Being successful in any business, B2C or B2B is about one thing – giving the customer what they want.
But how do you know what they want? Many customers, in B2B particularly, don't know what it is that they want exactly. They are researching the market, investigating and evaluating solutions.
If only you could identify those questions and then provide helpful answers – you would be well on the way to gaining another satisfied buyer. What they're thinking, looking for, or the unresolved issues they have. If only you could look inside their heads. That would enable you to help them, answer all their questions and guide them to your solutions.
That would surely give you a massive advantage in the sales process.
Although we can't read prospects' minds – modern marketing techniques, allied with appropriate technology – can provide us with useful insights into our buyers' thought processes.
Engage in gaining insights
Starting a conversation with a potential prospect is more difficult these days as buyers will be researching and evaluating solutions on their own and will only contact you once they are ready to buy.
You need to reach them in that research and evaluation phase – which is where content marketing comes into its own. By publishing helpful and relevant content that your prospect can find easily and use, you can attract the right people.
But that's only half the story. Ideally, it would be best if you were able to get them to engage with that content, interact with it in some way so that you gain useful insight into where they are at and what they want.
Most companies are failing to generate actionable insights from their content. Studies show that if you can, then you will have a significant advantage. According to a report by Forrester Research and Turtl, a staggering 94% of B2B businesses struggle with generating insights from marketing-created content and experiences.
Marketing Technology platforms
Content marketing platforms such as Hubspot can help you to not only create and publish content but also to aim that content at the right person, in the right place at the right time, making it more likely they will engage with that content and respond to a call to action.
You can automate appropriate actions for those enquiries and gain useful insights into your prospects behaviour. But what should you be looking for? What knowledge about your target buyers will give you an edge. What do you need to know?
Here are seven brand positioning insights that will set you apart in a B2B world.
1. Where is your audience?
In the days before computers, there was only one primary way to reach a prospect directly (that is not through a third party like advertising in the press, on TV or radio). And that was by sending some form of printed material to their physical address. It was expensive, often not well-targeted, potentially annoying to the recipient and could easily be ignored – but it was all you had.
Today we have the opposite problem; there are so many ways to communicate with a prospect which one do you choose?
With an infinite budget and unlimited resources, you might be able to utilise all of them – but that's not realistic. So, the first important insight is, where does your audience live, where are they looking for information, and where are their interactions taking place?
There are three principal types of channels where your prospect may be active – search, email and social media.
With search, it is a matter of having content that can be found. It is not about knowing where your audience is; it's about making sure they can find you. The priority is to ensure content is search engine friendly and contains the appropriate keywords so that you get found for the right reasons at the right time (as well as ensuring that the content they see is well-produced, helpful and relevant).
Email is crucial as a channel as it is the only one you own. That is as long as you have permission to contact your prospect in this way. Building an engaged and responsive email list of subscribers may be one of your most valuable digital assets. Both search and social are owned and controlled by vast and powerful organisations that can change the rules at any time.
Then there is social media. As of January 2020, 3.81 billion people were using social media worldwide, and that figure is still growing – by around 9% per year (98% accessing their social accounts on mobile).
Social is where many prospects are most likely to be engaging daily. And social media has a great deal of influence over B2B buyers too. Even way back in 2014, a study from International Data Corporation (IDC) concluded that 75% of the B2B buyers studied and 84% of C-level/vice president executives used social media to support purchase decisions.
Over the intervening years, the use of social media in all contexts has become more commonplace and more natural. So you should be active in social media – but which platform?
There are over 30 platforms with more than one hundred million users and thousands of smaller networks. Fortunately, you don't have to monitor or engage with thousands of different systems. There are seven major social media platforms, and of those, a few are not suitable for B2B or are closed to marketing of any kind.
But even if you were engaging with just one social media platform – where do you go to find your audience? Good monitoring tools and contact information can help. Monitoring occurrences of brand names, product names, phrases, industry jargon and so on across the Web will allow you to see who is saying what around those topics.
If you have a contact's details, you can probably identify their social media accounts and see what they are posting and where they engage. A comprehensive system such as Hubspot will allow you to see all social activity around your brand and from your customers and give you the tools to respond with appropriate replies, comments, content or other activity.
2. What stage of the buyer's journey are your prospects at?
Your content should target different stages of the buyer's journey – Awareness, Consideration and Decision.
Seeing which of these categories of content individual prospects respond to, should give you an idea of where they are in the buying process.
Social monitoring should also provide some insight into their situation – by looking at what they post, the questions they ask and the topics they are interested in – all this helps build a picture of where on the buyer's journey they might be.
3. What is the perception of your brand?
Your success in the market will depend to a great extent on how your brand is perceived. Is it seen as professional? Reliable? Does it have authority? Is it seen as modern and moving with the times, or traditional and a little stuck in the mud? Is it considered favourably, or is it shunned due to a poor image in the market?
It would help if you found out how your brand is perceived by your target audience so that you can address any misconceptions about your business and correct any shortcomings.
This is another area where social monitoring can give you valuable insights as to how you are perceived in the wider world. It would be best if you also looked at sentiment – what emotional response your brand triggers in your audience – good, bad or neutral.
As well as how your audience feels about your brand – you should also find out what they think about your brand – what kind of beast do they think you are?
4. What is your perceived brand positioning?
You have a business strategy. You have a brand strategy. These will rely on positioning your brand where you want it to be within the market. You will spend time and effort on content and marketing activity to hit that position. But what if you have that positioning wrong? Or what if your target audience perceives your positioning to be something other than what you intended?
Knowing what your perceived brand position is will help hone your marketing content so you can hit your mark. Whilst you are gaining insights into brand perception – you can also look at brand position.
5. How popular is your content?
Monitoring the views of your content and responses to it is essential so that you can determine what content is popular and what is ignored.
You can use analytics to see what pages on your website are popular and how long viewers dwell on pages. You can look at click-throughs to see what articles in email newsletters provoke the most reactions, and you can look at likes and follows to see what posts are popular on social media.
It is crucial however that you have some sense of context for that popularity – as a B2B business you may have a popular piece of content – but if all the views or likes are from under-18s that is unlikely to translate into the sales you are looking for.
Seeing what is popular, and what is liked will give you an insight into what to publish, what the market likes. But remember, popular content is not necessarily effective content.
6. Is the message of your content retained, and is it acted upon?
Popularity is not the whole story – you can easily have a popular piece of content that never generates any interaction or sales. When looking at what type of content to produce, on what topics, you have to consider effectiveness too.
There are two things to look at when considering if a post is effective. The first is retention. Does your audience retain the message? Can they remember it when it is time to make a decision? Your content must be memorable. If your audience can't remember your message – there is no point in publishing it.
Secondly, and by far the more important measure, is whether your prospects engage with the content and respond to it. Does it lead to a narrowing of the crucial gap between sale and no sale?
You need to know what kind of content is generating the most leads so you can create more of that type of content and generate even more leads.
7. What are you missing?
Your business does not operate in a vacuum, so keeping up to date with the market is vital. Knowing what your competitors are up to and their relationship to the market is essential to ensure you are not outmanoeuvred or missing a trick.
You can use the same monitoring tools that you use to monitor your brand perception, positioning and, to a lesser extent, the popularity of their content, to monitor competitors. Do they have a perception problem you can take advantage of? What kind of content seems to be working for them?
Similarly, if you have large accounts that you are targeting – and especially if you are following an account-based marketing approach, then you can again use those monitoring tools to see what they are up to. What projects are they working on? What are their aims? How do their customers perceive them? Almost anything you can find out is going to be useful marketing intelligence when going after that business.
The last brand insight that is relevant and useful is not so easily come by using a marketing platform or analytics. What could you be doing better? Changes in technology, changes in the economy and changes in the environment in which we do business, means that marketing has to adapt to still be effective.
Best practice changes – are you up to date with the latest research into what works? Do you know what the best approach is currently? Staying informed and researching new ideas and techniques to help your marketing improve should be an on-going process.
Putting a programme in place that generates actionable insights from a variety of sources and systems will place you in the top 6% of businesses—gaining brand management insights that will set you apart in a B2B world.