The customer decision journey should drive content marketing strategy

Across the many frameworks available on the topic, there’s consensus that a successful B2B content marketing strategy is built on knowing the target audience, how they progress through the buying process, and their needs along that journey.  Yet, it is rare for marketers to use buyer insights to inform their content market strategy.  Doing so requires a documented content marketing strategy and a recent study finds that only 32% of B2B marketers have one.

If you’re embarking on a new content initiative or evaluating the effectiveness of an existing one the first step should be to develop buyer personas and outline the customer decision journey.

  • Buyer Personas: Personas define who buyers and influencers are, their goals for a purchase decision, their motivations and biases, and behavior in the buying process.  Many B2B decisions involve multiple personas—for example, an executive champion, the day-to-day manager, and the financial decision maker. Effective content speaks to each buyer’s role in the decision, what motivates them (including functional and emotional factors), and the outcome they seek to achieve in the process.
  • Buying and decision journeys: Research from Gartner and others has shown that buyers spend only 32% of their journey interacting with supplier-side content or sales people.   Content marketing has the potential to extend a vendor’s reach into the buying process by engaging a buyer before they might typically contact Sales.  To do so, the content strategy needs to identify what information a buyer needs at each stage of the buying process.  For example, a buyer early in the process of investigating marketing automation solutions needs content that helps them decide whether or not to invest; later in their journey buyers want to examine product features.

Building personas and buyer journeys can draw on data from a range of sources.  The most accessible sources are typically the Sales team and Customer Advisory Boards.  While these perspectives are valuable, they each have blind spots.

  • Sales has visibility into only part of the customer buying process. As noted previously, some data suggest that the majority of buyer activity happens absent any visibility from Sales, therefore Sales is making educated guesses about what takes place in most of the buyer’s journey.
  • Customer Advisory Boards by definition represent only part of your target audience. The criteria, motivations, and journey of the prospect who considers your product and drops out of the funnel, or never considered your product, may be very different from existing customers, especially those on an advisory board.

A more complete view of the market will incorporate:

  • Insights from lost deals: Interviews with accounts who considered but did not buy provide an important complement to the feedback from existing customers or Sales.
  • Industry reports: Studies from industry analysts, management consultants, associations and trade press provide a useful data on macro-level trends and dynamics. Depending on the industry, these reports can provide data on the market’s top priorities and challenges, and investments to date and provide valuable context for understanding the market.
  • Proprietary market research: Custom studies provide data that is directly relevant to your industry, your audiences, and your information needs: 61% of B2B content marketing teams use proprietary studies to create thought-leadership whitepapers, webinars and infographics. These studies can take the form of statistically reliable surveys, or qualitative approaches such as focus groups or depth interviews.

A strategy built on buyer insights will become even more important in the future.  Content marketing received 28% of the average B2B marketing budget in 2016, and most organizations expect spending to grow in 2016 and beyond. This means that each year your content will have to fight through an ever-increasing mass of content in its struggle to break through and win attention from prospects. Aligning your content strategy with the buying journey will increase the relevancy of your content and the likelihood that your investment will produce results.