The difference between a drive-by view and a meaningful engagement with your audience is based on the perceived value of the experience—by the audience.
Unfortunately, customer experiences are often defined by the experience we want our customers to have, rather than those they expect and need to have with us.
This happens because B2B marketing is often based on a set of one-off, one-way interactions defined by what we believe the audience should do, whether it’s fill out our form, register for our webinar, share our blog post, follow us on social media, and more actions focused on us. It’s also the reason why effectiveness with content marketing is in question for many B2B organizations.
B2B Marketers need to change their thinking and approach if they want to create compelling experiences that align with buyers, as well as business objectives. We need to do the foundational work that sets us up for the successful creation of experiences that meet our buyers’ and customers’ expectations.
There are a number of strategic tools that come to mind to achieve this outcome, such as personas and customer journey mapping and storytelling but to create and use them effectively; you need to embrace three fundamental pivots:
Continuity: From Campaign to Continuum
Continuity is about progression that is delivered via the flow of a continuum approach to experiences. Beginning to end is too simplistic. Continuity means considering your audience’s status quo—where they are today—and starting the story there. Once we’ve begun the story, it must continue to what’s next at every touchpoint.
Just as you can pick up a book and continue ready from where you left off, the culmination of the experiences your audience has must build momentum toward the outcome they expect and need. At each touchpoint, you must be able to anticipate what’s next so that you can create that desire to find out. This is what builds engagement and progression toward the outcomes B2B audiences—and marketers—must achieve.
When you think about campaigns, think about how you would feel if you were really engaged in a story and couldn’t finish it. You’re on chapter 5 and the hero has just experienced a major setback. But the book is lost. You do have options. You can go buy another copy of the book. Or, you can get over it and move on to the next book on your reading list. When a campaign ends, your buyers only have the latter option—to go find someone else telling another version of a story they care about. Why would you ever want to give it to them?
Continuity solves this problem. By focusing on the continuum of the customer experience you can create long-lasting and compelling experiences that influence the agreement to change. And that’s just what we’re asking our audiences to do. We’re asking them to think differently than they are today by adopting the approach or product we’re certain can help them reach their goals.
Compassion: From Company-Centric to Customer-Obsessed
Compassion is about empathy for your buyers and customers. It’s hard to be empathetic if we don’t know about or understand their circumstances. In an age of digital disruption, compassion is also what brings humanity to experiences that mostly happen from a distance, enabled by the latest technology.
As marketers, we are more and more becoming the stewards of the customers’ experience. According to Forrester, two-thirds of CMOs are now responsible for customer experience. They are also more responsible for revenue goals with 82% saying their goals align with revenue targets. If this is going to be both achievable and sustainable, then it’s our job to know more about our customers than they know about themselves—or as close to that as we can get. We need to become customer-obsessed.
I talk with a lot of customers during my work on persona and customer journey mapping projects. When things go south, it’s not usually about price. It’s along the lines of “they didn’t seem to ‘get’ our culture” or “we couldn’t see the value they kept saying we’d gain.” Or some version of they couldn’t sell the vision internally.
Compassion, therefore, needs to be extended to all the stakeholders involved in the buying or renewal process. We not only need to understand each of them but the relationships they have to navigate with the others involved in the decision. In a B2B complex sale, this means nearly 7 of them, according to the latest research from CEB. Compassion must be inclusive, not just directed to the decision makers. And each stakeholder needs to be able to see themselves as the hero of their own story. Applying compassion to our marketing programs can help marketers create experiences that are greater together than they are as standalones.
Commitment: From Focused on the Short-Term to In It for the Long Haul
Commitment is about staying the course. I think one of the reasons that campaigns have yet to die is because marketers get bored. Telling a continuous story over a longer-term buying process can feel repetitive. Yet repetition (in a progressive way) is what imprints on the minds of our audiences, leading them to adopt a new way of thinking with our help.
We look forward to new campaigns because we get to create something new. But by doing so, we’re forfeiting engagement and halting momentum in its tracks.
This said, commitment is about a relentless focus on our customers and running everything through the litmus test for how it will resonate, given the specific audience in mind. If we keep our customers at the forefront of everything we do, we also have the ammunition we need to say no to irrelevant ideas.
Commitment also means securing the executive sponsorship needed to enable continuity and compassion. Otherwise it’s nearly impossible to stay the course. Why? Because content marketing strategies that power compelling customer experiences are not instant-gratification programs. But then, neither is change.
A Change in Thinking is Key
Making these three pivots is essential to ensuring that the way we apply content marketing to build B2B customer experiences is productive. We can’t just talk the walk, we need to actually lace up the hiking boots and commit to the path forward with continuity and compassion. Opportunity abounds for B2B marketers to resonate with our audiences in ways that transform the relationships we can build with them. Embracing these three pivots will help to make this happen.