The media has never before had a greater presence in our lives – yet, paradoxically, as its reach increases, its influence as a marketing channel becomes more fragile. Business-to-business (B2B) buyers are faced with a proliferation of media marketing channels, from social media to news to content – and it’s making their lives more complicated. In a survey by Octopus Group’s research unit, Loudhouse, 43 per cent of B2B buyers agreed that more sources of content to research are adding time and complexity to their decision-making process.
As a result, B2B buyers have turned away from traditional media channels, with Loudhouse research pointing to a generational shift in how research is carried out. Among those over-45, 47 per cent choose to look at vendor websites first when researching a purchase. Among 25 to 44-year-olds, just under a third refer to vendor websites first, with 36 per cent turning instead to colleague recommendations and 34 per cent using social media as the first port of call.
A new breed of savvy B2B buyers has emerged – buyers who are aware that they’re being marketed to, and who have less confidence in the media than previous generations. Less easily influenced by brands, and more judgmental, they present a challenge for marketers. But they can be reached, as we explore with Eric Jones, PR head at WP Engine…
How does the rise of the smart buyer affect comms strategies?
The impact for PR, comms and marketing professionals is that smart buyers’ decisions are based on access to multiple channels and a diverse set of influencers – imagine it as a ‘mosaic of influencers’ all coming together to form a single picture. In my experience, the smart buyer has probably been ‘doing B2B’ for a long time, so they have an established network of trusted influencers they call on. But how they engage with this network and expand it covers traditional interactions – networking events, conferences and so forth – through to social and crowd-sourcing. What’s key is that they are the most well-informed, well-researched buyers that marketers have ever had to contend with. This is an opportunity and a challenge.
How should brands respond?
Perhaps the biggest shift we’ve seen is brands becoming publishers of content – positioning themselves as trusted third parties and credible sources – in their own right. The key to a successful content strategy is to think about the challenges the customer faces. Be issues-driven, not vendor-driven; Hubspot is a great example of a B2B brand that’s doing this well.
How do influencers inform smart buyers’ purchasing decisions?
Often the most influential content when gathering information ahead of making a procurement decision comes via a valued third party. This tends to be a colleague, a peer, or someone they trust who has been through a similar purchasing decision recently. This could be a physical conversation – smart buyers are active networkers – but a lot of conversations occur on social media.
Which channels should brands use to tap into influencer networks?
Despite falling usage, Twitter is the primary B2B social channel outlet for sentiment around a brand. I also see crowd-sourced channels quickly becoming a good source for user reviews and peer reviews, and – while not particularly new or sexy – Slideshare is a great resource for information. Quora is another great resource because it’s attracted big-time experts in numerous fields who share their opinions on brands or products. Analyst reports are still valued, although we’re seeing the likes of G2 Crowd and Trust Radius disrupting the traditional analyst firms and positioning themselves as "Yelp for the enterprise buyer."
How has WP Engine’s comms strategy changed in response to the rise of the smart buyer?
WP Engine is a huge believer in the power of ‘brands as publishers’. The WordPress platform has democratized publishing and businesses – from SME to enterprise – are using WordPress to become trusted providers of content. As you’d expect, this approach is at the heart of WP Engine’s comms and marketing strategy and is something we’ve invested heavily in over recent years. We have an award-winning site called Torque that targets WordPress developers and users. At the end of 2016, we launched Velocitize for digital marketers and agencies. All this content helps feed our marketing leads pipeline and helps us with buyers at the moment of consideration.
Eric’s top tips for targeting the smart buyer
1) Think of smart buyers as consumers first. "The days of compartmentalising our personal and professional personas is over; the smart buyer is constantly exposed to content and absorbing information 24/7."
2) Personalisation is key. "No buyer wants to feel generic. People want to feel special and as though they have your undivided attention; the content most likely to resonate with smart buyers is tailored to them and to their specific needs"
3) Be authentic. Smart buyers have less belief in the media – so it’s vital to be transparent in order to win the confidence of their network of influencers. "Be open and honest in all your comms – win trust in every interaction."
4) Develop a mixture of content. "Meet the needs of all levels of buyers with thought-leadership content that combines in-depth, long-form pieces with bite-sized material."
5) Be bespoke. "Tailor content to buyers’ specific needs by building a bespoke, ‘hand-made’ comms strategy."
6) Use customer data to determine smart buyers’ needs. "With so much customer data available and accessible tech to analyse and interpret that data, there is no excuse for failing to fully understand the needs of your customer and communicate with them accordingly."
For more information on how to tailor your strategy to reach the smart buyer, visit weareoctopusgroup.net