This is a guest post written by Lisa Smith, Director of Media and Markets Research/Mindwave Research.
Maybe you remember when media research was just about capturing TV viewership and print readership? Even when we first began analyzing web site traffic we had a manageable set of properties to measure.
But today, the pervasiveness of social media, the continued digitization of content, and the fragmentation of media platforms have given consumers and business decision makers a bewilderingly broad array of offline and online sources—creating significant challenges for marketers when it comes to measuring audiences and effectively targeting prospects throughout a decision-making process.
Welcome to the Era of Media Sprawl
- Social media, blogs, and discussion boards mean that users generate as much online content as brands do.
- Online searches deliver instant sources on virtually any topic you can imagine.
- TV and print digitization makes news and entertainment available anywhere, anytime.
Your customers are now getting their information from an ever-growing number of sources. For example, research shows that B2B decision makers today use an average of 10 different sources when making purchase decisions about complex, enterprise-wide technology solutions.
More Access to Information = More Collaborative Decision Makers
This media fragmentation has also affected business buying behavior. Easier access to more information brings new decision-making functions into focus and adds layers to the buying process.
Our experience with research tracking media consumption and buying behaviors in the B2B tech markets shows significant shifts in who is involved:
20 years ago:
|B2B tech buying largely done in IT departments with CIOs and IT managers unilaterally driving purchase decisions.
|Past 20 years:
|Internet becomes prevalent means for tech brands to connect and engage directly with customers, from end users to IT decision makers.
|B2B buying decision model is highly collaborative where corporate and management are active participants in needs determination and evaluation.
Shifting the B2B Media Research Model
The challenge for marketers: how to track real business prospects through all the various online and offline touch points. Looking to create an effective integrated media plan, with optimized exposure to the right audience at the right time? Here are three strategies that will get you there:
1. Find true B2B decision makers who are actively involved in the buying journey.
The ubiquitous access to information turns many employees into instant business influencers. They may make requests based on seeing a Facebook post, or alert others about interesting content by re-sharing information via a tweet, but they don’t necessarily direct specific buying decisions. Influencers can provide needed input at certain stages of a purchase cycle, but they are a difficult and inefficient target when nearly everyone is an influencer. The solution? Make sure you have identified your true decision-making customers who are actively involved in the purchase decision. And we emphasize “active” because there is a difference in content engagement with decision makers who are waiting for the next purchase cycle versus those who are currently in it.
2. Create product-specific content based on how decision makers consume information.
Unless you’re dealing with a very homogeneous B2B product or service portfolio, research shows that the type of solution you are selling absolutely matters in establishing your content strategy. Our tech-industry clients develop, manufacture, and sell hardware, software, and services that range from end-user devices and applications to enterprise network solutions and management tools. And who their customers are, as well as their content usage for purchase decisions, varies widely depending on the product or service in question.
Here’s one example from the Tap research comparing decision makers involved in buying mobile products to those involved in the buying process for unified communications devices. As you can see, the former are far more likely to turn to search engines or mobile apps for information, while the latter are looking at entirely different types and sources of content.
3. Drive specific content known to have greater weight at certain decision points.
We know that the B2B purchase process is a non-linear buying journey – much more than a progression of steps from “determining the need” to “approving the purchase”. As we think about the process as a journey, we see that simply analyzing content consumption in aggregate for a purchase decision is not enough to help marketers and media planners think about an integrated media strategy. That approach misses subtleties such as when a particular source is no longer useful, but the decision is still active. Advertisers need more flexibility in tailoring optimal content to deliver messages that drive critical decision points. As brands create more of their own content for demand gen efforts, recognizing how and when the content is used in the decision journey enables a better balance of the overall marketing and media strategy.
So What’s Next?
Will content and access methods continue to fragment further, creating additional challenges for media research? Or will we hit an over-exposure point that forces a consolidation of information, making it difficult to separate and measure one type of content versus another?
Either way, it’s critical for our measurement strategies and tracking studies to evolve in order to stay connected to business customers throughout these changing dynamics.
About the Author
Lisa Smith brings a fully integrated global market perspective to her understanding of these challenges through 20 years of experience working with B2B Media research. Her views come from 13 years in IT publishing at United Business Media/TechWeb/CMP Media, 6 years on the agency side at T3, working in strategy and planning roles, and 2 years on the research vendor side managing the Tap tech industry media study. More information regarding her work/experience and data to support this post can be found at www.tapstudy.com.