Content Is Not Enough.
Because the B2B “buyer’s journey” has evolved dramatically, due to the proliferation of information on the Internet, savvy marketers have focused on providing “content” to match the needs of buyers at each stage of their journey. Content Marketing, as it has become known, is the marketer’s response to this new reality – the process of creating and distributing white papers, case studies, success stories, articles, videos, and social media posts.
It is not enough to just reach prospects, marketers must deliver experiences that engage at every touch-point The theory is that at each stage of their process, buyers will search for different kinds of information, and by making this diverse “content” searchable on the web, the vendor will be providing useful information to the buyer. Ultimately, the intent is that the buyer will be familiar with the vendor, will see them as a “thought-leader” in the industry, and will understand that their products are a good match to help solve their problem.
While content marketing is very popular, in the B2B world, it has not proven to be as effective as many people assume it to be. The reasons are manifold, but one factor is of universal importance: it is not enough to just reach prospects – marketers must deliver experiences that engage at every touch-point. Building awareness using content marketing often leads to prospects who are better educated, but disengaged from the company’s offerings, and may even result in a weaker competitive positioning.
What Is An “Engaging Experience?”
When information is provided to people in a passive manner, they tend to process it at a very low rate of efficiency. Passive ways of transferring information include written documents, videos, or linear presentations. (Notice that most Content Marketing involves these types of passive processes.)
Conversely, interactive modes of information transfer require that the recipient be an active participant in the process, usually on all of the following three dimensions:
- Sensory (visual, audial, tactile/touch, etc.)
- Intellectual (thought, reasoning, problem-solving, etc.)
- Emotional (fun, excitement, pleasure, anger, etc.)
When people are involved in engaging experiences, they are participating in an interactive process of some kind. The engagement occurs because all three of the above personal dimensions are activated. For marketers, there is a clear imperative to deliver engaging experiences in which the audience is not just participating in one or two of these dimensions, but on all three levels.
Think about all of those trade show booths where a magician brings attendees into the booth and then amazes them with slights of hand. They leave smiling, having watched, and sometimes even participated (“Sir, may I borrow your watch….?”) in a fun event. But research has shown that most people don’t remember irrelevant gimmicks, nor do they have any affinity for that vendor’s products.
Marketers must create engagement on all three dimensions:
- involving the audience in an active way;
- transferring useful and relevant information, and
- building an emotional connection.
The ancient Chinese saying is timeless:
Tell me, and I will forget;
Show me, and I will remember;
Involve me, and I will understand.
Engaging Experiences At Every Stage Of The Buyer’s Journey
It is not necessary to be physically present to deliver an engaging experience. In today’s digital world, where customers spend a great deal of time doing their own research on the web, marketers have a unique opportunity to combine their inbound marketing strategies with interactive experiences. Rather than the result of a web search yielding a white paper, what if the prospect was led to an interactive application running seamlessly online? What if, instead of listening to a sales presentation, the prospect participated in an engaging experience with a suite of digital applications that explained a variety of solutions to their challenges?
These digital applications are not websites – they are software applications designed to deliver dynamic communications in a variety of venues, and they are uniquely targeted to all of the participants in a company’s buying process. While available online, they are also useful in face-to-face and other offline environments, creating a consistent way for prospects to interact with their company. This results in a highly engaged prospect who has a coherent perspective on the brand, and a well-understood perception of the vendor’s value.
The essential elements of interactive applications are common across the various stages of the buyer’s journey:
- Non-linear navigation. Users can traverse the solutions at their own pace, and in any sequence that is interesting and relevant to them, allowing for their access to information in a manner that retains the user’s full control of the process. They should be able to navigate to any section, product, content element, or graphical element at any time, without having to go through a pre-specified sequence;
- Visual interactivity. Rather than reading text, the user should be able to use visual elements to contextualize an environment, as well as to be able to explore physical and functional aspects of the experience;
- Persona-based structure. Information in these interactive applications should be personalized to each intended category of audience – so that various constituents in the buying process can experience the same application, but with specific relevance to their needs and decision criteria;
- Intuitive. Because these applications will be available to people at all venues and in multiple environments, with or without the presence of a vendor’s representative, they cannot be successful if they require user training. As such, the applications are accessible and useful to everyone.
Stage 1 – Discovery
When prospects are at the early stages of identifying a problem area, or an opportunity for improvement, they are receptive to information that is relevant to their circumstance/situation, and that helps them understand the potential for change/improvement.
At this stage, marketers can make available information in the form of web-based interactive applications. As modern web technology has become prevalent, no plug-ins are required for users to access these applications in their standard browsers. When an interactive application is hosted online, it becomes accessible to prospects that may not yet be within a marketer’s database, and as such the reach of these applications is extensive. Rather than simply directing prospects to a static landing page or video, delivering an interactive experience that focuses on best practices and advanced methods for addressing industry challenges, can be highly effective in helping prospects understand the nature of their challenges – and also help them commit to change.
Stage 2 – Consideration
Once prospects have determined to change, they are in the mode of searching for strategies and solutions that they can implement. While web-based interactive applications are useful for this process, it is also important to address prospects at this stage in other venues. When prospects are at industry meetings, conferences, or trade shows, interactive applications have the unique opportunity to deliver an impactful experience using a wide range of sensory formats. For example, large interactive touch-screen appliances can be very effective in helping prospects to visualize physical spaces (such as factory floors, clinical laboratories, or data centers) and offer a large canvas on which solutions can be explored.
Because interactive applications are designed to the universal principles outlined above, when prospects experience the transformation from a web environment (in their early search stages) to physically impactful large touch screens, the emotional connection is enhanced. Touch applications deliver a specific sense of control and immediate feedback, and can help in the way that stories can be experienced, rather than simply “told.” By expanding the availability of these experiences to these offline venues, prospects can be guided to help understand the alternatives that are available to them, without the feeling that they are being “pitched,” as in when a sales person is selling something.
These online and offline interactive experiences are very successful in helping prospects select key solution strategies, and defining the best path for them.
Stage 3 – Decision
As prospects narrow in on making a decision, it is useful to engage with the companies directly. Buyers may be used to having to sit through a series of slide presentations from sales teams, in which they listen to the vendors’ representatives explain the benefits of their solutions.
Because buyers have already experienced a great deal of interaction with information from the vendors (either in the more traditional “content marketing” format or using interactive applications), the purpose of these sales meetings should be different. If the prospect is well-informed, then they don’t need a sales pitch. Rather, they need a conversation that illuminates key vendor benefits and capabilities, and amplifies those elements of the solutions that have already been found to be most relevant. It is here that interactive applications are most useful in the sales meetings themselves.
Instead of asking prospects to sit through a slide presentation, when sales teams engage prospects at these sales meetings, both in verbal conversations and using interactive applications (often running natively on tablets, such as iPads, SurfacePro’s or Android tablets) they change the dynamic of the conversation. The meetings become much more effective, and they result in better informed prospects, who make buying decisions based on pertinent knowledge as well as emotional connections.
Interactive applications are useful to prospects at every stage of the buyer’s journey because they result in a conversation that is more customer focused and helps address the specific business needs of the buyer.
It’s never too soon or too late to engage prospects with interactive experiences.