A Novel Decision Journey (Part 2)

In an effort to understand new content best practices, our team conducted a special journey mapping exercise to see how the pandemic may be impacting technology related decision-making in B2B. We chose an ecommerce platform decision in manufacturing for our scenario, but the learnings for content strategy can be applied across different sectors, technologies, and other product and service categories. (Access Part 1 and the detailed journey map here).

One hell of a use case

“We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home.” Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom

This statement couldn’t be more telling. Who knew? While it’s necessary to examine Zoom’s security flaws, think about how many software companies designed for a use case scenario that anticipated the upending of the entire global balance of things. Probably less than the number of developers scrambling to do so now.

The same can be said for the uncertainty felt by marketing teams. B2B marketers are busily retooling their carefully researched, data-driven plans and are left without playbooks and best practices to guide them in what Brian Solis calls the novel economy.  

Journey essentials

A key step in accurate journey mapping is to base it off a representative purchase scenario. It’s where you:

  • Select a high priority industry
  • Define the purchase trigger
  • Identify the key decision-makers and influencers
  • Lay out the criteria for vendor selection

It also specifies the level of experience your buyer has with your product/service category. Buyers could be new to it, new to you, both – or neither. This all determines what content is likely to be consumed or not consumed by them.   

Here is an excerpt from our novel use case scenario:

Fred, an IT Director in manufacturing must reprioritize an ecommerce platform upgrade due to situations brought on by COVID-19. Fred’s IT resources are stretched thin, so he’ll work with Sales directly to develop requirements, his first priority. To that end, he wants to understand customer needs and what does/doesn’t work today.

Any vendor being considered will need to address how they handle:

  • Peak load times
  • Industry regulations
  • Systems integration: specifically, with ERP & GDR

You may be wondering who Fred is. Fred is a buyer persona. Personas tell us about customer pain points, how decisions are made, what content is preferred and how it’s consumed, how to engage (and how not to engage), who they trust and where they go for information. Taking a persona-based approach allows us to put the customer at the center of our journey. Being empathetic to what Fred is going through helps us make an objective assessment of the relevancy and quality of the content along the journey.

Here are a few things to know about IT Director Fred.

There isn’t one single approach to journey mapping. A quick Google search will surface a number of definitions, descriptions and templates. From our perspective, the art is not in the “map”, so much as it’s in the “mappING”.  The key is to be thorough, going well beyond owned assets and channels, while staying centered on your persona’s needs, preferences and behaviors. Having said that, you still need the map, because it’s an effective visual aid to communicate internally.

Below is our sample manufacturing ecommerce journey map. It summarizes key points along the path the buyer took — specifying the channels, content and whether the experience was good or needed improvement. You can use this visual summary to present findings and guide planning. 

The mapping approach we usually apply is designed for complex and lengthy sales cycles involving multiple decision-makers. This map looks deceptively simple because it only represents the awareness stage and not the full funnel. We are looking at what usually is just the top left corner of a typical B2B content journey map.

Because the scope of this journey was focused on awareness engagement, it includes a variety of demand generation tactics:

  • Channels – such as search, paid social, email, partners
  • Content – including blogs, media/thought leadership and sponsored posts

It’s also important to note that we selected an ecommerce vendor that is not a client or a tool we use to maintain objectivity and integrity of the sample journey.

Learnings and takeaways

In terms of persona alignment and content marketing best practices, the vendor’s experience was a mixed bag – demonstrating the use of some content best practices (‘green’) while having considerable opportunities for improvement (‘yellow’).

  • They did their best work with discoverability, which is a primary objective of awareness engagement.
  • But the actual content quality and relevance was hit and miss.
  • Tone, personalization, engagement, and channel integration are areas that can be improved.
  • In addition, they should better demonstrate industry knowledge.
  • In the category of ‘low hanging fruit’, there were some technical glitches that should be easy to fix.

So, what does this journey tell us about high-value content specifically for manufacturing ITDMs?

  • Demonstrating industry experience is A MUST. A lack of it will knock vendors out of consideration.
  • In terms of specific assets, ITDMs are looking for examples. Architectural diagrams are helpful tools because systems integration is such a showstopper. Security whitepapers are a must-read as well. 
  • Messaging should be clear and concise. Be straight and get to the point. An IT Director does not have the time to sit with coffee in hand and read an accounting about a day in his life. Just the facts, please.
  • Send your best and seasoned SMEs to represent you at events and in communications.

Finally, what overarching lessons did we learn about content marketing through this novel journey?

  • Resources are limited and shifting. Marketers need to accommodate for changes to the buying center and potentially account for different roles stepping in and out.
  • Content has an even shorter shelf-life than before. Timely topics and up-to-date information are high-value.
  • Tone really matters. Buyers are making personal and professional decisions simultaneously. They are emotional, tired and short on patience.
  • Open the funnel. Don’t. Gate. Every. Piece. Of. Content.
  • Think before you hit send. Look at every piece of content you publish to ensure that it’s appropriate for the time.

It is for these factors and reasons above that our buyer did not move through to the next level with the vendor.

As marketers, the best thing we can do for B2B buyers at this time is to understand what’s going on in their industries and their companies and to simplify the process where we can. Identify and remove as many points of friction from your funnel as you can identify. Remember many are hidden and you’ll need to map a few different industries and roles to find them. Create quality, thoughtful content that goes deep. Deliver appropriate engagement experiences – that are seamless – for your buyers. Your goal should be to help them make informed decisions.

A novel economy requires novel content. Good luck and be well.

Jennifer Voisard

Senior Consultant

Jenny is a digital content strategist, who leads customer-centric engagements that focus on understanding B2B buying behaviors and developing custom roadmaps.

Her expertise is creating buyer personas and mapping digital content journeys to assess the multi-channel user experience. She helps clients operationalize plans across workstreams and identifies processes to create efficiencies in marketing operations. Jenny also has extensive time under her belt developing and managing customer advocacy programs and community building.

She has helped a diverse group of organizations including Cisco, VMware, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, BMO Harris, Capital One and many others become more customer-centric.

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