Why your B2B content marketing strategy isn’t working

We look at why marketers should be embracing a new and more disruptive customer approach around insights in order to cut through the noise

B2B marketers have become obsessed by content marketing, but their approach is largely mediocre and isn’t changing the customer’s behaviour enough to move the commercial needle, an industry advisory group claims.

The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) Company has 16,000 executive members worldwide and delivers insights and research into marketing, sales, IT, finance, government, HR, legal and risk management and operations. Its marketing leadership council claims the current B2B approach to messaging and insights-driven marketing is inadequate because it fails to cut through market noise and actually change the way customers think.

To overcome this, the group is advocating a ‘challenger marketing’ line of attack, where brands look to utilise commercial insights, rather than thought leadership, in order to disrupt the customer’s point of view.

CEB’s marketing executive advisor, Matt McCance, said suppliers were historically the primary source of information for customers in the B2B space, but the rise of digital and social communication has altered how purchasing decisions are made. Recent benchmarking surveys discovered B2B customers are in fact 57 per cent of the way through their purchase process on average today before they even make contact with a supplier.

CEB's latest research into B2B purchasing also found an increased level of buying and consensus-based decision making across organisations. On average, five individuals are actively involved in a B2B purchase, and these groups are 37 per cent of the way through the purchasing process before making contact with suppliers.

“Fairly early on, people are getting to a level of agreement on what they are looking to purchase,” McCance said. “That creates a host of complications for sales people, as they’re coming in later and having to deal with decisions that are pretty much made. But it’s also an issue for marketing in the types of activities and tactics they pursue to try and influence those groups and skew them in their favour.”

According to McCance, the typical marketing response to this new customer dynamic is increasing investment into content marketing and taking a ‘thought leadership’ position with customers.

Research conducted earlier this year by the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) and the Content Marketing Institute found 96 per cent of Australian marketers are using content marketing to reach out to customers, allocating 25 per cent of their budget on average to these activities. Yet a recent whitepaper published by analyst firm, Altimeter Group, found organisations continue to fail in their content marketing quest.

For McCance, the big issue is the level of cut through marketers can achieve in a world increasingly populated by content. “This wasn’t such a dominant strategy a few years ago and you had a higher likelihood of breaking through,” he said. “But in many industry sectors now, marketers are pursuing a content marketing strategy and it cancels people out; there is a huge level of noise in the environment and it’s getting harder to break through to your target audience.

“People are setting the bar for their content marketing strategy at a ‘thought leadership’ level, and having something smart to say. We find that while the information is a ‘nice to know’ for customers, they will probably do what they’re doing already. It’s not causing them to change their actual behaviour.”

Instead, B2B marketers need to turn their attention to ‘commercial insights’ that disrupt the customer’s mindset, CEB claimed. These insights should be designed to make the customer to think differently about a set of issues they have and how they can potentially save money, mitigate risk or even save time.

“Commercial insights need to disrupt their thinking but tie back into something the supplier is in a unique position to provide,” McCance added. “If it disrupts, but then doesn’t lead to you as a supplier, it’s pretty much just free consulting.”

Commercial insights are about marketers ‘unteaching’ their customers what they have already learnt. “Focus on their current mental model and way of viewing the world and show them why that is not the best way to see things, before you try and show them how great things could be in the future with your solution,” McCance advised.

“That’s where a lot of the content marketing currently goes – it features the products and services suppliers are trying to offer, without actually showing customers why what they’re currently doing is causing them problems. You have to make the pain of where they are now bigger than the pain of actually changing to your product or service.”

CEB’s concept of challenger marketing not only requires marketers to tap into the front-line perspective sales individuals gain from having daily interaction with customers every day, but also product development and management, market research and business intelligence functions, McCance said.

There are two main steps in taking a ‘commercial insights’ focus to content, he continued. The first is realising that disruptive commercial insights are the cross-functional responsibility of the organisation. “Bring together marketing, sales, products, insights together to review all data and synthesize that together, so that of all things you could focus on, you can determine what is the thing that will be the most disruptive in your segment,” McCance said.

As an example, McCance pointed to dentistry equipment supplier, Dent Supply, which turned around sales of a new product by pointing out how it could reduce carpal tunnel syndrome in dental hygienists and therefore improve absenteeism – a major problem across the dental profession.

McCance also advocated using data analytics to identify the best ways of bringing that commercial insight to life. That initial spark of interest might come through an infographic or video, rather than just text.

“Data can help you identify the potential story and the ways to direct your content marketing efforts successfully,” he added.

Three key attributes challenger marketers must possess
  • A level of business savviness. According to McCance, marketers must be able to evaluate the variety of different business conditions relevant in their sector to try to get a message that resonates successfully in their customer market.
  • Customer intuition: Marketers with the most successful commercial insights are the ones that understand the customer’s purchase motivators, and can tailor messages to the segment they are targeting. “While it is table stakes in the consumer world to be customer focused, there are a range of backgrounds in the B2B space, and it’s common for people to not have a comprehensive marketing history or that native customer focus,” McCance commented.
  • Be more investigative: “Someone who can go out and hunt through the data to find that nugget of information will make the difference and tie together the whole story,” McCance said. “Disruptive marketers are the ones who are curious and can build interesting arguments around why customers do things, how are trying to connect, and even find a need they didn’t realise they had.”
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