Think about the last time you laid out some cash on a very expensive product or service. Did you do so without researching it first? Without comparing similar items from several companies? Without talking to experts or people you trust who knew something about it? Odds are you did not, and that gets to the essence of content customization.
Prospective B2B customers need different information at different times along the way to a purchase. When they’re beginning their search, they need the broad strokes – they want to find out if you have what they’re looking for and whether or not it’s something they really need. They’re also looking at your competitors. Once they settle on a few options, they’ll want information that helps them decide which product/service best addresses the challenge they’re facing. From there, it’s on to the details.
Customizing content in B2B marketing is about understanding where your target audience is on their buyer’s journey, then giving them the information they need to move forward toward a purchase. The key is value – will your audience find what you’re providing valuable? You can create all the content you want and put it out on every marketing channel imaginable, but if they don’t find it useful it’s a waste of time, money, and effort.
Gartner research found that customers who perceived the information they received from suppliers to be helpful in advancing them across their buying jobs were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.1 But be judicious about it.
Another survey found that 86 percent of B2B buyers felt overwhelmed when they were presented with more than 10 pieces of content, even though they spent more than 40 hours researching products/services they expected to spend more than $100,000 on.
All effective content begins with target audience research. Who are your prospective customers? What challenges are they facing, and how does your company solve for them? Which competitors might they look at, and why would they choose your products/services instead of theirs? How long is your customer’s sales cycle? Where do they prefer to get their information? You should know their pain points and understand their motivations. What’s the decision-making process and who’s involved? Find out who has the power to say “yes.” Then go get the business.
Where B2C content that targets consumers tends to focus on immediacy, emotion and a single purchaser, B2B content has to take a longer-term, information-rich view because the sales cycle tends to be longer—months, not days—the spend can be in the tens of millions of dollars, and there are a number of decision makers involved along the way. According to Gartner, the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers‚ each armed with four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered independently and must deconflict with the group.2
With a thorough understanding of your target audience in hand, it’s time to create content. Start with the end in mind—the final decision to purchase—because that’s where the most detail comes into play. Create a “hero” piece first. This is the comprehensive asset from which all other assets will flow. In B2B marketing, it’s often a fairly lengthy white paper replete with schematics, tables, graphs, charts, architectures and scholarly studies, as suits your industry. Then work your way back to the bite-size, attention-getting content based on it. As you create, think about how you’ll market all these assets via social media, industry events and the like, and how you’ll use them to capture customer contact information or drive a desired action.
Here are some content types to consider based on the stages of the B2B buyer’s journey. There may be some crossover depending on your target audience’s preferences (whether a case study works best during the exploration phase or the consideration phase, for instance).
Awareness – Who are you?
Brand awareness is an ongoing effort. Ideally, once a company starts looking for a solution to a challenge, someone on the “fix it” team already knows who you are and what you do, at least in a general sense.
- Trade shows
- Speaking engagements
Exploration – How does your product/service address my challenges and make my life easier?
At this point, people generally have a good understanding of the challenge they face. They’re figuring out what, exactly, they need a product/service to do for them, and they’re exploring possible solutions.
- Case studies
Consideration – Why should I choose your product/service instead of someone else’s?
By now, the customer knows what they need a product/service to do for them. They’re ready to compare one company’s solution to another’s to determine which is the best fit.
- White papers
- Technical/detailed videos and webinars
- Customer endorsements
- Analyst and scholarly reports
- Head-to-head comparisons
Validation – Give me all the details so I’m confident in my purchase.
The customer team has done its due diligence and they’re pretty sure your product/service is the best candidate to solve their challenge. Now they’re crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s to make certain, and to ensure everyone on the decision-making team is on board and they don’t get fired for choosing you.
- Spec sheets
- Price lists
- Post-purchase support
For B2B companies, the decision-making process is complex enough. Your content can make it easier, and it could put you in a favorable position. Never underestimate the power of accurate, trustworthy information from a knowledgeable source delivered when and where a prospective customer needs it.