Conversations That Kill (Tech)
CONVERSATIONS THAT KILL
Applying a storytelling framework to tech content strategy
THE PLIGHT OF THE
B2B TECH MARKETER
Competition is ferocious in the tech space.
Disruptors are, well, disrupting everything. While they may not have the experience or longevity of the gorillas, they are nimble, their solutions are rooted in what work looks like today, and they are (for better or worse) stripping business from the companies that defined what it means to have an IT infrastructure.
Couple this with the changing landscape of the buying committee: This creates a particularly challenging situation for B2B technology marketers. Brands today are struck with the challenge of finding a better way forward that helps them avoid vanilla.
This guide takes a 2,000-foot view of some of the B2B technology marketer’s biggest concerns and offers a case for addressing them by adopting a storied approach to not just content, but content strategy.
Let’s start with what B2B tech marketers have identified as four of their key issues going into 2018...
CHALLENGES ARE PLENTY,
HERE ARE 4 BIG ONES
1. Creating effective content
For nearly every B2B tech company, content is at the heart of the marketing strategy. There is certainly no lack of it — 70% of companies currently using content marketing as part of their overall strategy plan to create more content this year than in 2017. More is relatively easy; more engaging, that’s a trickier task.
83% of UK marketers believe higher quality/more effective content is contributing to their content marketing success, yet maintaining the standard is an ongoing challenge.
CMI report, Content Marketing in the UK 2018
2. Providing relevance across buyers
Technology is no longer the remit of IT. It’s a business decision, and as such involves decision makers and influencers across multiple departments. Where as tech marketers once only needed to properly understand and message to the technologists, they now often need to consider finance, marketing, HR and/or the c-suite as a whole in their content strategy.
59% of buyers say they now have formal buying groups in place to review purchases. 52% say the number of buying group members has increased significantly over the past year.
Demand Gen Report’s 2017 B2B Buyer’s Survey
3. Maintaining the value of data
Particularly with GDPR looming, tech marketers are feeling the impact of imperfect data management practices. As customer data is critical to being able to understand your ideal buyers and deliver relevant experiences, it’s time for marketers to knuckle-down and tackle the issue.
Only 23% of organisations are satisfied with their ability to leverage customer data to create more relevant experiences.
Salesforce 4th Annual State of Marketing Report
4. Differentiating the brand
Competition is at an all-time high, in an exceptionally crowded marketplace that changes daily. And technology solutions — particularly at the enterprise level — tend to be complex, dry, functional, lacking the stimulation and the simplicity of a consumer product. Creating a differentiated brand platform is one thing; staying true to it daily, across the complete customer experience, is what gives it life.
The goal is not to talk about what you are selling, rather what it enables — a paradigm shift still in the works for many marketing organisations.
Which of these is your biggest challenge?
- Providing relevance across buyers
- Differentiating the brand
- Creating effective content
- Maintaining the value of data
While each of these challenges warrants a deep dive of its own, our goal here is to share topline suggestions designed to enhance your technology marketing strategy and move it in the direction of greater differentiation, relevance and value across buyers.
Humans are <b>conditioned to listen to (and be influenced by) great stories</b>. The single best way to connect with your buyers and their influencers is to <b>base your marketing strategy on the principles of telling a moving story</b>.
ONE GIANT LASSO
Ground your marketing with stories you can own
You’ll see everywhere that great marketing often involves storytelling. But as Ann Handley teaches us, ‘Good content isn’t about good storytelling. It’s about telling a true story well.’
And when done properly, using the approach to telling stories as your approach to content strategy can help you address most of the four challenges mentioned.
Applying even a simple storytelling framework to content strategy makes it easier to ensure you stay relevant and valuable across audiences.
One part intellect, two parts emotion
In the majority of cases, the B2B purchase cycle starts on an emotional note, moves through a lengthy rational justification cycle, ending again with an emotional decision. It’s a process that is absolutely ripe for true, ownable stories (even if they haven’t happened yet) which is why marketers who apply a storytelling framework to marketing and content strategy find it easier to create communications that resonate with different audiences.
Read on for tips to ensure each step is well-informed (and learn how to avoid vanilla).
Rethink your buyer personas/profiles — refresh (or start fresh) to include the most useful information, by decision maker and influencer, by appropriate segment, across departments and roles
Research things such as:
- Relationship to technology
- State of digital maturity
- Business research preferences
- Content preferences
- Influencers and influences
- Purchase decision criteria
Turn this into:
Goals and ambitions
- Roles and responsibilities
- Day-to-day perspective
- Triggers to seek a new solution
- Engagement strategies
- Conversation starters
Interview your sales team - often
- Host a voice-of-the-customer workshop where sales insight becomes the centre of attention
- Jointly map buyer triggers and pain points
- Include sales in the review of profiles/buyer journeys/messaging/conversation maps
- Hold monthly meetings to discuss changes in the market, in customer behaviour, what’s resonating/what’s not with customers
There’s so much marketing could be doing to actually help sales, but they don’t understand what [sales] need. I don’t think it’s that they don’t care; it’s like no one has told them that’s what they should be doing.
Nicola Mortimer // Head of Business Product, Marketing & Operations, Three
Your sales team can be an absolute goldmine when it comes to understanding how your existing customers are aligned and make decisions.
Interview them and ask questions that get them talking about customers as if they were the product you are selling. This will help you frame and market to your ideal customer profile.
Workshops with sales are an indispensable way to build partnerships and cross-functional understanding.
Clean up your data - and keep it tidy
- Maximise your investment in analytics by keeping proper customer profiles
- Map your prospect data against customer profiles
- Match against competitive install base data and create a rolling attack strategy (works great for partner programs as well)
- Match against intent-based data sources to find the low-hanging fruit; use it ongoing as a strategic campaign
Existing customer and prospect data is priceless. When maintained, it’s the single best view into the behaviour of your ideal customer.
As data capabilities become more advanced, you should be able to pinpoint the role of every communication, every content asset, every channel in persuasion and conversion. This is the true power of marketing data.
And as we now live in a world where B2B customer expectations are often driven by their consumer realities, the degree of marketing and sales personalisation required demands precise data.
In a recent survey, 83% of B2B organisations stated their data is old or outdated.
Demand Gen Report’s 2017 B2B Buyer’s Survey
SIDE NOTE // What’s insights got to do with it?
Most marketers know they need to gather buyer insights as part of persona development (data and analytics plays a big role in this). It’s what they do with these insights that often falls short.
Once you understand your audience in the context of their own experience, you can use your stories to paint a picture of how that experience could be improved.
Create a compelling, persuasive storyline >
2. CREATE A COMPELLING,
A truly ownable story is rooted in the more intangible aspects of a value proposition. The ‘narrative’ is what teases this out.
Tap into data to inform your stories - keyword research, website analytics, content analytics, social listening, competitive analysis, customer feedback, employee feedback...
While search and social data is typically the easiest to analyse for topic popularity, it’s your customer data that provides the most important insight for planning content stories.
- Use customer data to add empathy to each stage of your buyer journeys, by department/role
- Employ progressive profiling - this not only helps keep your data current, it improves relevance and provides insight for stories
Paint a vision of what’s possible - what’s the fresh, interesting perspective or point of view that connects your value proposition to each audience?
- Create conversation maps with role/department/industry relevance, as necessary - this framework helps you tease out narratives that are interesting and relevant across the buyer journey
- This is especially useful for differentiating your brand/changing perceptions/elevating your position
Even a simple conversation framework such as this, per buyer or influencer profile, helps inform great stories and makes for effective content.
Find out what your subject matter experts do in their spare time - yes, this may sound strange
- Technology SMEs tend to think and act as peers to your customers, living and breathing their expertise
- Use this as a source of thought leadership stories to tie to your brand
- Ask where they go for inspiration and roll this into your content strategy
A very senior, very left-brained SME talking about the 'water cloud' that serves his house is riveting blog content for the right audience.
Put the customer at the centre of it - but not how you would expect
- Use customers as third parties to provide public-facing peer insight
- Use these customers to gather emotional-rational-emotional anecdotes to support your conversation maps
- Use this insight and anecdotes to inspire storylines that show not only what’s possible, but how
Three Ireland features 8-10 customers in their quarterly Customer Insights Panel.
Deliver with panache >
Great stories are meant to unfold, and a well-choreographed content plan that allows for both self-discovery and active involvement of your brand will not only inspire but help escort customers through the decision process.
Personalise it - where it’s influential to do so, but within reason
- Do not get it wrong. Getting it wrong is worse than not doing it.
- Don’t over-complicate your personalisation strategy (unless you are doing 1-1 or 1-few ABM in which case it should define the strategy), because it does follow the law of diminishing returns.
- Don’t assume the buyer journey is actually linear. It’s not.
Create (un)expected experiences - change is a necessary evil to tech decision-makers, and decision-making about tech changes is still uncomfortable cross-department
- Atomise content across multiple formats/deliver what is preferred by buyer profile
- Build confidence with data-led content experiences (personalised videos, interactive infographics, perspective videos)
- Make yourself part of the story by adding value and relevance
Data-led content makes for much better stories, especially if you can personalise the message and delivery.
Don’t always automate the story - take pixels out of it and insert people from time to time
- Incorporate one-on-one engagement with subject matter experts (not sales) into your approach and treat it as part of your content strategy
- Use live online roundtables and/or in-person events to bring like groups together
- Partner with sales to understand the marketing strategy/make a natural transition when the time is right
Last but not least: tell, don't sell - your brand/your products should play a supporting role in your stories, especially in the discovery phase
A Story About Telling a Story, as told by David Smith
Next: 1 of 1,000 tips on how to avoid vanilla with your content
Don't say 'chocolate bar' when you can say 'Snickers.'
Tony's Chocolonely is arguably the best chocolate bar on the market since the Marathon bar. If you've not tried one, let us know (click the image) and we'll send your flavour of choice just for making it this far in the guide.
It’s the scourge of effective marketing — content that caters to everyone and thus caters to no one.
Follow an approach to telling stories that is informed by your data, and you force your content strategy in a direction that naturally is more effective, differentiating, relevant.
For instance, the best stories are specific — don’t say ‘chocolate bar’ when you can say ‘Snickers.’ (Said to mean, ‘Don’t water down your content with generalities; be as specific as you can for your readers.’)
With content creation, follow the 80/20 rule with most assets. 80% of a content asset can be the same across audiences, with 20% being powerfully targeted by company, industry, department, role… providing context for the 80%. Snickers becomes Kit Kat, Yorkie, Brunch Bar (or Tony's) depending on customer insight.
Sprinkle in additional content that is pure 100% unadulterated relevance and no one will notice that you fudged a little bit.
ALIAS helps B2B brands build customer curiosity, confidence and revenue through content and account-based marketing.
In essence, we like stories that show value and drive sales. We like uncovering and shaping a fresh, interesting perspective or point of view that connects your value proposition(s) to the individuals and companies suited to you. We deliver it in a way that is empathetic, (un)expected, inspiring — but most of all, relevant.
What we do:
- Sales and Marketing Consultancy
- Account Insight, Intelligence & Selection
- Perspective and Value Prop Mapping
- Content Strategy & Development
- Engagement Strategy
- Campaign Execution
- Campaign Monitoring/Validation
"ALIAS has brought a fresh approach to our demand generation strategy. Their highly targeted programs and differentiated content have delivered incredible ROI, both in terms of pipeline and close. They are a great team to work with."