An essential characteristic of B2B content marketing planning, is that it’s always thought of in terms of the buyer perspective. Naturally many organizations are used to communicating from their own context, resulting in messages from themselves or regarding the products or services they offer. This is exactly where content marketing differs from traditional marketing.
In order to give some necessary structure with regard to issues arising from your audience and answers that can help people in forming their ideas, two commonly used marketing concepts can be applied: the buyer journey and the decision making unit consisting of buyer personas.
The buyer journey
Commercial decisions are generally not made overnight. Decision makers undergo a process known as the ‘buyer journey’. Before making investment decisions, people generally first arrive at an idea. The current situation, for example, is no longer sufficient, or external developments create the possibility for new opportunities, or threats, which need to be dealt with. Subsequently the possibilities are examined, for which improvements can be made and implemented. Finally, the various options are assessed and decisions are made. This ‘journey’ can be divided into five stages:
- Discovery: the starting point is recognition or acknowledgement of a problem or challenge. Followed by acceptance that a solution must be found.
- Consideration: subsequently it’s necessary to find solutions. Internally wishes and requirements are reviewed and externally all the possibilities are lined up. This search generally ends with the preference for one, or a limited number of, suppliers.
- Decision: finally you move towards the execution of a choice. Therefore the chosen option must be justifiable and give the ‘feel good’ factor.
- Implement: after the actual purchase the product or service needs to be implemented or taken into use. As supplier it’s key to optimize this process.
- Use: finally the service or product is taken into use. Now it’s essential to turn users into fans!
The phase in which the buyer finds himself within their journey, influences the type of messages he is open to. Someone busy forming ideas, is not necessarily open to the hard sell, or a message pushing your unique selling points. Messages that stimulate the discovery phase, could be more relevant. Think, for example, of content related to trends, developments and possibilities.
The phases that comprise the buyer journey, can be translated to suitable messages as displayed in the diagram below:
Content to raise inspiration is meant to activate the discovery process in a customer at an early stage of the buying process.
Informative content is aimed at supporting companies, or individuals, in the consideration phase. In this phase you can for instance help setting up the right requirements, identifying pitfalls and reviewing all potential solutions to a specific challenge.
Convincing content is used for the actual promotion of your own solution. It can be sensible to distinguish stimulating content from other content. This way, the reader perceives awareness content and informative content independent from each other. Independence is important to retain the reader’s attention.
The purchase or investment, is followed by installation or use. This first confrontation with the product or service is the moment to form the basis of customer satisfaction. Through assisting content, the organization can, at this stage, provide maximum service to the newly acquired customer.
The commissioning signals the start of the ‘permanent’ relationship with the customer. Content can play an important role in increasing customer satisfaction, brand engagement and customer loyalty.
The decision making unit
A smart marketing strategy doesn’t merely look at the buying process, but also considers the various members within the decision making unit (DMU). The DMU includes the group of people with an organization that influences the decision making process surrounding the purchase of products or services. Kotler, inventor of the term DMU, defines six different DMU roles:
- Initiator: The initial problem owner that went in search of the solution to his or her problem.
- Users: The actual users of the products or services, they influence the specifications. Customers’ customers can fall under the category of users.
- Influencers: They influence the buying process by setting preconditions. They are in every layer of an organization.
- Buyer: The person that actually conducts negotiations for contract terms with the supplier.
- Decision maker: The person that eventually decides on the supplier.
- Gatekeeper: The gatekeeper takes care of the information distribution within the DMU and can therefore significantly influence the decision making process.
The DMU members can fulfill any number of roles.
If we combine the buyer journey and the decision making unit, we can establish a framework. This framework provides an overview of the stumbling blocks and the motives involved in the buying process of more complex products and services. By analyzing and examining this framework on each item, we can establish the relevant communication messages. Figure 2.7. provides a basic illustration of a standard overview in such a framework. This framework can be set up for each product-market combination.
This simplified framework, for example, consists of a director, a manager and a user. In terms of discovery at executive level (director), his or her perspective is the starting point for shaping the relevant messaging. At this level, strategic aspects could be relevant. The executive board could question whether or not the organization is ready for the developments in the market. Furthermore, the executive board wants to have an idea of the relevant trends the organization should anticipate. However, if we look at the same phase (discovery) in terms of the user, aspects that could influence them to consider change are, for example, operational issues in the day-to-day functioning of the business.
Your B2B content marketing plan
When it’s clear what messaging the organization will aim at which DMU members, or buyer personas, an important step has been taken. Based on this context, a tactical B2B content marketing plan can be established. The plan will contain a description of how the market will be approached, fed by the knowledge from the buyer journey and DMU.
The tactical B2B content marketing plan makes choices regarding buyer persona’s, messaging, content formats and media. This is not a one-time exercise, but a process that, based on the dynamics of the market and the response of, and interaction with, the target audiences, is continuously adjusted, expanded and developed. Forming the concept is the basis, the starting point of the tactical B2B content marketing plan. In order to further solidify the process and to provide the conversion from concept to market and organization shape and content, the content marketing plan includes:
- starting points and preconditions
- choice in content formats
- production- and editorial planning
- (social) media plan
- conversion mechanisms
- organizational implementation
- technical implementation
To be effective and consistent, your Modern Marketing activitities should be inline with your companies strategic direction, based on a clear vision and mission. A vision illustrates what the company aims to be. Subsequently, the mission defines the raison d’étre and the identity of the organization. This explains the existence of the organization, who they are and what they believe in.
In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek captivatingly explains the importance of a mission statement. He comes to the conclusion that the most successful organizations adopt a reverse control model, with regard to what is the norm. That model is brilliantly straightforward and works as follows. Decisions, taking action and communicating in successful organizations is all based on the right of existence (raison d’étre), in other words why they exist, and then defines how they fulfill this position. This how subsequently determines what the activities will be, as indicated in the figure above.
Most executive boards, managers and employees would argue otherwise. Every company, business unit, or department can explain what they do. Some can even say how they do this. But only a few will be able to perfectly explain why. We aren’t referring of course to making profit, products or services. At best this defines the how.
The part of our brain that takes care of our emotions knows no languages. This is putting into words the reason why, which is so difficult. This is why it’s difficult to explain the actual reasons for why we love someone, so we tend to rationalize these reasons. But we do know it ‘feels good’. The power this has can therefore, according to Simon Sinek, be traced back to the fact that the limbic system in our brain deals with the why-level: a group of structures in the brain that concerns itself with emotion, motivation, enjoyment and the emotional memory.
Rationale or emotional decisions?
For a long time, the starting point in B2B marketing was that decisions were made, in large, rationally. Anticipating emotion was exclusive territory for the B2C marketers. However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that emotion also plays an important role in B2B. Emotion and rationale are two power fields that, together – sometimes in agreement but sometimes conflicting – come to a decision. It’s not one or the other, black or white, but more of a gray area.
It’s interesting, here, to gain insight into the development of the human brain. The oldest part of the brain is also known as the ‘reptilian brain’, which determines our instinct. It’s the automatic pilot that keeps you out of harm’s way. Subsequently in our evolution, the limbic brain developed itself, responsible for our emotions. It determines what we like, who we love, but also our dislikes or the things that make us aggressive. What separates human beings from other creatures, is the neocortex. This is the most modern part of the brain, home to the intellect. This is what enables us to consider rational decisions.
Related to the model of Simon Sinek, there is a logical co-relation between the ‘why’ and the limbic brain.
Via the corporate identity, the organization subsequently communicates its identity. Corporate identity is broader and farther reaching than a number of house style elements. It’s a combination of:
- behavior: shaped by company culture, based on the norms and values within the organization;
- design: the consistent use of certain visual trademarks, such as company logo, use of color and style elements;
- communication: the communicative output towards different stakeholders, such as investor relations, PR and marketing campaigns.
The corporate identity provides valuable guidelines for the content of the content marketing message, as well as the tone of voice and visual appearance. Particular value for content marketing can include the development of an editorial body, or team. This term, common in the publishing business, offers a reference point, and direction, for the editorial elbow space of the content marketing initiatives. The editorial body sets out the goals, the principles and the starting points for communicating.
For content marketers, aside from the existence of a living ‘corporate story’, it can provide grip for initiatives and campaigns. The corporate story is a tale (or a series of stories) that connects the vision and the mission to the positioning of the organization in the market and the society. It’s used as a strategic compass and aimed at all stakeholders, including employees, customers and shareholders.
Modern marketing strategy
So the message and the stories contained within the modern marketing activities of the organization must be consistent with the mission, vision and strategy of the organization. By sharing relevant knowledge, expertise and experience, in an authentic way, confidence and trust is created. Authentic communication is thereby guaranteed, and this is reinforced by communicating from the why-level. Not only should the content be in line with the strategy, defining the marketing strategy must be compatible. Strategic choices in content marketing include the following:
- The measure to which content marketing is to be implemented relative to other marketing methods, such as sales promotion, brand advertising, cold calling, sponsorship and direct marketing.
- The objectives of content marketing in terms of lead generation, conversion, thought leadership, brand experience, brand recognition and loyalty.
- The product-market combinations the content marketing will be geared towards.
- The people and the tools to strategically design the content marketing activities.
- The commitment and acceptance of the content marketing strategy within the management of the organization.