Business-to-business marketers know what customers want, in general terms, from initial contacts with the people they buy from. It’s taken awhile, but through trial, error, some more error and eventually some actual thought, the mystery has been solved.
Before I give it away, just ask yourself what you want in any communication from anyone when it comes to a business issue. What business issue? Any issue — they usually present themselves as problems.
What do you want? Something that helps you solve that problem. Maybe not the solution, maybe not something that addresses the entirety of your problems, but something that contributes to a solution. In other words, you want something of value that’s tailored to the problems you’re wrestling with.
Marketers are starting to realize this is what buyers want: not something “personalized,” which usually means a generic communication with the recipient’s name tacked to its greeting, but something that provides a valuable contribution to solving the problems they’re wrestling with.
If we marketers were smart, that’s where we would start. We’d figure out what is valuable to our target customers, then segment our customers and create content that delivers value to every one of them. We’d do it very granularly — targeting very specific issues — while also scaling the process.
Some of us marketers are smart. Many of us, however, are not. Instead of helping buyers solve problems — and doing so at the earliest point in our relationships with them — we devolve to what we know best. We do the things that are easiest and cheapest. Instead of winning customers over, we actually repel them.
Take simple personalization. Customers see through it and they resent it. More than 95 percent of people reacted negatively to emails that greeted them by name, a 2012 study by Temple University’s Fox School of Business found.
Those are emails that get the name right — just think of the reactions to the many that screw up and leave something like “[name]” or just have the name wrong? (I get an email from a company every week that begins, “Dear Lauren.” What are the chances I’ll ever want to do business with that company?)
Simple personalization sure is easy! So is blasting out the same content to a customer list. It’s also a great way to get potential buyers to tune you out and classify you as a source of noise rather than as a source of information.
Your buyers are barraged by messages — various studies put the average number at between 250 and 3,000 a day. Buyers need to tune some of that out, so the worst thing you can do is volunteer to be ignored by failing to deliver what’s valuable to them.
However, many of us do this — again, because it’s easy, well understood and convenient to us marketers. This is no longer an acceptable reason to do things.
Delivering targeted, valuable content to a highly segmented set of lists means a little more work on the front end — demand generation will have to coordinate with content marketing more, for instance — but in most cases it’s more about content coordination than content creation.
Many organizations don’t realize what content they’ve created in the past, so the first step toward a more effective email marketing approach should be a content audit to sort out the material that’s dated or inappropriate from the content that still has power. Next, work with your content creators to fill the holes and to provide the next content items for specific audiences.
This will allow you to home in on specific audiences in your email marketing — and it’ll help you build your content library so that, should prospects become interested in your business and look for content that may be tangential to their initial interest, it will be there waiting for them.
The process should be ordered differently: We understand our buyers and their problems, then we segment our buyer lists to mirror those problems, then we match those problems to valuable content, then we send that content to the right lists. Sounds easy!
It isn’t, of course. Eighty percent of marketers worldwide didn’t understand their customers beyond basic data like demographics and purchase history, and 96 percent said it was challenging to build a comprehensive single view of a customer, according to a study by VB Insight done earlier this year. Only 9 percent of marketers have a complete and fully utilized marketing technology stack, according to an Ascend2 survey from this year.
As marketers, we’ve put the cart before the horse in many organizations. We’ve figured out how to create content and how to send it, but we have no idea in most cases who to send it to, or why the people we’re sending it to would care about it.
If your organization can’t turn the process around and determine how to understand your customers and target buyers properly, there’s no way you can deliver the valuable content that helps solve buyers’ problems, and you won’t be able to help them toward a buying decision.