Robin Thicke might have had a huge hit with his song “Blurred Lines,” but among today’s consumers, blurred lines don’t always equate to a snappy beat and a catchy tune.
In the sales and marketing universe, blurred lines refers to the buying process, or more specifically, where customers get their information and how they make their buying decisions. There are so many competing voices — official brand information, user reviews, third-party content that may or may not be sponsored by the brand — that the consumer doesn’t always know which outlet to trust. Most people cherry-pick among the content they see, building a perception and making a decision based on a number of factors, but most importantly, which message they trust the most.
The effect of all of these blurred lines is that brands are more challenged than ever to find the right marketing recipe using the most effective marketing channels to reach their target audience — and more challenged than ever before to quantify success in any particular arena. Further compounding the issue is the fact that sales and marketing are no longer two separate functions. Leaders on both sides must work together to better understand customers’ buying processes to produce not only more sales, but also actionable business data.
In this post, the first of a two-part series, we’re going to take a look at how brands entice, engage and influence a customer to purchase, showing exactly why the lines between sales and marketing are blurred — setting the stage for clarity going forward.
Setting The Stage
The foundation of any marketing and sales effort is information, and the source of that information makes a significant difference in customer buying decisions. However, there are other factors, and in Google’s 2011 eBook “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth”, author Jim Licenski outlines customers’ sophisticated journeys from the moment they first encounter advertising to their ultimate decision to purchase, and offers key steps for “Winning” in this environment. Known as the ZMOT approach, Licenski’s ideas help clarify the complexity of the digital marketing landscape.
According to Licenski the seven steps to winning customers’ hearts, minds and purchase dollars are:
- Put Someone in Charge
- Find Your Zero Moments
- Answer the Questions People Are Asking
- Optimize for ZMOT
- Be Fast
- Don’t Forget Video
- Jump In!
Given how fast the digital marketing landscape changes, some might wonder whether the ZMOT approach still holds true three years later. In short, yes! The ZMOT approach to marketing addresses the core fundamentals of digital marketing practices rather than focusing on new, disruptive thinking. And of those fundamentals, step 3 is by far the most important: Answer the questions that people are asking. To do that, you need lots and lots of quality content.
[Content] Marketing: The Front Line of Sales
We’ve all heard that “content is king,” but do we really know what that means in terms of more effectively engaging with your customers and spurring sales? In his April 10th piece in Forbes, “The Role of Influence in the New Buyer’s Journey”, Daniel Newman shared some eye-opening statistics that serve to highlight the importance of content as the cornerstone of your sales and marketing efforts. Specifically:
- 70% to 90% of the buyer’s journey is complete prior to engaging a vendor (Forrester)
- Consumers engage with and average of 11.4 pieces of content prior to making a purchase (Forrester)
- Consumers are five times more dependent on content than they were five years ago. (Nielsen)
Clearly, the well-informed consumer is moving themselves much further down the sales funnel before making warm-blooded contact. Let me repeat that: your prospective customers are moving themselves through the sales funnel. My how things have changed. All the while, the rumblings of industry thought leaders are constantly beating the war drums of relevant, genuinely-authored content. But what does that really mean? What makes one article more relevant to the consumer vs. more relevant according to the latest search algorithm update?
At the end of the day, content success is all about trust.
A Paradigm Shift. Again.
With the rise of social media and the “new word of mouth,” there has been a major shift in balance as the consumer voice has increasingly outweighed the commercial voice. Several positive reviews or recommendations from social circles can sway the consumer’s purchase intent — even shift them from a known entity to a new and unproven product, based entirely on others’ assessments. At the same time, all it takes is one scorned customer producing a bevy of negative reviews, justified or not, to destroy your business.
While the prospect of a negative customer review has many businesses paralyzed with fear, and the reality is social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, some of the balance between unbiased consumer reviews and word of mouth and business-directed content is being restored. Consumers have realized that all trust is not created equally, and that consumer opinion can just as easily be spun as commercial marketing. Who hasn’t regretted making a purchased based on the recommendations of friends and family — or even complete strangers? — and wished they had taken the advice of a more qualified reference?
Smart advertisers who want to take advantage of the public’s desire for useful information to guide buying decisions must understand that they are not only the best equipped to offer facts, specifics, and details, but they are in a much better position to empower their audience’s opinion and maintain full brand accountability. This combination creates a level of credible trust that never existed before.
And credible trust can always be built upon and improved. Never accept that just because your customers trust you, and that your facts are in line with customer perception, that they always will. Remember, one disgruntled customer with access to a computer can derail your marketing efforts, so you need to be constantly assessing your level of credible trust among your audience, and looking at ways to not only incorporate trust-building efforts in your marketing strategy, but also at ways to measure the success of those efforts and their influence on the bottom line.
A New Old Hero Emerges
Because customers are far smarter than ever before about virtually any given product or service, there’s been an increasing demand for organizations to use a more consultative approach to selling regardless of how commoditized the product may be. This suggests then that with marketing’s reach moving further down the sales funnel that consultative selling is reliant on more consultative marketing. And much of that consultative marketing comes in the form of content. A recent study from Nielson, Consumers Crave Real Content When Making Purchasing Decisions identified three types of content: expert content (credible, third-party articles and reviews), branded content (owned content produced by the brand), and user-generated content (like reviews on Amazon.com). They then surveyed 900 customers to determine how each type affected the brand familiarity, brand affinity and purchase intent.
Expert content, produced by credible journalists, was the only one of the three types of content to improve all three parts of the purchase cycle — in some cases, significantly. In fact, while much has been made of the fact that most consumers refer to user reviews before making purchase decisions, expert content actually increased purchase intent 83 percent more than user reviews. It also improved brand familiarity more than 50 percent and brand affinity 20 percent more than user reviews. Expert content also has an advantage over branded content when it comes to the sales cycle: It improved brand familiarity 88 percent more, brand affinity by 50 percent and purchase intent by 38 percent.
What this means for your brand is that you must develop a blended content strategy that serves all of the needs of your customers at every stage of the buying process. What does this look like?
- Develop content with trusted experts first. Releasing content from credible, third-party experts establishes the foundation of trust necessary for brand familiarity, brand affinity and purchase intent.
- Tell your story. Branded content will engage your customers and help them connect with you.
- Reinforce your message. Encourage your customers to share their stories and reviews.
As you build your content strategy, remember that you need continuous production of all types of content. In other words, expert content isn’t only for the early stages of your content strategy. As new expert content supports and reinforces the branded and user-generated content, you will rise above the noise and build on the foundation of trust.
Pulling it All Together
Establishing credibility, building customer trust, and effectively answering your customers’ questions requires a delicate balance between expert, branded and user-generated content and sharing both facts and opinions. These blurred lines can be challenging to navigate, and in part two of this series, we will “unblur” the lines to explore tactical approaches to utilizing experts as content, content as marketing, marketing as sales, and sales as the total-funnel strategy against all moments of truth in the new buyer’s journey.
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