I attended two great conferences recently: DemandGen Report's B2B Content2Conversion in NYC (see the presentations, hosted by our friends at BrightTalk) and Eloqua's Road to Revenue here in San Francisco.
Despite the many excellent presentations on traditional demand gen and marketing automation strategies and tools, I thought some of the most compelling moments were about creating content for prospects before they "raise their hand" to signal interest in an offering.
The idea of a self-directed buyer isn’t new, but more and more research indicates that buying behavior and content consumption is changing as a result. The implication for demand gen efforts is that self-directed buyers will enter into the discovery or awareness phase and carve out their own information paths. This is backed up by a SiriusDecisions research brief, "CXO Buyer Preferences: Findings from Our Survey" based on their 2011 CXO Buyers' Survey. The survey showed that two-thirds of a CXO's time is spent online (versus one-third offline), indicating that a significant amount of research is taking place outside of the interactions with sales.
The impact of this changing behavior is critical for marketers to understand when crafting a content strategy. The takeaway: Unless you strive to meet your prospects’ informational needs BEFORE they enter your “funnel,” you may NEVER get the chance to get them into your funnel.
Below are three conference presenters who touched on a relevant approach to that challenge.
The art of storytelling
Andrew Gaffney kicked off the Content2Conversion conference with slides that highlighted how Irish writers have made an outsized contribution to the history of literature. His point is that the culture of storytelling is valued and ingrained in Irish culture; as an example, he told us about two of his uncles who were always the center of attention at the family parties of his youth.
Because of their amazing storytelling skills, these uncles kept all of Andrew’s relatives gathered around, transfixed and reveling in their tales. What's implied in Andrew's lesson is that his uncles weren't sitting around talking about themselves, or trying to sell anything to anybody. Rather, they told tales that they knew would captivate their audience. By sharing what they knew, for the benefit of the extended family, they became highly anticipated guests at all of Andrew’s family shindigs. A great story, in and of itself, and one to keep in mind when thinking about how to attract prospects and potential customers with content, and keep them coming back for more.
Talk about what you know, not what you sell
Joe Chernov from Eloqua presented a deck with some of the latest and greatest thinking on content marketing. There are tons of valuable tips in the presentation, but the best advice is on slide No. 5. When talking about the awareness stage (or the top of the content funnel), Joe states that you should "talk about what you know, not what you sell." Think about Andrew's Irish uncles attracting a crowd, but in a business context. It's about the marketing of attraction, as opposed to interruption or persuasion. In short, if you are an expert in your field, and have a useful POV that intersects with your audience's informational needs, then you should share it, not gate it or try to sell it. Invite your audience to read, comment, and share, without hindering its path in the digital-social ecosystem. The value you gain in attracting and engaging prospects by becoming a trusted resource far exceeds the value you would gain by immediately hawking your products to the few that would hand over some data, much of it bad.
Brands as publishers
Finally, at the Eloqua event, Toby Murdock, CEO of Kapost, led a great breakout session on content marketing. Toby's message to the group was crystal clear: Brands need to shift their thinking about the role that content should be playing in their offering. Toby explained that by better understanding their audiences' informational needs, brands have an opportunity to become their own media channel, and to attract more prospects with their own content. Of course, Toby's got a great product that helps clients manage that process, but his message wasn't about his product. It was about the success that companies have had by acting as publishers. A great case about marketing with attraction, in action.