Any new sale is a journey from awareness to action. And in B2B marketing that journey can be a long and tortuous one. Social media and content marketing help speed up and scale up the process. But things often stall because businesses focus too heavily on the awareness end of the journey. It is, after all, the part where understanding and execution are simplest.
Your content has to do so much more than just raise awareness if you are to see a return from all your effort.
To succeed you need a clear vision for how your content publishing and your social networks support potential customers at each stage of the entire journey. Can’t see how your current content bridges the gap between awareness and action? Don’t be surprised if customers also fail to negotiate their way across.
And if the following discussion sounds a bit like AIDA, that’s because it is. Just because we’re doing B2B marketing on line it doesn’t mean we have to forget solid and proven principles. Tools, techniques and technology let us do everything on a greater scale, at lower cost and with fewer restrictions. But what we’re trying to achieve is pretty much the same: get potential customers to know who we are, understand what we do, make a connection to their own needs, and trust us to deliver.
There are some hefty implications to grasp about the variety, depth and the quality of the content you need to publish.
I’ve tweaked the AIDA model a little for the digital age but the principles are familiar. Awareness, Understanding, Opportunity and Action might not make a convenient acronym but they are possibly a better description of how the process works on line.
Most experts agree that there are at least eight touch points before somebody becomes your customer. Every one of those is an opportunity to nurture or kill the relationship.
Any customer’s journey has to start with them becoming aware of who you are and what you do. In a traditional marketing model this was more likely to happen much closer to the purchase. People could become aware of you through networking or a direct approach, which are are still valid methods. They also represent a high investment in time (and possibly money) relative to their potential reach.
Otherwise it was likely to be some kind of directory or referral search made at the point when the business realized it had a need. Effective advertising and PR, although effective, were often seen to be beyond the reach of small and medium sized businesses.
Social networks are removing many of the barriers to awareness. By being active in relevant networks, other business people will become aware of who you are and what sort of things you do in a completely natural and unpressurized environment.
But beware the shortcuts to maximum awareness (eg cats and funny videos). The most highly shareable content won’t necessarily build the image you want to project.
Sharing selected and relevant content produced by others with some of your own thoughts is a great way to raise your profile and make connections. Micro-blogging on Google+ and LinkedIn communities helps get your business in front of relevant people as does LinkedIn’s publishing platform.
The main point here is about staying active, getting involved in discussions and building relationships. For B2B marketing on social media the mainstays are naturally LinkedIn and, increasingly, Google+. In fact, when it comes to engagement, discussion and relationship building Google+ wins hands down as a tool. Twitter can help you reach out to people but it’s hard to have a conversation in 140 characters.
This is why your social media profiles matter. An honest, personal, original and well crafted profile can be the first step towards a more meaningful relationship. As well as making it clear what you do, your profile can help people take the first steps towards discovering the real you. That person they will eventually have to grow to know, like and trust in order to give you their business or refer you to their network.
This may shock you: ‘I am an action oriented, dynamic problem solver with proven results in…’ is not the real you. That’s a facade of fancy sounding words you’ve constructed in the misguided belief that people will be impressed, or that it’s what people expect to see. All it does it create another barrier of awareness and understanding that has to be broken down.
If social media profiles for your business and your customer-facing staff are of the identikit ‘using the words that sound right’ variety – go and sort them out now. Ask people to write them as though they were writing for a close friend or family member rather than a prospective employer.
Your business is so much more than a factual description of what you produce.
How you do things, why you do them the way you do, your beliefs and culture, your client relationships, and the individual experiences and attitudes of your team are the real story of your business. And so often it’s a story that remains untold behind yet another facade; that of impersonal (and sometimes impenetrable), corporate B2B marketing-speak.
The heart and soul of your business should be what flows through every blog post, video, webinar and white paper you produce. So while you are still creating content about your customers and their needs (rather than about yourself), it is content that no other business could have created.
Modern content publishing tools allow you to do this. Whereas prospective customers used to have to spend ages chipping away at the marketing facade to get to the real business that lay beneath, now they don’t have to. Your approach to content publishing should embrace this new reality and opportunity.
Which brings us to the core of understanding as a marketing concept: showing that you understand your customers. You feel their pain and you know what they want to achieve. This requires content with depth and insight.
Planning the scope of the content you publish has to be based on a firm understanding of what those issues are. Having moved from being aware of the fact that your businesses exists, people have started to understand that you are in a position to help.
Powerful marketing content has always succeeded in helping potential customers to see that there is a workable opportunity for things to be better than they are.
This is why content in B2B marketing has to be so much more than the factual passing along of information. Interpretation, development and application of information in a context that means something to your potential customers is offering genuine value. It moves the relationship forward and helps customers visualize the opportunity that is there to be grasped.
Specific and relevant knowledge, mixed with personal insights, experiences and stories start to transform ideas and concepts into workable business solutions that only you can deliver. Think about the potential of customers wanting your solution as opposed to a solution that they will purchase based mainly on price.
It’s unlikely that content curation and short-form content will succeed in persuading potential customers that you are offering an opportunity to transform their lives in some meaningful way.
You need to think about variety too. Will video tell a particular story more effectively for some customers? Do you need to use webinars, ebooks or Hangouts on Air to show the depth of your relevant understanding?
When you’ve mastered your social networks and publishing plan, potential customers should be aware of who you are and can see how working with you would be beneficial. But there’s a final element they need if they are to be convinced to take action: Proof.
Reputation, trust and authority are essential signals that people need to see before they click a call to action or pick up the phone.
Work samples, detailed case studies showing real business results, and solid testimonials are still really important.
Also, you might say you are an expert but does the story on social media back that up? Are you and your team seen on Google+ and LinkedIn as experts in what you do? Are other respected people prepared to publicly back up your credentials by sharing your content with their networks? You won’t earn enthusiastic brand advocates with mediocre content any more than you can with mediocre service – and you won’t earn anything unless you engage and invest some serious time.
As is so often the case, digital marketing is an opportunity and a threat. There are previously undreamed of opportunities for you to connect with potential customers and convince them of your highly relevant expertise.
But those opportunities also open up your existing and potential customers to a much wider range of competitors who may be doing a better job of telling an authentic story and building networks. In the online marketing world nothing is hidden and nothing can be taken for granted.
You might think that content and social can be ignored – your customers may not see it the same way.
Copywriter and content marketing specialist