ImageI was awestruck by this number: 36%

What is this number? In a preview of the 2013 Content Marketing Benchmark Report by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, only 36% of businesses believed their content marketing is effective. After a few years of hyper-growth content marketing adoption, it is easy to think this number should be higher.

What gives? Here is my take. Today’s buyers are more informed, sophisticated, complex, and experienced at making buying decisions. If you are still operating from the premise the marketing and selling organization knows more than the buyer – it is time to change. Otherwise, I think this number will stay well below 40%.

In talking with marketers, I hear this phrase plenty: Our job is to educate the customer. If you look at this phrase closely, this may have been true in traditional marketing and selling. Pre-Internet, the buyer had to rely heavily on the marketing and selling organization to get the information they needed. We have entered into a new era of the self-directed buyer being more skilled at the art and science of buying. The reality is buyers may know more than you do at any given time during a buying cycle.

Here is a problem I am seeing inside the content marketing bubble. We are forcing the buyer to drink from a fire hose of content still aimed at educating. What we see is marketers taking the traditional approach of delivering to the buyer every iota of information about their product or services. Have you asked buyers lately if they even care to see it? The number – 36% - still sticks out like a sore thumb. Let us examine briefly the new informed buyer as well as why we need change:

Complex Decisions Require Complex Management

Today, buyers have to make a good business case for getting the funds they need. It often involves the buyer doing his or her homework. Organizations have also put complex purchasing processes in place to manage. What we have here is very skilled managers navigating through their own internal maze to get what they need. Here is a buyer viewpoint from a recent interview conducted:

“We use a rating system. We rate and rank the options well before a vendor presentation. Once we have what we need after meeting with vendors, we then plug data into a scorecard we developed that helps us make the right decision.” VP, IT Strategic Planning

Technology Means More Expert Resources

Internally and externally, today’s buyers have an abundance of expert resources available to them. Social technologies and new enterprise platforms allow for collaboration on a level never seen before. While marketers are busy developing content extolling the greatness of their products or services, buyers are busy tapping into expert resources to build their business case.

Informed and Ready

When buyers are ready to talk, they are informed. In complex buying, consider they have most likely spent time gathering data over the course of a few months. They were busy learning from many expert resources – not just downloading whitepapers. Educating the buyer on the features of products or services is not going to fly. Neither are wordy benefit statements. Another buyer viewpoint to edify:

“It is annoying. After you gone through compiling what you need to know, you still have vendors who insist that have to give their standard PowerPoint presentation before we can have a discussion.” Senior Director, Customer Care and Service

5 Steps Marketers Can Take

A new era of buyers means marketers must adapt to a new era of marketing. Content marketing to the new informed buyers require new steps:

  1. If you are not committed to understanding your new informed buyer, then it is going to be hard to get content right. Commitment means dedicating resources to multiple forms of buyer research. One important form, as my readers have seen me echo over the last decade, is to commit to third party qualitative buyer research. We need to know what buyers really think.
  2. Switch your thinking to informing as opposed to educating. There is a big difference. The DNA of educating in organizations is rife with old communications made into new online formats. Informing is about knowing how to provide valuable insights to the right people at the right time.
  3. Develop the right content in the right format preferences for your buyers. Understanding the information goals of your buyers takes precedence over the format. What I have seen companies do is say we need content marketing. Then go full bore into developing white papers, blogs, webinars, and the gamut without this crucial understanding.
  4. Do buyer journey mapping the right way. Here is the key; information goals change throughout the buyer journey. Just mapping your version of the buying process – not validated by research – and plugging in content delivery along the way will not cut it. We call that guessing
  5. Map buyer personas to the right content. Buyer personas have become popular in content marketing more than I ever imagined when I originated the buyer persona methodology ten years ago. It is important to make sure buyer personas are research-based. See step one.

I do not know about you but I am still stuck on the number – 36%. It simply says to you and me that we are not informing with the right information to the right buyer at the right time. We have work to do, such as the steps outlined above, in getting to know the new informed buyer in new ways. Recently, two articles written by Patrick Spenner of the CEB impressed me. He touched upon the quality over quantity issue and referenced research, which shows content must inform in a way where it causes buyers to change their criteria. I could not agree more.

Tell me what you think. Why are we stuck at 36%?