Is B2B Content Engagement Heading In The Wrong Direction?


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by Juan Pablo Bravo

by Juan Pablo Bravo

Sometimes more is truly less.  When it comes to the state of B2B content marketing and engagement, this proverb is on the mark.   According to a recent study by Track Maven, one among a few on this topic, shows both B2B and B2C marketers have increased their publishing of content in 2015 by as much as 35 to 40%.

This study, as well as others, shows that more content creation does not always translate into more engagement.  The Track Maven study found that content engagement decreased by 17% in the same period.  Track Maven referred to this as the “content marketing paradox” when publishing the study.

I am not sure it is a paradox.  My interaction with buyers, via hundreds of B2B buyer interviews in multiple industries, leads me to believe this outcome is a correlation as opposed to a paradox.  A paradox suggests you may not be able to make sense of such as outcome for it is not the expected outcome.

From my perspective, I think you can.  One is causing the other.

A Main Culprit

There is one development that has happened in the past 2-3 years, which may be causing the exact opposite of intent to increase content engagement.  This is:

Marketing and Sales Overly Focused On the Buyer’s Journey:  This approach has come into vogue the past 2-3 years.  And, as all things that come into vogue, they are usually fraught with unintended consequences.  This in vogue approach has led to attempts to make an “automated science” out of the B2B marketer’s view of the buyer’s journey.  This is attractive.  It is neat, suggests easy ways to align or adapt content, and leads people to believe they understand the buyer’s trip to a purchase.

The result, however, is an unfounded need to keep creating multiple content assets throughout a perceived journey.  For example, in one organization I helped recently, they perceived there were 7 stages for a generalized buyer’s journey of their target customers.  They also believed there should be 3 to 4 types of content for each stage.  This type of approach put them in a frantic mode to create 28-30 individual content creations.  When you also factor in multiple channels or platforms, this number perceivably can go to 80 to 100!

And, let’s not forget that B2B companies believe they may have 3-4 unique buyer personas.  Thus, such companies can wind up with devoting resources towards developing over 500 content creations!

Some analyst firms propagate this view, calling it adaptable or aligned content to the buyer’s journey.  We have seen attempts to “automate” this approach through new cloud applications.

I am not sure this is the right approach.

Let a buyer speak out on this:

“One thing I have noticed is an uptick in emails and information sent to me.  Some of what they send are okay but, for the most part, it is too much.  I don’t know.  It seems like a switch was turned on and there is just a lot more.”

Senior Director, Operations

Here is another short one:

“God forbid I download something from some of the sites I might search.  The floodgate opens and I am bombarded with stuff.”

Vice President, Supply Chain Management

Buyers Frame Their Issue Through Scenarios – Not Journeys

Based on my 15 plus years of interviewing literally thousands of buyers via buyer persona research, I am convinced buyers are not thinking within the frame of a buyer’s journey in the way as marketers believe they may be.  They think in terms of the situational scenario they are currently experiencing.  Applying processes and policies that are applicable to that situational scenario.  In other words, buyers are not in a consistent state of a 5, 6, or 7 stage buyer’s journey nor is this so called journey the same each and every time.

A recent SiriusDecisions survey pointed out the finding that 60-70% of B2B content goes unused.  In the case of the organization producing content to align to a perceived 7 stage buyer’s journey, it means a good portion of their content creations are going unused.

To buyers, a marketer’s view of a stage-by-stage journey amounts to “selling” to them.  And, not too surprisingly, continues to be viewed as product-centric.  When this happens, what you can get is less content engagement.

Can using a buyer’s journey approach create improvement?  Sure.  The improvements will be, however, incremental in nature as opposed to transformative.  On the other side of the coin, it can also cause engagement to decrease as the study above mentions.

What marketers and sellers need today is a transformation in how they interact with buyers in a new global digital economy – not just incremental bumps.

Increasing Content Engagement Through Customer Understanding

There are 3 measures an organization can take to transform their content and customer engagement.  These are:

Research and develop informing goal-directed buyer personas:  Researching and identifying the goals and goal-directed behaviors influencing choices and buying decisions will serve as a guide on how to engage buyers.  This understanding becomes the core premise behind how to message to, as well as, interact with buyers.  Helping buyers to realize that possibilities and opportunities exist to help them accomplish their goals.

Focus on the buyer’s situational scenarios:  One way to transform content engagement is to create core content that is adaptable to specific situational scenarios confronting buyers.  For instance, an organization I am assisting currently has uncovered 3 very specific situational scenarios buyers face in a certain targeted industry.  They have begun to shape their core content and messaging around these specific scenarios.  Enabling buyers to gravitate to the scenario, which is most relevant to them.  Here, however, is a key point.  The buyer personas identified use a different buying process for each specific scenario.  Ranging from transaction oriented to one very complex requiring multiple approvals.

Build and catalog content assets around scenarios:  Rather than build content assets only through a generalized, one size fits all, view of a buyer’s journey, B2B marketers should be building assets according to buyer’s need for information relevant to specific scenarios.  With adaptability built-in to apply to the buying process specific to that scenario.  Equally important is building in adaptability to multiple media platforms – factoring in print, digital, and mobile.

Stopping Waste

To boost engagement today, marketers will need to help buyers achieve their goals that are most relevant to the situational scenarios that confront them.  Leading to a reduction of content creation waste that is fraught in B2B marketing today.  Focusing only on the stage-to-stage approach of a generalized buyer’s journey is not much different than what has been the focus in sales for decades.  It is time to change.

To truly transform and get content engagement heading in the right direction requires us to achieve a deeper understanding of the customer.  An understanding that goes beyond just a conventional view of a stage-gated buyer’s journey.

(I particularly like this video featuring Brent Adamson from the CEB.  He elaborates briefly on how a content beast can be created in organizations.  In which, the above deliberation is a contributing factor towards how content beasts are created and overwhelm prospects and customers.  The focus, Brent and I agree on, should be content quality, not content quantity.)


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


  1. “The content marketing beast has taken on a life of its own.” – with that key point, Brent Adamson is right on target. But I find the evolution of Content Marketing hype as self-serving as it is predictable.

    Stage I: consultants and vendors focused on proving to companies that they didn’t have enough content (I’m not a fan of this term). Companies reacted by creating departments and teams to write stuff, and content poured out the wazoo.

    Stage II: the same consultants and software vendors hammered out urgent missives that there was too much digital noise, and that prospects were inundated. “Ratchet this back!” they shouted.

    Stage III (where we are now): Epiphany! Customers don’t value the amount of content, they value the quality! Now, everyone scrambles to fix that problem.

    Stage IV (perhaps CEB has this video already teed up for Q4, 2016): Quality is important, but honesty and candor are hotter buzzwords. So, more overhauling to do.

    Great! – if you’re a content developer. There’s always a new wave to ride, and more hours to bill.

    I agree with your point that paradox is misplaced in this context. I too, think we’re witnessing not a paradox, but a causal relationship between how companies communicate with customers and prospects, and how they respond.

    But there are a couple of things missing from this discussion:

    1) buying is subject to many random, unplanned events and forces. It’s rarely predictable, and does not lend itself to neat, step-by-step linear representations. As you point out, the “buyer’s journey” (another irritating term that’s weirdly popular) is a quick and convenient representation that’s often inaccurate. The main misconception is in its determinism – “do these things and you will get to the next step,” or, “things consistently happen in this way.”

    2) today’s emphasis on “content marketing” assumes that buyers are largely (solely?) influenced by what companies create or curate for their customers and prospects. It ignores – or underestimates – the role that information sources fully outside of a company’s control play in persuasion and decision-making.

    I’m curious – are there studies that compare the influence of internal versus external content (e.g. customer word-of-mouth, trade journal articles, business press, independent reviews) in buying decisions? Are companies making the right assumptions about the persuasive power of what they create, and are they investing proportionally?

  2. Hello, Andy! I was suspecting you would jump on this!

    Regarding your Stage 1-4, what I agree with is consultants, software vendors, and cloud applications can be “feeders” of the content beast. Combined forces have led to the side effect of “automating the bad” of the content inundation.

    I agree Andy that buying can be random and unpredictable. As well as emotional. Buyers do not engage via a neat linear step-by-step “buyer’s journey” – a term I think is most unfortunate at the moment. My point in touching upon situational scenarios is that buyers are confronting challenges, which includes unplanned events and external forces.

    As for influence, I cannot recite a specific study. But what I can share is qualitatively in my research directly with buyers over the years, content from marketers itself is rarely the main influence. In fact, I am finding another causal relationship. Which is, as more content gets “dumped” on buyers, the more they rely on customer word-of-mouth, independent reviews, peers, and etc.)

    Thanks as always Andy!


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