The evolving role of content in the buyer’s journey


Jan 26, 2017 • Sheri Johnson • Blog

Content Creation

President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those that look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Few places exist where change happens as quickly and often as in the world of marketing. While keeping up can be challenging, the convergence of technology, data, content and delivery presents tremendous opportunities for marketers.

Much of this change simply offers more ways for marketers to get their content to the people who matter most to them. Content – especially the right content, in the right format, at the right time – remains crucial to success. Marketers still need to understand the B2B buyer’s journey and the type of content they need at each stage to influence opinions and drive consideration. How that content is delivered, through what channels and in which format, now plays a more important role with the proliferation of social media channels, steaming video options, the popularity of mobile devices, and the short attention span of today’s buyers.

Although plenty of B2B firms research and implement cutting-edge marketing solutions, many are just beginning to embrace the technologies consumer marketers have long used (long being a relative term here) to reach their target audiences. While many B2B businesses have embraced content marketing, they’ve been slower to adopt marketing automation to more easily deliver, share and track the success of their content. Importantly, marketing automation allows businesses to customize and deliver audience-specific content that reaches the buyer at the right stage in his or her journey.

Customizing content to the buyer’s journey

At Morningstar Communications, we use a baseball analogy when talking about the buyer’s journey. And the first seven innings of the game take place online. When you align that premise with the steps in the journey, the first of which are awareness and familiarity, one could argue that those stages occur completely in the digital world. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships without ever talking to a human. The final three stages: consideration, purchase and trust, are more likely to go offline, but even the trust stage requires some online nurturing.

Once you think about each stage of the B2B buyer’s journey and the content buyers want, you then need to create that content, and deliver it in a compelling manner using the channel the recipient prefers.

Creating awareness

When customers recognize a need, but don’t know where to turn, it’s important that your company pops up on their radar. During the awareness stage, buyers want high-level content. They will check out your website and your other online profiles, like LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, to get a feel for your brand and your offerings. From a content perspective, make sure the information you share is relevant, educational and succinct. Think about what your audience wants to know early in the game, and make sure you hit on it across all channels. At this stage, you should focus on content that:

  • Drives SEO
  • Precisely targets your buyer personas
  • Raises your company profile on LinkedIn and Twitter
  • Creates earned media placements you can merchandise across other channels

Moving to familiarity

Familiarity revolves around research and education. Now your buyers know there is a solution to their challenge and seek to uncover the best option. At this stage, taking an educational focus makes sense. You want to educate buyers on why your business stacks up as the best choice. More in-depth content on your product or service, and how it solves specific challenges for your buyers, makes great sense here. Buyers may also look to see what you’ve done for others by reviewing case studies or testimonials. Incorporating content like this into your site, pushing it out over your social media channels, and including it in your collateral materials allows you to provide this information to buyers regardless of how they like to receive information. Don’t overlook video content at this stage of the journey. Our client, Hallmark Business Connections, created a powerful video case study to demonstrate the impact of its Customer Care program. Obviously, marketing automation helps orchestrate the delivery of these various content pieces to your prospects and allows you to track what is working to pull buyers further along the journey. To get buyers to the next stage, your content should:

  • Educate them about your products and services, including on-demand webinars, livestreaming and in-depth blogposts
  • Dive deeper into your solution via white papers and e-books
  • Provide third-party validation through industry reports

Making the consideration cut

During the consideration stage, your buyers compare your offering to your competition’s. Now that they understand what you’ve done for others, they want to know specifically what you can do for them. At this stage, ensure your content remains consistent with the story you’ve told so far and continue to demonstrate your deep knowledge and expertise as it relates very specifically to what that individual buyer wants and needs. During the consideration stage, many buyers like to see:

  • Case studies about scenarios like their own
  • Product or service demonstrations
  • Client testimonials or references

For successful companies in the B2B space, this stage evolves into the RFP process, with in-depth responses to specific questions and presentations to prospective buyers.

Getting to purchase

In the B2B world, the purchase stage typically includes negotiation around the specific scope of work, price and service level agreements, etc. For many firms, once the paperwork is signed, the marketing efforts cease and they look to the next potential buyer. However, to create true brand advocates who will agree to testimonials or serve as referrers and references, continuing the journey toward the final stage, trust, is key.

Building sustained trust

Building trust beyond the sale is the best way to turn customers into fans and advocates. This means continuing to deliver valuable content to your customers after the deal is closed. Thought leadership content that’s relevant to each individual customer, combined with outstanding service, provides the best opportunity for trust building. Customers who trust you are more likely to refer you to others, serve as a reference, and allow you to use their business in a case study you can share with future buyers. Not to mention they are more likely to remain long-term customers, which just creates additional ROI for your business.

We recommend continuing to share content such as:

  • New case studies
  • Industry insights related to your client’s areas of focus
  • Training and networking opportunities

And don’t forget to focus on delivering service that goes beyond satisfying your client and truly delights them.

Looking to the future

The most exciting thing about all of the changes happening in the marketing industry is that although the content delivered at the different stages of the buyer’s journey remains fairly consistent at a high level, the delivery options change and expand every day. Especially in the social media space, 2017 will offer an array of ways to get your content to your target audiences and provide you with new, more personalized ways to connect. The key is knowing your audience, and delivering the right content at the right time to ensure a smooth buyer’s journey. This will lead to long-term growth and success for your organization.