I was reading this blog post interview with Paul Greenberg over on Hubspot's blog about defining customer engagement and one of his examples stuck out to me. The essence of it was "don't make decisions for your buyers." Instead, let them choose.
Regardless of how much research you've done, the number of personas you've created, you can only know so much. Each buyer is an individual, a human. While your content marketing programs lay down the bread crumbs they can choose to follow, it's what happens next that's critical.
Paul Greenberg defines customer engagement as:
“the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer”
The point is choice.
While marketers plan out their content strategies and map content to buying stages - which they must do - they need to also realize that these are starting points...that flexibility and agile response are the keys to becoming truly relevant.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from marketers today is that content isn't necessarily resulting in prospects choosing to "do" something. Most of the time it's because the choice of what to do next isn't obvious, or if it is, it's not relevant given how they interpreted what they just viewed based on where they are in the buying process.
So your audience either clicks around trying to find something that extends the dialogue they embarked upon, or they move on.
The problem I see is is caused by the way marketers have decided to align content to buying stages. Rather than introducing flexibility that more than one choice could exist, we've ended up trying to dictate what's next by offering content that we think is a logical and linear progression.
Marketers remain under the illusion that they control the informational exchange.
This is a big misconception. In an informational environment now driven by choice, why do we think limiting choice is the way to go?
I get that marketers have budgets and that developing content has its limits, but we need to make decisions about how we'll offer our audience options. We also need to pay careful attention to what their choices in relation to those options can tell us.
There are a variety of ways in which choice can manifest. Here are a few examples.
- Prospect engages with an article about a topic
- The "see also" options include a video, a link to register for a webinar, and an infographic
Offering choices based on format can help you discern which type of content the prospect prefers and how much more time and attention the person is willing to invest, should all three be versions of the next topic on your list. Sometimes it's the format that matters.
If this prospect only looks at infographics, then how serious are they about learning what they need to know to buy? Most infographics are lightweight data presentations that lack context and depth.
However, if this prospect registers for the webinar and attends, the behavior can tell you something quite different.
- Prospect engages with a blog post
- The hyperlinks in the blog post offer three different perspectives related to the topic in the post - all the links are to articles displayed on web pages, removing format as a factor in selection
In this case, the topic they select to click on can provide insights to the person's view on the topic and what the situation they are facing may look like (if you've written content based on depth of persona knowledge)
If they click on more than one, this could indicate they have a higher urgency for learning more about how to solve the problem or meet the objective that's the focus.
Choice is Also Insight for Marketers
It may seem like allowing buyers to "choose their own adventures" is a lot of work, but what you can learn by analyzing their choices can become input to improve the way your content addresses the buying process across stages. Offering more options can also result in speeding up the learning process, hence the decision cycle.
If marketers want to build higher engagement with buyers, letting them lead the way through how they use your content can transform your marketing performance.
It's definitely worth thinking about.