Marketing Needs to Be Compulsively Customer-Centric

PropelGrowth Blog - Financial Services Marketing and Content Strategy

Making content relevant to customers takes a significant commitment to success.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how content marketing seems to be slipping into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” This is the second installment in that series. Unless marketers are compulsively customer-centric, they’ll continue to struggle.

As I mentioned in the last article, a key reason for the disillusionment with content marketing is that it has failed to deliver on expected results. One key reason for this is that customers find the content irrelevant and/or not useful for their decision process.

According to Erin Provey at Sirius Decisions, “Sixty to seventy percent of content in b-to-b organizations goes unused. The number-one reason? Irrelevance. The number-two and number-three reasons? People don’t know it exists or can’t find it.”

Wow! Given that marketers spent $145B on content last year, that means that they WASTED $101B on content that was either irrelevant or not findable. Ouch!

Patiently sticking to what we’ve always done won’t get us through this trough of disillusionment. We have to become compulsively customer-centric in our messaging and make absolutely certain that prospects and our sales teams can FIND the content when it’s needed.

Five Reasons Marketers Struggle with Effectiveness

At Content Marketing World 2015, Joe Pulizzi posited that there are 5 reasons why marketers struggle with content marketing effectiveness. Nearly all of them highlight a lack of customer-centricity:

  1. They focus on campaigns, not conversations – Campaigns are designed to drive short term results, not aid prospects with buying cycles that outlive any one campaign. But most B2B buying cycles exceed 6 months.
  2. They’re focused on brand instead of audience – so they make the product the hero of the story, not the audience.
  3. They’re impatient for impact – so they try to rush programs and expect them to deliver results on a time horizon much shorter than an average customer’s business cycle. And when the programs don’t deliver the expected ROI on the company’s time horizon, they’re judged a failure. This is pure madness.
  4. They’re telling undifferentiated stories – so their content doesn’t look any different or give any different vision than the competitors. Customers of sophisticated technology aren’t buying product, they’re buying into a company’s approach to solving their business problem. Yet content published by the various competitors often sounds nearly identical. Not helpful.
  5. They target too many audiences – brands that focus on a niche consistently have better luck with content marketing because they can specialize. When you target too widely, you’re more likely to be perceived as a “jack of all trades and master of none.”

Why Marketing Content Is Irrelevant

People don’t engage with your content because they want to engage with your brand. They engage because they find content useful, educational or entertaining.

Usually, customers find marketing content irrelevant because marketers did little or no qualitative research on their prospective buyers before creating the content. So since they don’t really know what information the customer needs, they create content that the seller would find relevant.

But marketers, remember: You are NOT your customer. You need to figure out what content your customer values – not the content that your marketing and sales team THINK the customer SHOULD value. That means you have to do the research.

Marketers Still Aren’t Getting Customer Insights

Marketers continue to lack awareness of what prospective customers need in order to make well-informed buying decisions. Most lack a firm grasp on the customer’s situation, business problems, buying process, and informational needs.

There is a preponderance of evidence that effective buyer persona research must be based on qualitative insights about the buyers, yet companies are still not investing the time or resources to do sufficient buyer research.

Tony Zambito did a study on The State of Buyer Personas and found that “Only 15% of the respondents relied on in-depth qualitative buyer interviews…meaning nearly 85% relied on CRM or Marketing/Sales Automation, sales data and input, and win/loss oriented phone calls only.” Not surprisingly then, Zambito also found that only 14% of respondents “achieved a deeper understanding of their buyers.”

Honestly, it shocks me how few marketers actually get out to talk with real customers and prospects on a regular basis. I don’t know how they think they can possibly make content that will deliver results without first-hand customer insight. And that doesn’t even touch on the fact that many companies are actually developing their products and training their sales teams without doing customer research. If you’re not doing this essential research, you’re relying on sheer luck to drive success.

And you don’t need to interview just new customers. Check out how much we learned from this loss analysis.

Personas Enable Marketing to be Customer-Centric

Cintell recently published their Understanding B2B Buyers Benchmark Study. They found that “Across the board…organizations who exceed revenue and lead goals are more effective at creating, using, and consistently maintaining personas than companies who miss lead and revenue targets.”

Cintell found that “71% of companies who exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas vs. 37% who simply meet goals and 26% who miss them.” In addition, 67% of the high performers have updated their personas in the past 6 months.

And those high performers are not just relying on quantitative data. Cintell found that 82.4% of those exceeding revenue goals conduct qualitative interviews with customers and non-customers. In contrast, 70% of companies who missed revenue goals did NOT conduct qualitative persona interviews.

Lori Wizdo from Forrester wisely points out, “It’s irresponsible to build your customer engagement strategy on aggregate trends. The behavior and proclivities of your buyers might be very different from those averages.”

There’s a Big Difference Between Buyer Personas and Buyer Profiles

I continue to see buyer personas that focus mostly on describing demographic information like age, marital status, where the persona lives, and whether she owns a dog. Can someone PLEASE tell me what that has to do with a B2B purchase decision? Yes, it might affect the content format – commuters and dog walkers might appreciate a podcast, and younger people may prefer more interactive media. But it tells me NOTHING about what information gaps they’re trying to fill in their research in order to make a well-reasoned buying decision that won’t get them fired.

When brands lack insight about the customer, they’re relegated to creating content that is blatantly company-centric or is out of touch with actual customers.

This virtually guarantees that content will be considered irrelevant to many of the key buyer constituents. This is also contributing to the problems with sales and marketing alignment. Sales doesn’t use marketing-produced content because they know it’s irrelevant to the customer’s goals and/or it does nothing to help them advance the sale.

Content Marketing is About Teaching and Helping Customers

Marcus Sheridan said, “Teaching and helping customers never goes out of style.” Customer-centric content marketing is not about attracting traffic or capturing leads. It’s not even about generating revenue. It’s about teaching a prospective customer what they need to know in order to be a well-informed buyer. Companies who take that approach with their content manage to attract leads that convert. Companies who dodge that responsibility have more trouble demonstrating ROI on their content investment. It’s that simple.

But it’s not simple, is it? This approach demands continuous customer research. You can’t spend two weeks doing buyer persona research and call it good. The market evolves, your business evolves, and needs change. If you don’t keep your ear to the ground to make sure you know what kinds of questions the customers are asking, you won’t be able to create the content that addresses their questions.

Being compulsively customer-centric requires a commitment of resources and deep inquiry over time. It’s not a short-term solution and it’s not cheap. But neither is wasting 70% of your budget on content that’s irrelevant to your customer base.

If you’d like to learn more about how to create buyer personas, here are some resources:

Buyer Personas: Sales Won’t Let Us Interview Customers
B2B Buyer Personas – No Shortcuts
Buyer Personas for Radically Relevant Marketing
Developing Buyer Personas for Financial Services
Buyer Persona Template
Case Study – Loss Analysis

Also, we offer a marketing coaching service to help you develop and execute your marketing strategy. A key part of the service is the buyer persona research. Learn more here.