terms of the situational scenario they are currently experiencing.  Applying processes and policies that are applicable to that situational scenario.  In other words, buyers are not in a consistent state of a 5, 6, or 7 stage buyer’s journey nor is this so called journey the same each and every time.

A recent SiriusDecisions survey pointed out the finding that 60-70% of B2B content goes unused.  In the case of the organization producing content to align to a perceived 7 stage buyer’s journey, it means a good portion of their content creations are going unused.

To buyers, a marketer’s view of a stage-by-stage journey amounts to “selling” to them.  And, not too surprisingly, continues to be viewed as product-centric.  When this happens, what you can get is less content engagement.

Can using a buyer’s journey approach create improvement?  Sure.  The improvements will be, however, incremental in nature as opposed to transformative.  On the other side of the coin, it can also cause engagement to decrease as the study above mentions.

What marketers and sellers need today is a transformation in how they interact with buyers in a new global digital economy – not just incremental bumps.

Increasing Content Engagement Through Customer Understanding

There are 3 measures an organization can take to transform their content and customer engagement.  These are:

Research and develop informing goal-directed buyer personas:  Researching and identifying the goals and goal-directed behaviors influencing choices and buying decisions will serve as a guide on how to engage buyers.  This understanding becomes the core premise behind how to message to, as well as, interact with buyers.  Helping buyers to realize that possibilities and opportunities exist to help them accomplish their goals.

Focus on the buyer’s situational scenarios:  One way to transform content engagement is to create core content that is adaptable to specific situational scenarios confronting buyers.  For instance, an organization I am assisting currently has uncovered 3 very specific situational scenarios buyers face in a certain targeted industry.  They have begun to shape their core content and messaging around these specific scenarios.  Enabling buyers to gravitate to the scenario, which is most relevant to them.  Here, however, is a key point.  The buyer personas identified use a different buying process for each specific scenario.  Ranging from transaction oriented to one very complex requiring multiple approvals.

Build and catalog content assets around scenarios:  Rather than build content assets only through a generalized, one size fits all, view of a buyer’s journey, B2B marketers should be building assets according to buyer’s need for information relevant to specific scenarios.  With adaptability built-in to apply to the buying process specific to that scenario.  Equally important is building in adaptability to multiple media platforms – factoring in print, digital, and mobile.

Stopping Waste

To boost engagement today, marketers will need to help buyers achieve their goals that are most relevant to the situational scenarios that confront them.  Leading to a reduction of content creation waste that is fraught in B2B marketing today.  Focusing only on the stage-to-stage approach of a generalized buyer’s journey is not much different than what has been the focus in sales for decades.  It is time to change.

To truly transform and get content engagement heading in the right direction requires us to achieve a deeper understanding of the customer.  An understanding that goes beyond just a conventional view of a stage-gated buyer’s journey.

(I particularly like this video featuring Brent Adamson from the CEB.  He elaborates briefly on how a content beast can be created in organizations.  In which, the above deliberation is a contributing factor towards how content beasts are created and overwhelm prospects and customers.  The focus, Brent and I agree on, should be content quality, not content quantity.)

6 thoughts on “Is B2B Content Engagement Heading In The Wrong Direction?”

  1. Is this a fault in part because typical buyer personas aren’t including data points beyond general demographics? I guess I’m trying to find the point of failure, and from how you describe it, a more sophisticated persona would counter many of these content beast issues.

    1. Hi Stephan,

      Thanks for your comment. In part, it is due to the wrong approach towards buyer personas and understanding what confront buyers. It is not necessarily a call for more sophisticated buyer personas. It is about truly understanding the goals of buyers, their goal-directed behaviors, and the situations that confront them. Thanks, Tony

  2. Another piece that contributes to this is what I refer to as content splintering. Too many elements of the same content are reused without modification (because it often seems as if they can be) while trying to drive different personas to similar but different goals. Because of the ease, this ultimately increases the content production of an organization, but often doesn’t increase engagement as expected because the content doesn’t speak as directly to any one buyer or scenario as it should. It’s become homogenized. I see it as a persona development issue combined with a lack of understanding of how important it is to perfectly tailor your content to those personas.

    1. Hi Craig,

      Very well said and thanks for your comment. Content splintering certainly can be traced to the lack f understanding the goals of buyers and their situational contexts. In both cases of splintering and a generalized buyer’s journey, the result can be repetitive content going to different buyer groups.


  3. I can only sympathise with the Supply Chain Management VP who complained about the deluge of emails when he or she downloaded something. If I was presumably searching for something that would help me accomplish more with less time. How then am I supposed to have invented enough time to read the 5-10 emails I will get in the next few days?

    It is a dilemma for marketers though. We’re all told that email marketing is several times more effective than Social Media marketing, so how do we find this optimum level, apart from trial and error?

    I once wrote an article in which I protested that I’m not a persona. Perhaps I could be though. But somehow, if companies must go with no more than 4, they will be broad enough that I am likely to fit none of them too well. I suspect I’m far from alone in this. Yes, my needs are more situational.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article

  4. I agree with you…
    content splintering is something which is triggering the heads.

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