The Role of Content in Plague-Year Marketing

hidingWith each passing year, more and more of the selling process for everything from vacation timeshares to enterprise software takes place online. Much of what once required face-to-face interpersonal selling to move a prospect along on his or her customer journey can be done virtually these days. But no one has ever really proven that virtual approaches are better than old-fashioned handshake selling.

It’s a moot point now, though. Handshake selling is increasingly difficult at a moment in history when people have stopped shaking hands. Every organization that relies heavily on conferences and trade events will need to revise its strategy this year as widening concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus causes major vendors to pull out of conferences. Hundreds of events have already been cancelled, costing conference organizers more than $1 billion as of early March 2020 – a figure sure to grow.

How will you close the marketing gaps these cancellations are creating? Each product marketer has his or her own answer, but one thing is certain: Your marketing content is going to have to work harder than ever to move potential buyers toward commitment to purchase. Is your content up to the challenge?

There aren’t a lot of hard metrics for content preparedness – the COVID-19 outbreak is in many respects an unprecedented challenge for companies and for entire industries. But there is a practical way for companies to gauge their content readiness in more normal times, and I believe there’s a compelling use for it now.

I’ve been suggesting for six years that Customer Journey Analysis, a methodology that marketers have borrowed from the Customer Experience (CX) discipline, can be used to identify and address the organization’s requirements for marketing content. I’ll let my previous writing on this lay out the case in detail, but here it is in brief:

Product marketers seek to understand the long, circuitous path prospects typically travel to:

  • Understand their needs,
  • Decide to address those needs,
  • Look around for solutions,
  • Recognize your product or service as a potential solution,
  • Match your solution to the problem at hand and assess the fit,
  • Convince other stakeholders of your product’s value, and
  • Buy your stuff.

A savvy organization will have drawn a Customer Journey Map, or several such maps, to describe the journey generally taken by customers who fit various personas. Along the way, each customer will have dealings with identified “touch points” in your organization — your advertising, trade show staff, industry analysts or current reference customers, your inbound marketing team and inside sales force, account executives, and post-sales support staff.

Notice how many of these touch points are people. In a quarantined world, inside sales people will continue to interact with customers by phone, more or less as always. But a lot is going to change for event staff, account execs and pre-sales technical experts. Those, typically, are frequent business travelers, and a lot of their customary meetings are going to be called off.

Now analyze what those people actually do during the various meetings that your customer journey map tells you are standard for each phase of the sales process. Each face to face encounter will be some combination of rapport-building and information delivery. It’s difficult to know how the current crisis will affect customers’ assessment of the value of vendor rapport, but in any case some of this will have to be achieved by means of phone or web conferencing. It’s hugely valuable for you to retain as much opportunity for that kind of customer contact as you can.

But what about the information delivery component of the interaction? Your prospect will be experiencing certain “Moments of Truth” at which he or she faces complex, crucial decisions. Assuming your organization understands its customer journey well, you already know how your sales reps handle each of these predictable moments, and how they answer the questions you know will arise at these critical moments. You also know roughly when they will occur.

what doesGranted, many of these questions are best answered face to face by a rep who has become a trusted expert for the customer. But if you are going to get fewer opportunities to have those meetings, an alternative is to push content that answers those questions to the customer, just at the moment your journey map and your rep’s instinct tell you that customer is going to need those answers. If that content arrives in the customer’s inbox just before he or she thinks to ask for it, so much the better.

Of course, if the content you need at these moments is intended to fill a gap created by this year’s pattern of meeting cancellations, odds are it doesn’t exist yet.

2020 would be a good year to budget for that content to be created – by someone you’re confident will understand not only the information to be conveyed but what’s taking place between you and your customer at the moment that content will be deployed.

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