Data on thousands of B2B customers about how and why they decide to purchase a good or service shows that the most effective content marketing must have two qualities: it must teach customers something new about their business and it must motivate them to act on that information.
To do this, a content marketing campaign should take potential customers through three specific stages:
- It sparks a customer to think differently about how something works in their business or industry.
- It introduces a disruptive idea that changes a customer’s understanding of the topic.
- It confronts the customer with the disruptive idea in the customer’s terms.
Ultrasound Manufacturing and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
To understand this, we must start with the concept of commercial insight. From years of research into sales and marketing, we know that the most successful firms organize their sales structures and activity to provide the best “commercial insight” they can. Commercial insight is an insight about a customer’s business that shows the customer why the most valuable qualities they require from whatever they’re purchasing are those qualities that the supplier is better at providing than the competition.
To show how this works, take a purely illustrative example of a company that makes ultrasound equipment. The firm has a unique design and manufacturing capability to develop especially lightweight, ergonomic ultrasound devices. To find commercial insight, the marketing team focuses on the high absenteeism rates among ultrasound technicians. Using their hands and wrists all day causes the technicians to get carpal tunnel syndrome, and so to call in sick.
Most obstetricians view the absenteeism as a cost of doing business, and a natural result of people using their hands and wrists in this way. But a savvy marketer at the firm finds through research that the carpal tunnel problem is caused more by the ultrasound equipment than by the hand and wrist motions, and that lighter, ergonomically designed equipment will dramatically reduce the incidence of carpal tunnel.
It’s this finding that’s the commercial insight. The firm can now use this to teach customers something new about their business that they didn’t appreciate. This changes their understanding of their operations and, crucially, in a way that favors the product features that differentiate this firm from other ultrasound manufacturers.
Notice, also, how commercial insight goes well beyond thought leadership. In the ultrasound equipment category, most thought leadership would focus on development of new technologies, such as portability in ultrasound devices. While this might inform the customer about something new, it would fall short on actually changing the customer’s view of their own business and motivating them to act.
Why You Need Commercial Insight and Content Marketing
As shown in a previous post, the problem is that commercial insight is now not enough. Today’s average customer contacts a supplier once they’re 57% of the way through the purchase decision process, meaning that most customers have already landed on their buying criteria by the time they’re talking to a sales rep. Influencing them away from those criteria is like trying to re-shape already dried cement.
And so this is where the three-step content marketing campaign comes in.
Infographics, blog posts and the like on the average yearly cost of absenteeism in a typical practice.
Content that shows the link between absenteeism, carpal tunel syndrome, and ultrasound equipment.
With this content, the marketer should just try to get the obstetrician to reconsider the cost of absenteeism in managing her practice, and to provoke her into exploring further.
A short white-paper with evidence about the hidden impact of absenteeism on patient satisfaction.
A video testimonial of an obstetrician talking about the tech absenteeism problem in her business, and the hidden costs she didn’t fully appreciate.
Third-party medical studies on the link between ergonomic design of tools and severity of carpal tunnel syndrome.
The content here focuses on the problem, and introduces the disruptive idea, which is that ultrasound equipment is the main culprit behind technicians’ absenteeism, not the nature of the their job.
This content suggests that a really painful problem in her business is actually much more controllable than she appreciated. By doing this, the marketer taught the customer something new about her business.
An online benchmarking tool that invites the obstetrician to share a little about her practice and in return receive comparative information on how absenteeism affects other practices like hers.
Or a pain calculator, where the obstetrician can enter a few parameters about the size of her practice, how many technicians she has, how many patients she has, and produce an estimate of how much absenteeism costs her, including hidden costs.
This is information the customer can’t easily get herself. The marketer has just enabled the customer to size-up her own underappreciated problem in her own terms and, crucially, given her the motivation to act.
For more on the power of commercial insight, read “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation”.
For more on content marketing, read research by CEB Marketing and Google.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.