Companies may not intend to be narcissistic. But they unintentionally produce a lot of “product selfies.” Marketers start out right. They consider customer needs when answering the question, “Why buy my product?” Then customer focus stops there. Most companies give only superficial attention to the context in which their audience will consume their message. However, an IDC study finds that the situation is about to change as leading tech companies ramp audience marketing to a whole new level.
Customers perceive content to be self-serving when it talks only about the features and benefits of the product with insufficient effort to match these to the buyer’s context. What’s missing are the answers to the question, “How can we help the buyer consume this message? What does the buyer need to hear, understand, trust, and accept our value proposition?” When content is offered without a true audience filter, product messages have the same tiresome, annoying, self-centered demeanor as your teenaged niece’s 15th selfie. No matter how cute she looks in her prom dress.
Isn’t Audience Marketing Pretty Basic?
While IDC found that almost all tech companies surveyed use some degree of audience marketing (indeed, segmenting customers should be Marketing 101) only about 26% of them can be considered advanced — and even the advanced companies have significant opportunity for maturity.
What is changing in the most advanced companies is the depth, degree, and focus on the audience. Said one expert interviewed by IDC, “Buying a list of hospital CIOs and slapping a photo of a nurse on your website isn’t vertical marketing.” Audience marketing requires today’s marketing organization to take on a much larger and extra layer of work on behalf of the customer. Leading companies are stepping up to this task by dedicating audience-focused resources as an “ambassadors” for their customers.
Reversing the Effects of Sales Erosion
For B2B companies, it used to be salespeople who primarily filled the customer context gap. It was salespeople who were trained to listen for customer need. Salespeople translated the company offerings into something meaningful to the customer. Salespeople still have this role — but they can only perform it when they have the opportunity. And that opportunity continues to erode. IDC’s annual IT Buyer Experience Study consistently reports that for the average IT purchase, buyers are nearly 50% of the way through their decision journey before talking with sales. The increased percentage of buyer engagement through digital communication channels has also eroded the critical customer context cushion.
Audience marketing is the function that replaces this cushion. By devoting staff and program dollars as audience ambassadors, marketers will identify this gap and execute appropriate programs to fill it.
What Do Audience Marketing Leaders Do Different?
The most distinguishing factors between companies advanced in audience marketing compared to average or beginner companies are the following:
Appointing an Audience Marketing Leader: Advanced companies are about twice as likely as average or beginner companies to have a named leader in charge of audience marketing. When a company puts a leader in charge of an initiative and makes a practice a corporate-wide mandate, the culture starts to change in a big way. Audience marketing gets visibility. Metrics get put in place. People begin to get recognized and awarded for skills learned and for achievements. Investments and resources are allocated.
Branching out to explore many audience marketing strategies: IDC examined the popularity of various audience marketing strategies and found that advanced companies use a broader variety than average or beginners. Overall, segmentation by Functional Role (C-level, IT, HR director, etc.) is the most popular strategy and is used moderately or extensively by 100% of advanced companies and over 80% in the other groups. Vertical Industry is a close second. Buyer behavior segmentation is the hot, up-and-coming strategy — but it is more difficult and more sophisticated than the other segmentation strategies studied and thus is used the most infrequently by companies at all levels.
However, advanced companies are moving ahead strongly, and IDC expects to see use of behavioral segmentation increase significantly in the next few years.
This blog first appeared on LinkedIn and is a summary excerpt from the IDC research report Audience Marketing: Replenishing Customer Context authored by Kathleen Schaub #257372. Subscription required.