For most of marketing’s history marketers have put much effort into knowing who their customers are. Buyer personas, for example, can define a prospect or customers’ attributes, what they’re interested in, the problems they face, and what solutions they might require to solve these problems.
These same personas have helped marketers anticipate their prospects futures, charting each part of the buyer’s journey and assigning content to each significant stop on that journey. And it has been effective. There is still plenty of evidence that buyer personas work – but things are quickly becoming more complicated.
Avoid a one-size fits all approach
Today customers are increasingly expecting content to be relevant to their particular needs and preferences. A study conducted by DemandMetric found that 82% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content.
With numbers like this in mind, it is more important than ever to know all you can about your prospects as you create content for them. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach may give your prospects the impression that you don’t understand them, making it more likely that they’ll stop listening to you in favor of a brand that does understand them.
Buyer personas guru Tony Zambito defines buyer personas as:
“…research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they are making buying decisions”
Zambito’s definition represents the conventional wisdom with regard to personas. And while it’s true that well-researched personas are a powerful way of customizing your marketing efforts to fit your audience, the truth is that personas can also be limiting.
Marketing as Concierge Service
Two things are at work here.
The first is the changing expectations of your prospects themselves. Today’s online experience is largely a customized one. Netflix offers movies and TV shows based on your viewing habits. Amazon and eBay recommend purchases based on your browsing history. Spotify generates playlists inspired by the music you choose to listen to.
This is essentially concierge service, marketing driven by each individual’s unique behavior, not by pre-researched personas. These b2c experiences are now de rigueur, and are a major influence on a b2b buyers’ expectations. B2b buyers no longer expect to be regarded as an approximation and instead expect brands to know exactly who they are. In b2b terms, this means more about knowing where they are in the buying cycle than knowing that they’re Nickleback listeners.
Intent data is key to this understanding. As a prospect researches a topic, intent data can detect where they are in the journey and algorithmically provide them with content that accurately matches this position. This is a lead nurturing process that can take place before you know who a prospect is.
Recent research has shown that buyers are now doing the bulk of their research before reaching out to a salesperson so it’s crucial that a brand reach them during the research phase.
The Impact of Account-Based Marketing
The second factor occurs as more b2b marketers embrace Account-Based Marketing (ABM).
It is well established that the b2b buying decision is no longer the province of a single person. It is now a team that is responsible for evaluating a purchase. This team can be composed of many people in different departments and different functional levels. Depending on your business, a buying team might include the Marketing department, IT, Finance, and Operations all of which have different concerns.
Personas can help here, so it’s worth putting in the effort to understanding each prospective member of a team and building content for them. But things become difficult when you attempt to reach each constituent with the right content.
Here again, smart targeting can detect the users who actively researching products. Only now, layering demographic data on top of Intent can enable the right content to reach the right prospect at exactly the right time. This positioning gives your company an unparalleled jump on your competitors.
Too much data, or poorly applied data?
There’s really no such thing as too much data. There is however, such thing as the poorly applied data. If data is only revealing past performance, marketers are faced to make assumptions about the future, a murky proposition at best. As we move toward the future, the savviest marketers should look to predictive analytics driven by intent data. The best of these algorithms draw from millions of prospect interactions, charting a far more certain path into the future than those with access to a smaller pool.