Ardath Albee is the CEO of Marketing Interactions. She regularly works with B2B clients to create digital marketing strategies that are compelling, highly leveraged and, most importantly, designed to engage prospects across the entirety of the buying process — what Ardath refers to as The Continuum Experience.
Her most recent book Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results was referred to as the “new standard for digital marketers” by New York Times bestselling author Jay Baer, and she is also a sought-after national speaker on topics such as content marketing and personas.
Earlier last year, we were fortunate enough to attend Ardath’s session “How Buyer Personas Power Sustainable Stories that Turn Prospects into Customers” at the B2B Marketing Exchange in Scottsdale, AZ. Afterward, our VP of Marketing Lianne Wade connected with her to discuss storytelling, content binges, and why marketers should get out of a campaign mentality.
You offered up a very compelling image stating that a common problem for marketers is that perception does not equal reality. Can you explain this, and how companies can overcome it?
B2B marketers tend to believe they know their audiences, but in reality they haven’t taken the time to do the research and deep dive as far as necessary to really understand them.
Part of this is because we know our solutions too well – so the curse of knowledge. We also tend to evaluate content and marketing programs based on what appeals to us. Yet we’re not our buyers or customers.
Developing personas is the best way I know to get to the level of understanding and knowledge that informs truly relevant content and marketing programs that resonate and compel action. Action being the key outcome.
You stated that campaigns halt momentum; yet, as we know, many marketers today manage communications through campaign-driven efforts. How can they avoid this campaign mentality and build momentum to deliver “The Continuum Experience”, a term you have coined?
The biggest problem with campaigns is that they start and stop. If your buyers take 9 months to buy your complex solution but your campaign lasts 3 months, you’re leaving them hanging just when you’ve expended a lot of effort to engage them.
There are a growing number of stakeholders involved in the decision, lots of knowledge to transfer and consensus to be reached. I’d ask marketers to identify anyone who has ever said, “Please give me 3 content offers and have a salesperson call me to schedule a demo.” I don’t think they can.
Campaigns are a construct created by companies to put a box around a program for reporting purposes. They are not based on what a buyer needs to decide to make a purchase decision.
Notice in the graphic below the “dead air” space that happens when traditional campaigns end and new ones begin. All momentum the marketer has built up with prospects halts. There’s nowhere to go.
But with a continuum approach, marketers can keep the momentum going from problem to solution, fulfilling buyers’ informational needs at each step and stage as their context changes given the ongoing knowledge transfer.
You talk about how to build and sustain stories. Can you elaborate on how B2B marketers can effectively use stories in their communications efforts?
Storytelling is compelling, because it’s natural. It’s the way we explain our world, the choices we make, and our aspirations. The most important thing to remember is that your buyer is the hero of the story. Not your company, not your product.
Focus your storytelling on helping the buyer learn what he or she needs to know to make an informed decision. And don’t assume they’ve already decided they need your solution. We need to start earlier in the pre-sales process to help them decide that they have a problem worth solving with our help.
Simple formula: Buyer sets out to solve a problem. Finds he doesn’t know all he needs or have the right tools to solve the problem. He enlists the help of a mentor (your company) to teach him what he needs to know to solve the problem. With your help, he clears the hurdles in his way and helps his buying committee reach consensus. He chooses to become your customer and lives happily-ever-after.
Apply this thought process to whatever you’re selling with the buyer as the hero, and you’ll have a compelling story across the entirety of the buying process — from start to finish.
You talked about an idea which I found very intriguing: content binge. When a buyer is ready to consume more info, provide them with easy access to information and package it. Can you give some practical ideas on how this would be accomplished?
When buyers become motivated to solve a problem, they tend to want to ingest as much information as they can about how to go about doing that.
Establishing problem-to-solution content hubs on your website or creating a microsite groups all this information together and reduces the effort they must expend to access the information.
The best part is that if you’ve designed your content to match needs at different stages of buying, you can also identify where they are in their buying process and respond to their buying patterns with highly relevant content offers and follow-up.
What is the one thing that you want B2B marketers to know about buyer personas that they may not know, or perhaps have a misperception about?
Buyer personas, built well, are great for understanding individual members of the buying committee. However, a greater value is in understanding the relationships and overlays between the personas as they work together to reach consensus. Or don’t. By understanding the group dynamics, you can create content and share information that will help them work together to solve the problem.
Tim Riesterer from Corporate Visions spoke about defeating the Status Quo Bias by teaching customers something new about their business needs that they may not know today; thereby disrupting them to change their behavior. In your opinion, how can B2B marketers overcome this bias to motivate buyers to act?
This goes back to question one. If you truly understand your buyers, you should be able to identify their “jobs to be done” or unmet needs, as well as why their status quo position won’t get them there.
Armed with this insight, you have a much higher chance of being able to show them something they haven’t seen in the same light before.