|According to new content marketing research by the Chief Marketing Officer Council, in partnership with NetLine Corporation, insight- hungry business buyers are increasingly reliant on trusted third- party information to make more educated decisions. Content downloaded from trusted sources on the Internet is essential to pre-sales discovery, qualification, and selection of vendors. The study also found that buyers tend to be clustered in distinctly different content sharing circles based on how the purchasing process is being driven, as well as their levels of collaboration and decision-making responsibility.
These three sharing circles are led by organizations where content radiates from the execution or mid-level of the organization outward, informing both senior and junior/functional roles to gain alignment over vendor selection. The three primary content sharing circles include:
35 per cent of content sourcing and purchase decisions are from the middle out by tactically focused executives, but senior management is informed about how and why key decisions were made
30 per cent is driven from the bottom up as junior or mid-level managers source primary content and share upstream to members of senior management, who then make the final purchase decision
29 per cent is driven from the top down, whereby senior management consumes content, sending information downstream for product identification and final purchase and execution
The content sharing circles are being powered by three key segments of content personas, each with their own behaviours, needs and expectations:
Researchers primarily seek out the most broad and expansive content and are focused on new industry reports and research to inform them of advancements in solutions and trends impacting the market and opportunities for improvement
Influencers are interested in both the broad thought leadership consumed through trusted third-party channels, as well as vendor- branded technology specifications, data sheets and use cases. This group emerges as the segment most interested in summarized content, including infographics, video, and blog commentary decision Makers want to stay informed through research reports and analyst commentary, but also expect to have access to data in order to speed and enable better decision making in the tail end of the decision funnel
The study validates earlier CMO Council research that revealed 88 per cent of 400 business buyers believe online content plays a major to moderate role in vendor selection, yet just 9 per cent of respondents think of vendors as trusted sources of content. Furthermore, says the report, the most influential types of content across both the awareness and evaluation phases of the buying journey are third- party validated research reports and studies.
Additional key findings from the research include the following:
The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. 68 per cent start their content sourcing at search engines and portals, 40 per cent go to vendor websites, and 25 per cent are activated by an email from a trusted source or peer.
Buyers are seeking thought leadership from third parties but still expect facts and data-driven insights from vendors to help make critical vendor selection decisions. 44 per cent see technical details and specs about products as the second-most valued source of content across their buying journey.
The top five most sought-after types of content include:
Comprehensive industry/category surveys and studies (52 per cent)
Technical details about products and solutions (44 per cent)
Analyst reviews or recommendations (43 per cent)
Expert-originated content with supporting facts and research (35 per cent)
Content published by third-party sources (35 per cent)
The top five reasons that business buyers use content are to:
Identify best practices and best-of-breed solutions (51 per cent)
Determine where competitive differentiation can be achieved (50 per cent)
Clarify the position of a specific vendor or partner (43 per cent)
Set the strategic agenda and assess areas of need and prioritisation (42 per cent)
Provide perspective from a trusted, neutral source (33 per cent)
Content plays a pivotal role in add-on buying decisions or supplemental purchases following the initial contract, says the report. 86 per cent frequently or sometimes use digital content to identify complementary or add-on products, while just 12 per cent rarely undertake further content sourcing. This third-party content is also frequently or sometimes used by 92 per cent of buyers to maintain a vendor relationship or advocate the use of the vendor's products or services.
Robert Alvin, CEO and Chairman of NetLine Corporation, concludes that "...consumers of content today are smart, educated and weary of all of the noise the more the content speaks to the target market, the greater the level of response... smart marketers effectively modify and adapt a single piece of content to target specific segments... company size, verticals, geography, job title...
These (modifications) do far better than those that simply utilize the same content across all channels... "
The research is just one indication that marketers need to fine- tune their content strategies and capabilities as they seek to effectively engage today's customer audiences, opines the report.
And Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director of the CMO Council, adds that "... B2B marketers annually invest an estimated $16.6 billion in digital content publishing to acquire business leads... influence customer specifications... educate and engage prospects... despite spending 25 per cent of their marketing budgets on content creation... most companies lack... strategies, competencies and best practices to effectively engage their markets... few have content performance metrics to measure effectiveness and calculate ROI..."