Why communicators need to care about the buyer journey

At a PR seminar that I chaired last month, I polled the audience via a show of hands if they currently reference buyer insights and the buyer journey when planning their campaigns. Less than 15% of those in the room – comprising mostly communications professionals and a handful of marketers – raised their hands.

This observation was concerning, yet not surprising once I probed deeper.

The problem does not lie with ignorance, but rather the lack of regionally-relevant insights. When buyer personas exist, they are often developed at global headquarters and do not take into account behavioural nuances of buyers in the regional or local market. To compound the problem, research often focuses on building buyer personas around demographics and needs but neglect to ask relevant questions that can help us understand the kinds of content that different buyers need, and what sources and channels they might access for such content.

Yet, there is a vast body of evidence that show a well-designed marketing communications strategy that is derived from locally-relevant buyer insights can yield better outcomes. Omron, a client that manufactures industrial automation solutions for safety equipment and public infrastructure, saw 170% growth in their Asia Pacific site traffic, 300% improvement in time-on-site and ultimately 50% increase in leads over a six month period, simply by taking a disciplined approach to buyer-led campaign planning.

In the unending pursuit of marketing effectiveness, here are 4 steps we can take to generate useful buyer insights and develop more targeted PR and marketing campaigns:

Close the gap between research and planning

Especially in large organisations, I’ve observed that audience research is often driven independently by the brand or product teams. Marketing, PR and content teams need to insert ourselves into that process and ensure that our questions are factored into the buyer research. Some useful questions:

  • How do they go about searching for this information?
  • What kinds of information will be useful for our buyers -- during the awareness, consideration and intent phases?
  • What kind of content assets do they engage with?
  • What offline and online channels do they access in their research?
  • Do they solicit feedback from anyone?

Don’t make assumptions. Embrace a beginner’s mind

This powerful quote by renowned science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, has always stuck with me: “Assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”

As seasoned practitioners, it is so easy to jump straight into topics, tactics and even channels. After all, we’ve been doing this for years and we know our audiences very well. But each time our teams embraced the beginner’s mind to ask basic questions about the buyer, the process challenged existing assumptions and uncovered interesting and nuanced insights that re-directed our planning and strategy.

For example, interviews with customers across Southeast Asia that we ran for a global power generation company gave us the insight that Facebook was the favoured platform for their decision-makers in Indonesia.

Similar interviews that we conducted for a global cyber security company out of Singapore revealed that their business decision makers were not active on any social channels, and that their IT decision makers seldom referred to local media sources for their research.

These insights allowed us to prioritise Facebook over other social and online channels in the marketing program for the power generation client, while the insights for the cyber security client guided our decision to dial down media relations spend and dial up our email marketing and social selling program.

Adopt a buyer journey mindset

Let’s face it. We might not always have the budget to conduct rigorous buyer research in our region. But we can hack our way to useful customer insights by taking a Jobs To Be Done approach. This concept, first coined by Clayton Christensen, looks at customer motivations and needs, rather than conventional demographic data.

With an understanding of the “job” for which customers find themselves “hiring” a product or service, we can more accurately answer the question “why should I choose you?” The goal is to interview a representative sample of buyers based on the JTBD approach. Even by talking to just a few people, you’ll be surprised by the insights you can get through the process.

Map content and channels to the buyer journey

Once we’ve worked through the who and the why, we can start planning out the kind of content assets to create, mapped to the different stages of our buyer’s journey from awareness through to conversion, and even advocacy. My colleague, Philip Wong, details how to do this in his recent blog post.

Don’t miss the diminishing window to influence

The often cited statistic that a buyer completes 70% of his journey before making first contact with a vendor (source: SiriusDecisions) sends a clear message that our window of opportunity to directly influence a buyer is diminishing. Keep these tips in mind to access and apply buyer insights that can nurture your buyers with appropriate content as they go through their journey.

The writer is Marc Ha, managing director, Text100 Singapore.