Questioning the Conventional Marketing Wisdom

The conventional wisdom on content marketing is that you need a lot of content to generate sales.

At best, a typical B2B supplier can expect to get 12% of a customer’s total share of attention across the purchase process. So marketers are betting that increasing the frequency will maximize their share of attention. The mathematical logic of as explained by Patrick Spenner in Forbes is as follows:

  • You need 4 personas for different target audiences.
  • You must identify their top 3 needs.
  • You must develop content for all the channels that matter – conservatively, 5 channels.
  • You need to refresh your content periodically – monthly updates total 12 per year.

That’s 4 x 3 x 5 x 12 = 720 pieces of original or versioned content.

With so much content,  you tend to create a mass of mediocre content that becomes part of the noise for your customers, which actually dilutes your share of attention. In following the conventional wisdom of B2B marketing, marketers are sacrificing quality for quantity, and the content they develop become just more of the noise that surrounds customers every day. The implications of grinding out frequent content:

  • You risk reducing even your 12% chance of being noticed.
  • You decrease your odds of influencing customers to act.
  • Your expenses increase as you increase your investment in marketing automation, process, dashboards and metrics to support the drive for content, and divert resources to get content produced.

Distinguishing Quality from Quantity

Patrick Spenner‘s follow up article discusses what really matters most in content marketing. To determine what high quality content really is, CEB reviewed the research studying the B2B customer and purchase path. Their findings suggested that effective content needs to go far beyond just capturing attention:

Breaking through the noise to simply win the customer’s attention isn’t enough.  High quality content has to fundamentally change the customer’s direction by teaching and motivating the customer in specific ways.

The Customer Purchase Path

The research shows that information-empowered B2B customers are seeking to answer three questions:

  1. Relevant Features: What is important? (in terms of buying criteria)
  2. Quality: What is an acceptable level of performance? (a minimum threshold for each of those criteria)
  3. Price: What is the lowest price I can pay?

Self-Directed Product Research: Spenner draws an analogy to how we making a complex family purchase decision, like when we buy a car.  We typically answer the first two questions about the relevant features and quality online before visiting a car dealership, and show up at the dealer lots with a specific car already picked out.  Knowing all the options we want,  we’re just looking for the best deal. In other words, we have reduced the role of the sales department to that of the fulfillment department.

Suppliers Engaged Late in the Purchase Decision Process: Likewise, in B2B purchases, empowered customers self-direct their own product learning, waiting until late in the process to engage suppliers late in the process:

Implications: Content Must Sell: This research strongly suggests that supplier content needs to do more than simply gain the customer’s attention and generate a lead, but must change the customer’s direction on buying criteria in a way that narrows their choices down to you.

Content that Changes the Customer’s Direction

Results from CEB’s B2B customer research, in which they surveyed thousands of customers about a recent B2B purchase are summarized in the chart below.  Those customers who say that they experienced a significant change in buying criteria direction described the most influential content characteristics that caused them to change direction on their buying criteria. The number by each bar is the regression co-efficient for each characteristic—essentially, showing the impact of each characteristic on likelihood to change the customer’s direction. The most statistically significant drivers of purchase direction were just these two:

  • Know Your Customer: Teaching something new about the customer’s own business needs/challenges.
  • Call To Action: Providing compelling reasons to take action.

These are the characteristics of the supplier content that caused customers to change their purchase decisions along the path to purchase.

Snap! principle of Content Marketing:

To cut through the noise, increase your odds of reaching more customers and effectively influence their buying decisions, you need to focus less on content saturation and hone in on the quality of your content.

Related Article:

“Content Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret”