• Who Do IT Buyers Trust?

    A common debate in IT marketing is how to create and deliver the right content at the right time to help improve the connection and engagement with prospects and their buying decisions.

    When analyzing decision making patterns, buyers make purchasing decisions based on content containing the most valuable information and seek out sources, which are trustworthy and relevant.

    Format Matters

    According to our research on content marketing best practices and usage, the format of the content matters to today’s more empowered, skeptical and frugal decision maker – with dramatic differences in which content is used most often to facilitate purchase decisions, depending on which stage the buyer is in their decision making process.

    Overall, buyers continue to prefer documents such as research briefs, white papers and blog posts as the most important form of content along each stage in the buyer’s journey. These documents are rich in content, with different documents written to support the different buyer roles, for example economic and technical), and to facilitate the buyer as they progress through the purchase decision: From discovery, through consideration, to decision.

    However, since buyers have been impacted by successive downturns and forced to “do more with less”, they are more pressed for time than ever before. This has led to a desire to have content that is more targeted, personalized and relevant – giving a rise in popularity to newer content formats such as videos, webcasts and interactive tools (such as diagnostic assessments, ROI calculators and TCO comparison tools).

    By stage in the buying cycle, we have found that the most preferred content to help facilitate decisions includes:

    Documents: Throughout the buying cycle, our research indicates that documents are used as the most preferred content, to help buyers uncover and understand opportunities, explore solution options, justify change, and select/differentiate providers and solutions.

    The buyer preference for documents throughout the decision process may be because of the rich information they provide, and because it remains the most popular content produced by marketers to support all phases of the buying process.

    These documents come in many different formats, and include:

    • Survey results and research briefs
    • Best practices white papers
    • Business benefit overviews
    • Case studies
    • Blog posts
    • Web page content
    • Slide deck opportunity and solution overviews
    • Technical overviews and specifications
    • eBooks and Infographics (becoming popular because they are shorter than traditional content/more socially shareable).

    The shorter content forms, such as blog posts and slide decks, as well as the newer document formats such as eBooks and Infographics, appeal to earlier phases of the buying cycle – better connecting and engaging executive/economic-focused decision makers.

    However, the content focus within the document itself is what drives the stage with which the content is used, with various documents helping to:

    • Educate buyers and help them discover/prioritize opportunities during the discovery phase
    • Provide solution advice, business justification and success stories during the consideration phase
    • Deliver evaluation assistance and differentiate products and services during the decision phase

    Webcasts, podcasts, audio on-line and videos: Although we live in an increasingly digital world, people still like to buy from other people, and hearing a subject matter expert via a webcast/podcast, or seeing the person on video, provides a more personal connection. These visual and aural formats are becoming a preferred form of content, especially early in the sales cycle to connect to executives, and later to help confirm the selection and business case.

    Webcasts, podcasts and videos provide a dynamic platform for pundits, subject matter experts, and satisfied customers to deliver key messages, helping buyers:

    • Get ideas from thought leaders on what issues are important and how they should be prioritized
    • Gain the ammunition to challenge the status-quo within the organization, to help all stakeholders understand that there is a “cost of doing nothing”
    • Earn an understanding about what solutions are available and how others have successfully used these solutions to drive tangible business outcomes.
    • Understand the differences amongst different potential solutions and services.

    The best podcasts, videos and webcasts deliver content focused on a facilitating a specific step in the buyer’s journey.

    Tracking usage of this content shows some dramatic differences in preferences in format based on the stage in the buying journey, highlighting a preference by users as to which format they desire:

    • Podcasts are popular at only the earliest stages in the buying cycle, used by busy executives and travelers, who can easily download the content and listen to it while commuting or on the road. The podcasts are effective at providing research insights and education, but quickly fall off as a decision support tool in later phases of the decision cycle.
    • Videos have the largest impact during the first half of the buyer’s journey, used extensively during discovery to educate stakeholders on opportunities, during consideration to illuminate the business reasons for change, present case studies and provide solution overviews.
    • Webcasts have significant and broad influence throughout the cycle, helping provide a medium for successful delivery of early stage education, business justification, case studies, solution selection, and implementation advice.

    Interactive tools: Interactive tools are rising dramatically in popularity, as buyers have less time than ever to dedicate to new projects, and seek the most relevant content to help them drive their purchase decisions. These interactive tools have the advantage in that they can quickly profile a customer’s needs and provide a customized, personalized analysis presentation or document that is more relevant than traditional one-size-fits-all media.

    Different interactive tools can be designed to facilitate the buyer’s journey, to help dynamically:

    • Confirm known issues and help uncover hidden opportunities
    • Provide peer and leader benchmarks for comparison
    • Intelligently map and configure solutions to solve the highest priority issues
    • Provide pricing and investment estimates
    • Provide quantification of benefits in financial terms, and generate ROI business cases
    • Deliver personalized competitive and total cost of ownership (TCO) comparisons

    Interactive tools include:

    • Interactive white papers – used throughout the buying cycle, turning a traditional white paper into a more personalized experience, fine tuning qualitative and quantifiable content to precisely match the buyers profile, pain points and needs.
    • Diagnostic assessment and benchmarking tools – used during the discovery phase with executives and key stakeholders, surveying buyers on their current spending, goals and priorities, strategies and tactics to assess capability and maturity, provide benchmark comparisons to peers and leaders.
    • ROI calculators – used during the consideration phase and with champions or economic-focused buyers, quantifying the bottom-line impact of proposed solutions for economic-focused buyers to make sure the right projects are being prioritized. The analysis typically includes a quantification of benefits, investments, return on investment, payback period.
    • TCO comparison tools – used during the decision phase to confirm selections with stakeholders, quantifying the reduced total cost / incremental value of proposed solutions to assure the team that the right vendor / solution is being selected.

    It’s Only a Matter of Trust

    Not only is the medium important, but buyers indicate that the source of the content is often vital to the perceived value of the content.

    In our research, buyers indicate that it is usually the content from best practice leaders in their industry, without bias or hidden agendas, that proves to be the most valuable. Based on this, it’s no surprise that the most valuable content is perceived as coming from peers, who in articles, in communities and via discussion group dialogue provide experiences, advice and recommendations. As well, content from industry analysts ranks as well trusted, where analyst-developed research, insight and advice can help illuminate opportunities, guide best practices, and help chose the best solution.

    Although not a third party source, the good news for marketers is that content from consultants and vendors is also perceived as valuable in driving purchase decisions. This sentiment represents a great opportunity for marketers to provide solid content and advice to help facilitate buyer decisions.

    The Bottom Line

    Buyers rely on a variety of formats and sources for the content assets that fuel purchase decisions. Marketers are becoming savvier as to what asset formats, content and sources work best to help facilitate the decision cycle.

    As our research indicates, content format is important, and varies dramatically based on which stakeholder the marketer is addressing, and the stage the buyer is in along their purchase journey.

    The content considered by buyers as most valuable comes from a variety of trusted sources, especially third parties such as peers and independent analysts, but also includes consultants and vendors.

    Best practice marketers understand and map which content format and sources are the most relevant based on the buyer’s journey, and design the content within each asset to facilitate a specific step in the process, making these available at the right place and time to better connect and engage with buyers, and facilitate purchase decisions.

    For more research and best practices on content marketing optimization visit http://www.fightfrugalnomics.com.

    Tom Pisello founded Alinean, Inc., in 2001 where he coined the term, “Frugalnomics.”  You can read his daily blog at Tom Pisello: The ROI Guy.


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