Content is a valuable tool for technology providers. Tech marketers put in a lot of time and effort in creating content of various types, much of it for the purpose of generating awareness and demand. This top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content often helps to drive a potential buyer to a web site and enable the provider to further engage them through nurture and outreach (often with additional content). The TOFU content can be used a call-to-action for both inbound and outbound campaigns and can be (reasonably) traced to marketing-qualified leads (MQLs). So understandably, demand generation and product marketing leaders (and CMOs as well), place a lot of attention around content marketing.
But (and there always seems to a “but” in my blog posts), the extreme focus on TOFU content (and content marketing more broadly) can be a bit myopic. As I’ve talked about before, MQLs are only a useful metric if they convert, to opportunities and ultimately wins. But that doesn’t mean that content doesn’t have an important role to play as the customer moves further into their own buying process (and further down the sales funnel). In fact, has a content has an important role to play when it comes to influencing things like vendor shortlist and selection. I’ve published a new research note that looks at this topic (registration required) and it’s based on the same survey data we’ve used for several other research notes.
As Hank Barnes noted a few months ago, buyers enter the buying process with a generally low-level of trust in the ability of a given vendor to be able to solve their problems and meet their needs. The research time that an organization spends during the buying process involves talking to internal colleagues, external peers, analysts and other third-parties as well as the providers and consuming content and information from the latter two. They spend roughly 1/6 of their time (17% to be precise) during the buying process consuming information from a provider and/or their partners.
While this may be a lower number than many marketers would assume (and we have data that suggests this to be the case), that’s still a significant amount of time. Some of this is early in the process (where the TOFU content is consumed), but much of it used later in the process. And while the TOFU content may be great at gaining attention and getting a prospect to engage, that content isn’t going to be nearly as influential in terms of convincing them to include a vendor on a shortlist or ultimately select them as the winner.
The survey data showed that the content types that conveyed a higher degree of trust (either through third-party validation such as a customer), value (through depth around a topic or solution area) was far more influential than content that would be more high-level in nature. According to the survey, the top-three most influential content types (created by the vendor) were:
- Case Studies
- Value Assessment Tools (especially ROI calculators and implementation/how-to guides)
Other content types like eBooks, videos and blog posts were not deemed as influential content. Those content types have a place, both in terms of their value as TOFU calls-to-action or to help quickly explain concepts that are complicated or hard to understand, but they aren’t designed to build trust. Without that level of trust being achieved, down-the-funnel conversions become considerably more difficult.
One word of caution- while that 17% is a significant number (at least when you think about in hours and days), it still means that 83% is spent in other areas. 18% is spent interacting with vendors and their partners and the remaining 65% is spent interacting with people within their own company or third-parties or consuming third-party content and information. The survey asked buyers what would make them immediately disqualify a vendor from consideration during the buying process. The number one answer was negative reviews, but inconsistent/contradictory messaging was a very close second.
Marketers must ensure that the content they create adheres to the same messaging that a buyer is likely to hear from an analyst, a customer or a salesperson. There is a tendency for provider-created content to make any particular solution sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread. While a little puffery is to be expected, the messaging needs to largely conform to reality and be in line with what would be said by an independent third-party. If it isn’t, trust levels will plummet (or flatline at best) and the provider will be lucky to remain in consideration.
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