If you know one line from the 1987 cult classic “The Princess Bride” it’s probably this one:
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
The funny thing is, while you know who says the line, do you know who it’s directed to? If you guessed Count Rugen, then you’re right. But, while Inigo Montoya knows this, why don’t you?
Let’s take things back one step. Why are we bringing this up 30 years after the fact? Well, it speaks a lot to how we can get our audiences wrong. We always remember the what, but not the who.
This happens all too frequently in marketing. We can get so caught up in the product and features that we forget who it’s actually for and why they benefit from it in the first place.
“It's not about your products first and your company second. It has to be about the buyer,” Akoonu CEO Jeff Freund explains. “The buyer's at the center of the world.”
Why do marketers miss the mark so often?
According to Jeff, there are three big things that marketers often don’t get right:
Let’s unpack the first point.
What did Jeff mean by experiences? Do marketers need to wander off into the desert to find themselves in order to provide quality content marketing experiences?
No, not quite. By experiences, Jeff noted the process by which people find you, debate your merits and then ultimately decide to make a purchase. This experience, or buyer journey in a more traditional marketing and sales sense, is dramatically different now than it used to be a decade ago.
After all, according to the CEB, your average B2B buyer is 57 percent of the way “along in the purchase process” before they ever talk to a Sales person. Buyers have the power, and can access years of research in a second. If you take the Field of Dreams approach - “build it and they will come” - to your Marketing and Sales strategy, you’re probably not going to be very successful.
"This is a hard environment that we're in right now. There's been a shift that's happened here. So, companies do not sell products anymore. Today, it's buyers who buys products. They're in charge of how they choose to learn about products. They choose how and when to engage with companies. And you know what they expect? They expect great content. They expect great experiences every way along their path to selecting a solution and making a purchase," Jeff noted. "And if you don't do that, you're just not even in the consideration. You might not even know about those opportunities that you missed because there was some disconnect early on in their experience with you."
Part of this comes from how marketers approach their jobs in the first place. In the bad old days, marketers would do everything they could to get a lead, and then pass it off to sales and never be involved with them again. Just imagine what it was like to spend weeks or months nurturing a lead only for sales to ruin everything with something silly, like a six-fingered hand in a sales deck.
The buyer experience isn’t so simple now though. There’s no clear cut line noting when marketing ends and sales begins. Thus, marketing and sales need to work hand in hand throughout the entire buyer journey to ensure it goes well.
"There are marketing touchpoints from beginning to end to renewal to entire lifecycle for this customer," Jeff said. "There are sales activities that could start with the conversation at trade show booth. And then, circle back a year later, right? So, it's totally intermingled."
In order to even get close to providing the right experience, including the right content experience, it helps to know who your buyers truly are and what they actually care about. This seems simple enough, but too many marketers get this wrong.
To get a sense of what Jeff meant here, consider your typical marketing persona. Each one will often have a catchy name like Demand Gen Debbie or CIO Carl. It’ll have some info about their age and maybe their hobbies, like how VP Vicki is 40, has two kids and likes to golf. If you’re lucky, the persona might have some basic information about the role and who they report to, among other vague descriptors of the role itself. These kinds of personas are all too common, and they reveal just how little most marketers actually know about their audience.
"There are different ways that people kind of choose to designate who these personas are. And there’s some good ways. And there’re some not as good ways," Jeff said. "Like just thinking about people as their titles and that's your persona. That's not really a persona. Thinking about buyer personas is really a depth of understanding about the typical person in that role, and the function that they are serving in that organization and in the purchase making."
Why are personas so vague or off the mark? It may be because too many marketers have never talked to any current customers or prospects before. Jeff noted that in his role heading up Akoonu, he once encountered a marketer who had spent years at the company yet had not talked to any customer during that entire time. With a few interviews from multiple people in multiple roles in multiple industries, teams can begin to understand all facets of their audience and what makes them tick.
"You can't understand them without talking to them," Jeff said. "You can't technology your way around it by using AI. You have to communicate with people. You have to talk to them in order to truly understand them."
Only through these conversations, alongside additional efforts like CRM data review and surveys, will marketers be able to create truly useful and insightful personas. With this knowledge in hand, marketers can go beyond the stale personas of yesteryear and truly know what different buyers need and what they actually care about in their jobs. This is how content personalization becomes a reality
It’s all fine and good to have well-developed personas based on real-world knowledge. But, there’s a danger in relying too much on each individual persona. With more than five people involved in the typical buying decision, on average, marketers and sales teams need a firm understanding of who is involved in the buying decision, how they interact with each other, and what they’re looking for as a group at all stages of their buyer journey. Even little things, like if the buying group goes from four to five people, can make a big difference.
To complicate matters even further, Jeff noted that industry can make a big difference as well. For example, tech startups might be ready and willing to take a big risk, while a bank will be much more cautious. A CIO at the former will think very differently than someone in the exact same role at the latter. Content personalization is about more than just each person involved.
“It's so important to be able to understand the audience,” Jeff urged. “Understand the buyers and how they buy.”
OK Jeff, you’re saying, I think I get it. Talk to customers to get a full understanding of everyone in the buyer journey, how they work together, and what they really need. I’ll be sure to be BFFs with Sales from now on. I’ll only talk about products in a way that speaks to real-world needs. I know I need to find the common roadblocks in the buyer journey and address. If I do all this, will I see instant success?
At MuraCon, Jeff mentioned two examples of this approach in action:
The progress is still ongoing, but Jeff noted they are in a much better place now than they were 15 months ago. They understand their audience and their needs more completely, and are in the process of developing a robust content library that fully talks to each persona’s concerns and desires. They are making content personalization a reality.
Ultimately, the goal of any marketer is to promote the business and help encourage sales. By having a full and complete understanding of the target audience and its needs, marketers will be able to more completely assist their sales brethren in getting new business and keeping the company growing. As the sales and marketing landscape, the necessity of experience-based marketing will only become even more pronounced.