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December 18, 2013


Which Content is Most Relevant to Your Buyers?

by Tom De Baere

yodaProviding enough relevant content to buyers is one of the biggest concerns of marketers today, according to a recent study of CMI.

But how do you know which content is relevant to your buyers?

Showing business value is not differentiating

Building buyer insight is an important activity of marketers, resulting in buyer persona descriptions, or buyer insight maps as I often call them. Based on that buyer insight, content is created that shows the business value of your products or services.

The problem is that your competitors are doing the exact same thing. Michael Brenner, Vice President of Global Marketing for SAP (@michaelbrenner), recently wrote a blog post about a study written by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and Google. This study shows  that buyers perceive little difference between the business value various suppliers can offer. Here is a direct link to the PDF of this must see study from CEB called From Promotion to Emotion : Connecting B2B Customers to Brands.

As it turns out, B2B buyers seek personal value. When decision makers, or influencers, see personal benefits in choosing a brand, they are 42,6% more inclined to favor that particular brand.

And that shouldn’t be such a surprise: also in B2B the competition between decision makers is playing, internal agenda’s play, even when the buying goes through RFI and RFP processes. And that’s when personal benefits come to play: career advancements, popularity, pride and confidence.

So there is a constant fight between the emotionally connection (“is this going to help me personally”) and business value (“this is going to help the company”). Jonathan Haidt (mentioned in the study), and Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch, both of them use a great metaphor about the rider and the elephant:

The rider is the conscious, rational mind while the elephant represents the unconscious, emotional mind that cannot be
controlled by sheer force of the rider. In the world of B2B buying, the rider is the buyer trying to make a rational decision, but often influenced by gut feelings and emotions (the elephant)—whether consciously or not.

content relevant for buyers

Impact of Perceived Brand Benefits on Commercial Outcome (Source: CEB/Motista, Survey;CEB analysis; 2013)

B2B Buying is Very Personal and Emotional

It is typically assumed that B2C purchases are more emotional than B2B, right? Well, it’s not.

Digging deeper into that same CEB study, their’s again a very normal human emotion at customers. B2B purchases usually have a bigger financial impact than buying a TV or even a car.

And what’s more important, wrong purchases can have an even bigger impact on the business. Think of buying and implementing a CRM system, training people, and integrating with ERP. When you choose the wrong CRM system and the results are not what they are supposed to be, the costs of correcting that decision can be huge.

B2B purchase stakeholders fear:

  • Losing time and effort if a purchase decision goes poorly
  • Losing credibility if they make a recommendation for an unsuccessful purchase
  • Losing their job if they are responsible for a failed purchase

That’s why it’s crucial for brand to also show that choosing for a particular brand provides personal value, AND eliminates risk. And that’s probably the origin behind the famous quote

Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM

Moreover, the more personal risks a purchase entails, the more emotional buyers feel, and the more they attach to brands that can provide value and eliminate risk.

content and emotional connection from buyers

Discover personal values by listening

OK, so now we know that it’s important to create content that is personal and emotional.

But how can you know what makes them emotionally attached to your brand? Directly asking your customers questions about their emotional or personal needs is probably not going to be effective.

One of the best tools around in my opinion is in-depth customer interviews. Here are a couple of questions you could ask to discover his perceived personal risks and articulate his/her emotions when making buying decisions:

  • open-ended interview questions : what is important to you as a ….
  • ask about personal set-backs in achieving his professional goals
  • what where his professional successes? what did that give him personally?
  • what are his personal barriers to achieve success in his projects?
  • what are his priorities?
  • what is the biggest time-suck in his job? at what time of the day? why is that? what effect does this have on his personal goals?
  • what are his personal ‘professional needs’ that give him a better personal life
  • get to know his daily routine and ask him what frustrates him in his tools, his processes etc…
  • using social listening, find out his natural interests and natural language

I am sure when you think about it a little bit more, you can come up with more questions.

When you ask these questions, carefully listen to how they describe everything, and use their natural language and their words in your future content. Once you start interviewing multiple customers you’ll quickly find shared needs and goals.

Essentially, you are enriching your buyer insight with personal values, which is what you to need to start building content that shows that your solutions are limiting their personal risk.

Add personal values in content

Customers who see the value of a purchase often fail to act, due to the effort and risk of making a purchase. Convincing their peers and the C-suite can be a very long and difficult task, with an unknown outcome.

To drive action, marketing must show a buyer both the personal gains from purchase as well as the personal pain the buyer experiences in the present with status quo. Only by reminding buyers of current pain can marketing create the urgency buyers need to act.

Here are a couple of ideas to insert these elements into your content:

  • Focus on personal gains or personal pains in the titles of your content
  • Reveal social proof through surveys of their peers, from both the pains as the gains
  • Include both personal values as the value to the company in the core message of your content (both are winners)
  • Use images in your content that depict important moments in his job where your products make the difference
  • Provide commercial insight which gives him credibility towards his colleagues and superiors.

Knowing is doing
If you are already struggling to create content, adding the personal and emotional part can sound very difficult to do.

From experience I have learned that merely knowing you have to do this is already a big step forward. Knowing you have to do this will change the way you listen to your customers.  And when you create your content, you’ll know from the extra buyer insight what to do to make your content personally and emotionally appealing.

If you like this post, please share it. And let me know what you are struggling with in the comment box. I might have an answer ;-)

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere