Why You Should Stop Mapping Content Formats to the Buyer’s Journey

I have had it with “research” about the content formats B2B buyers prefer at each stage of the buyers journey. Multiple B2B publishers are pedaling this misinformation and as B2B marketers struggle with content marketing, it is diverting their focus.

Here is one example from TechTarget:
Content formats mapped to buying stages

eBooks are earlier than white papers which are earlier than virtual trade shows? Yeah, right. Instead of focusing on content formats by stage, marketers need to focus on the information that is needed at each stage in the buyers journey.

Information, not format, is the key:

  • Information can be early stage, mid stage or late stage.
  • The purpose of your content is to deliver information. The format is simply the packaging.
  • The best format is the one that most effectively presents the information needed.

Once you have identified the information your audience needs, you can identify the most appropriate content formats for the information you are delivering.

Disagree? Keep reading…

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Keep going, you’re almost there…

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In Summary

Information should never be forced into an inappropriate format. When you dictate a 500 word format (this post), you get 500 words. Even if 225 words would be better.

Your Turn

The next time you see the buyers journey stage, instead of the information needed, drive content formats in your business or your client’s, please send them a link to this post and let me know in the comments below or with a note on Twitter (@wittlake) that you did.

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  • http://twitter.com/tomdebaere Tom De Baere

    Hi Eric,

    You touch upon some of the basic of content marketing which is often not well represented in blogs or books. And you are right by saying that content comes first, and then you consider who should be getting the content based on where they are in the buying cycle. 

    So when thinking of content, you need think about what information your buyers need in 3 or 4 phases of the buying cycle, and produce the content, and get it to them at the time they need it. Usually marketing automation can help you in deciding when your prospect is ready to be moved to the next step.

    Your blog post brings this again to everyone’s attention, so thank you for that.

    Tom.

    my blog : http://www.b2bmarketingexperiences.com

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Thanks Tom!

  • Kenny

    superb.  I constantly ask IT buyer about this and 99% say . I NEVER buy in the manner IT vendors seem to think I buy. What buying process??? Oh i am know going from awareness into the consideration stage of buying my server. This never happens. The content , information has to be relevant,   I may go back forth, around and upside before I make a purchase. IT buyers are constantly flitting about trying to get the best  deal, pick the rioght resellers, etc, etc, get good technical advice for a partner/ vendor etc. Anyone that thinks we have a nice funnel approach in a linear fashion simply don’t know the IT technology buyer. Especially in SMB. My advice to IT vendor/var’s. engage me on my terms and on my turf and alwaus be on.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Good advice, I like it. Thanks Kenny!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=606471689 Elke Wong

    Hi Eric,

    You are right on point. Content mapping cannot be so cut and dry. There is a logical pathway for the buying cycle of course: awareness, to evaluation, to purchase. But… Marketers are now using more than just white papers to engage a prospective customer. Webinars, videos, audio and a myriad of other digital assets can provide value to a visitor at any stage. The content itself should take into consideration the buyer persona you are reaching before deciding what content is most appropriate for that person to receive at a given time. To be able to do that, the marketer also needs to be more knowledgeable about their prospects using data. There is an onslaught of data to sift through. It’s about using that data in an appropriate way that will take your prospect to the buy stage with a shorter sales cycle, no matter the content type.

    Elke Wong
    Madison Logic
    Check out our blog focusing on b2b lead generation at http://blog.madisonlogic.com

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Elke, data is a very interesting angle, as the kind of audience data we are seeing in consumer marketing becomes increasingly available around content consumption in business verticals, it will open up a whole new range of possibilities to not only understand preferences, but to customize the presentation to each individual. Will definitely be interesting to see how companies (including yours) move towards data models over time.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • http://marketingbard.com Bill Strawderman

    Eric,

    Prudentibus ut semper (wise as always).  The rest of this comment can be found via the [Infographic] of the day. Cheers,Bill

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      :) Thanks Bill!

  • Dwight Griesman

    In a complex sale scenario, different people play different roles in the process, and have different information needs at different times.  They are also likely to prefer certain channels for gleaning the information they need.  The implication is that you need to know all of the audiences that are involved, and ensure they have the information they need directly or self-procured, to move the buying process along and accelerate it where possible.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Agreed, and as you said, information needed is the core of this in B2B and complex sales. The information you need to present is what should lead the tactical content development.

      Thanks for the supportive comment!

  • Tkoletas

    Eric,

    Once again you are spot on. The relevancy of the content is a better determining factor of where the buyer is in the buying process versus the format. The one supposition that does work about format is that there is a correlation between the time a buyer has to spend with an asset, and the interest in your company. For instance, the time commitment it takes to attend a web event is usually greater than the time it takes to read a case study, and the advertiser’s chances of engaging with the web event attendee are usually better than the case study reader.

    Additionally, we like to counsel advertisers that it is a good thing to attract buyers who are in various stages of the buying process, and that the onus is on them to sculpt their marketing to fit each phase of the process. I  would argue that it is better to attract buyers in the earliest stages of information gathering, because you are in a better position to own the conversation versus a buyer that is already talking to multiple vendors.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Thanks! Yes, the time commitment of a webcast is a major deterrent, it keeps people away unless they have a strong need or desire for the information or haven’t been able to find it.

      That definitely helps to make webcasts a later stage content opportunity, but that doesn’t mean webcasts are a more effective way to communicate late stage material. That, unfortunately, is the implication I see some marketers take away from research mapping content formats to buying stages. Instead, the focus needs to be on the right information first.

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  • http://www.buyerology.com/ Tony Zambito

    Eric,

    This is so spot on can’t add too much.  However, buyers today are choosing and behaving differently in a way that it is downright presumptuous to think we know exactly what a buyer journey looks like without any research and to even call it a journey may be open to question.  One senior level executive – a buyer so to speak – put it this way to me: “this is just plain nonsense, I don’t sit down and map a journey like I am going hiking or something”.  The fact is that there are new decision models and rules being incorporated that are buyer-driven and have nothing to do with sellers. 

    Right on,
    Tony

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Great comment, thanks Tony. This is why what I really like about the “journey” from a marketers perspective is the discussion of what information is needed. The path a buyer takes will not match the marketer’s vision, but hopefully the idea of the buyer’s journey helps marketers to develop an understanding of the range of information they need to provide.

      A related point, and possibly a future post: marketers need to be very careful forcing their journey on buyers. Instead, they need to make the information available in a way that is easy to find, consume and share and ensure buyers can self-direct if they want to and at their own pace.

      Thanks as always for the great addition!

  • Casey Carey

    Eric -

    Interesting
    post and you make some great points. I think are three important factors to be considered.

    1) There is
    direct relationship to the type of information being delivered and its
    applicability to a specific format.  Sure,
    it is not cut and dry, but some proven best practices do apply.  An obvious example is something like a high
    level info-graphic having very little impact/value in the late stage of the
    buying process.  It is simply not a
    viable format for late stage information.

    2) It is not
    reasonable to produce all information in all possible formats – at least not in
    the companies I’ve worked in.  The secret
    is knowing what information is needed at which stage and the best format to
    deliver that information. I agree with your point that each situation/business is
    different, but condemning the TechTarget model  which illustrates a good starting point is not
    constructive.  A more constructive approach would be to offer refinement to the model or your own alternative.

    3) While
    creative, your use of a blog format to make your point is somewhat flawed.  Unlike many formats, blogs offer tons of flexibility.  Blogs can be short like a tweet or a
    post.  They can be long and act more like
    a whitepaper.  They can be video, image,
    or info-graphic based.  And they can be
    250-500 words just like everyone says they should be.  I actually look at blogs less as a format
    and more as a medium to deliver and support content that lives in a
    different formats.  We try and use blogs posts to complement content being published in other formats rather than as a standalone format.

    Keep up the
    great work and l look forward to future posts.

    Casey Carey

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Hi Casey,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I wondered how long this would go before someone pointed out that a different format blog post, that fits the information, would have been easy. :) Yet often, it would be easy for marketers as well to map the format to the information they need to convey.

      The TechTarget model (and the info published by other publishers) has merit. For instance, illustrating where demos, trials and case studies fit is definitely useful, these ‘formats’ are also types of information. However, some of the labels flagged in the post have nothing to do with buying stage, this is the part that is misleading.

      The alternative model I’m suggesting is to focus on the information needed through the process first. For instance, vendor comparisons are very useful mid stage, as a consideration set is being defined. 101 information that helps someone get familiar with the category and trends overall is good early stage information. Once you identify the information you are looking to communicate, then identify the best content formats to communicate it in.

      Thanks for the somewhat dissenting comment, it is great to get feedback like this that helps refine a post or perspective.

  • carmenhill

    Couldn’t agree more! 

  • Jschwartz

    Great discussion!
     
    Here’s my contribution: ITSMA did a global study in the Fall of 2011 with 465 buyers of technology-based solutions ($500,000 or larger). We saw very little difference in buyer preference for delivery formats or types of content as they moved through the buying process. HOWEVER, when we analyzed the data by “Traditional Buyers” and “B2B Social Buyers” we found that the traditional buyers’ needs for content changed as they progressed through the buying process. On the other hand, the B2B social buyers’ need for different types of content remained nearly constant from one stage of the buying process to the next. http://www.itsma.com/research/how-b2b-buyers-consume-information-2011/
     
    Our conclusion, is therefore similar to Tony’s. Buyer behavior is changing. The buying process is becoming less linear. Just as there is no silver bullet delivery vehicle, there is no right or wrong content at different stages of the buyer’s journey (if, as Tony wrote, we can even call it a journey).
     
    Eric, you said it best “The path a buyer takes will not match the marketer’s vision, but hopefully the idea of the buyer’s journey helps marketers to develop an understanding of the range of information they need to provide.”

    The important thing is to make sure there are no gaps in the content strategy. There has to be content to support buyers at every stage and help “propel” them to the next stage. And of course, the content needs to be packaged in a myriad of formats since evry person has their own preferred ways to consume content.

    Thanks Eric for getting everyone’s juices going!
    Julie

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  • http://www.effectivemarketer.com Daniel Kuperman

    Research done by whitepaper publishers and other research institutions can only take you so far. It’s great to see how others think about the buyer’s journey but a key ingredient is missing if you plan on following their advice: Buyer Persona. How about you ask your own customers how they prefer to receive information, in what format and when? Get all those research reports, compare them with what your Buyer Personas say and decide what’s best for your company.

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  • Steve Kirstein

    Doesn’t a lot of this have to do with the fact that the promulgators of this kind of information are usually selling marketing automation systems which require a huge amount of thought about, and commitment to, structured ‘nurturing campaigns’ for each ‘stage’? So much of that effort is based on intuition, hunches and guesswork anyway; and it requires a commitment to creation of a large volume of deliverables, with crossed fingers that prospects will react in just the way that is hoped.

    Agree with many of the previous commenters (and author) who understand you have to have all of the information out there, available, so that interested parties can consume and use it as they see fit.

  • blobby

    To finger point Techtarget for their analysis of content modelling is a little myopic, if you ask me. I think this is a valid 1.0 model. I don’t believe that all content types work at all levels of the buyer decision making process but that depends on the buyer and the number of vendors they are shortlisting and their level of awareness, as well as the type of decision makers involved in the process. As highlighted in the comments, i think you have also offered a 1.0 model but this doesn’t make your opinion less effective. (believe it or not i mostly agree with your information-first faced model if i exclude what I think is missing). however, the fact that you are missing certain important factors doesn’t make your recommendations less valuable and to think it does is to miss the point that you probably have a holistic value that you offer to your clients if you were to expand on your topics. i.e. you probably talk about content vehicle at some point and you would definitely be talking about personas otherwise you miss the point of the value of understanding how to assist different decision makers manage change, which is of course a huge sub-component of the buyer decision making process. To have “had it” with a content modelling is a little excessive and maybe you should jump on a call with any of the market automation vendors to really understand how these models fit into their vast databases of research that they gather from decision making teams to create buyer behaviour insights.

  • http://tw.linkedin.com/in/amigochen Amigo Chen

    Dear Eric,

    I like the graphic from TechTarget but just cannot find it on their web site. Could you please show me the link or more hint to find?

    I am preparing slides for my CRM seminar and believe it would be very helpful to introduce this concept to my customers.

    Have a nice day!

    Best regards,

    Amigo

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