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Three Target Market Insights Critical to Effective B2B Content Marketing

Three Target Market Insights Critical to Effective B2B Content Marketing
By Scott Hornstein

There is a link between the persona and content marketing that is ignored at one’s own risk. The persona reveals the individual who is the executive, with his or her unique information behavior, preferences and aversions, and often-conflicting personal and professional motivations. The content must connect with these individuals if we are to satisfy, impress and engage. Here are three things we’ve learned about the b2b target market that we hope will help you.

1. No one in a corporation makes a decision by themselves.

While conducting persona research with selected high-tech CIOs, one stopped the interview,

Just wait a minute. You marketing guys are all alike. You think that because I’m the CIO that you have to send everything to me, and I get boatloads of information every day. Let me tell you, I don’t make all the decisions around here. Moreover, while you are a respected vendor, I resent having to go through all of the information you send and dole it out to who really needs it. I have a staff of talented, dedicated professionals who run these departments. They put the decisions on the table for discussion. You would do well to learn who they are, what they do and what they need.

Not only is this a clear expression that the corporation needs and values the content, it is a long arms flat forehead moment. No one in a corporation makes a decision by themselves. There is a decision making unit, e.g., a technical buyer, an economic buyer and an end-user, who each require content to fulfill their obligations.

2. There’s a sphere of influence

Recent persona research we have also conducted urges us to also include “the assistant” or the individual entrusted by the decision maker with doing the research. These people “punch above their weight”, usually having outsized influence because they conduct, and thus curate content research.

Also, who does the executive turn to for advice? Content referencing or authored by these influencers may be seen as a value-add.

3. The nuances of messaging can blow up your goals

A technology client had built a very successful SMB business and was now looking to move to the enterprise. Their tag line was The Cloud Back-up Experts – their service was backup and recovery. Persona research came to two conclusions: One, back-up is not valued, the corporation only values data recovery. There were two distinct personas, one that was comfortable with putting their data in “the cloud” and one that was not. The latter group had an “almost religious aversion to the cloud” and would avoid mention of the topic.

In short, what you don’t know can kill you.

Content Karma: Crappy Personas = Crappy Content!

Content Karma: Crappy Personas = Crappy Content!

Content Karma: Crappy Personas = Crappy Content!
By Wayne Cerullo

I was going through some old family photos the other day. Wonderful memories of days long ago that I am digitizing to ward off the ravages of time. But, in one sense, I was preserving the ravages of time.

Unfortunately, the copy can never be better than the original. A poorly-shot blurry old snapshot will still be a bad picture even in 600 DPI digital form!

So it is with personas and the content marketing that comes from them. Mark Schaefer noted the same thing in a recent post arguing that “customer personas may be an outdated marketing technique”… but his advice is to not bother taking any photos!

The Rules of Content Karma

Mark notes that “manufacturing scripted content gets in the way of real customer connection”. True. But why manufacture scripted content in the first place?

Crappy personas WILL yield crappy content. But the opposite is also true! So let’s take better photos! Adele Revella of the Buyer Persona Institute makes the same point in her post – we need quality persona models to create quality content. It’s just good karma.

Key to Good Content Karma

So how do you create good content karma? Inform and inspire your content creators with authentic, vibrant personas based on authentic, insightful research with your best prospects. Your content will be as compelling as your personas.

If your personas are not making your content better, you need better personas. Because your content is getting the same response from your external prospects that your personas are getting from your internal content team.

Free Guide to Great Prospect Photography

  1. Use a good camera with a good lens. Conduct in-depth, exploratory research focused on understanding how and why your prospects choose you… or not. As basic as this seems, our research reveals that only 63% of marketers conduct primary research to create their personas.
  2. Don’t shoot before you’ve composed your shot. Great photographs tell a story. Have a point. Great personas don’t just describe a role – they tell a story about desire, an obstacle, and a resolution. We call that story a Key Prospect Insight.
  3. Mount in a quality frame. Create personas that engage and inspire your team. Write them well with great material. That’s the point of personas… to bring your prospects “to life”!

If you’d like some free advice about a bunch of fuzzy personas you might have in an “old drawer”, feel free to call. The dark room is open.

The core reason b2b prospecting underperform. Why prospect personas represent opportunity?

The core reason b2b prospecting underperform. Why prospect personas represent opportunity?

The core reason b2b prospecting underperform.
Why prospect personas represent opportunity?

By Scott Hornstein

There’s a very obvious reason b2b prospecting efforts underperform – a reason that we easily and conveniently overlook every day of the week. Let’s take a closer look at our myopia, and how to move forward.

Underperformance is baked in

The overwhelming majority of people working on any given b2b marketing campaign have never seen, met or spoken to a customer, nevertheless a prospect. They may have a basic understanding of the business issues, but they haven’t a clue about the people. They are separated, a gap to a chasm, from the often-conflicted humanity of the individuals that make the decisions.

We are not fishing on the shores of Lake Abundant – it’s harder than ever to differentiate ourselves – to find, nurture and motivate the prospect as the world becomes increasing atomized.
The b2b prospect is the most elusive, with a long consideration journey that takes place, for the most part, prior to any direct engagement. They have almost completely insulated themselves from most marketing messages. So, who are those guys? What do they want? How do we get it to them? Perhaps we should ask.

Getting to the truth

Many companies utilize personas – archetypes or synthesized summaries, which are based on qualitative research with real people in this position about their characteristics, specific information behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and goals. Personas have generated great success in b2c. Here’s an example from Per Tom Spencer, a very experienced marketing executive,

Best Buy had devoted a lot of time and effort to strategize
their customer centricity campaign. They developed personas
to help each store take the goals and bring them right down
to the ground. Overall, this campaign generated a
double-digit improvement in sales.

We think persona’s greatest potential is in b2b prospecting.

B2B is an emotional sell

Personas have one thing that reports and presentations do not. Personality. In the words of Stuart Taylor, SVP of The Nielsen Company “B2B has always been an emotional sell”. This can put the personality on the planning table, and can serve as a point of reference, if not agreement, between marketing and sales.

Understanding a buyer’s persona has helped to identify what is most important and how to successfully deliver services to keep the buyer interested in the future.”

The Power and Potential of Personas

We conduct annual proprietary research among marketing professionals to begin to understand, and benchmark, how companies are using personas, where and how they have been effective. The yearly report is called The Power and Potential of Personas.

As we examine the potential of personas in b2b prospecting, three points jump out:

– Well over half (63%) agree completely or very much that personas
have become a permanent strategic tool for them

– About a third (35%) report that personas are very or extremely effective

– Over a third (37%) report that personas deliver a competitive

The biggest frustration with buyer personas is that they are not respected or appreciated (37%). Relatedly, others say they lack strategic impact (13%) or don’t advance prospect understanding (13%).

The reality is that for over half (53%), buyer personas helped them discover important new insights or corrected faulty assumptions.

How and why they work

The finding that there is an incredibly strong link between persona effectiveness and the use of external persona research continues to be strongly supported.

  • Over the last two years, fully 89% of persona that were judged very or extremely effective were based on new external research.
  • Similarly, all 86% of the personas judged “ineffective” were not based on any new external persona research.

I addition to the main decision-makers, personas must also be created for those that influence and recommend.

“The persona work we completed for a client helped them change the way they viewed their customers to a much more nuanced understanding of their customers’ motivations, goals and behaviors and who participates in the evaluation and recommendation process. They are in the process of redesigning their go-to-market process as a result.”

Are personas the marketing silver bullet we’ve been waiting for? How you’re your use of personas benchmark against the industry? Send us an email and request the latest report, Power and Potential of Personas 2017. We’re hard at work analyzing the data.

Strategic Readiness is the Key to Creating a B2B Marketing Advantage

Strategic Readiness is the Key to Creating a B2B Marketing Advantage

Strategic Readiness is the Key to Creating a B2B Marketing Advantage
By Scott Hornstein

My partners and I are consumed with answering the question: how can marketing create compelling competitive differentiation, by itself. We’ve spent the last few months reviewing our case studies, brainstorming, and bumping our shins.

We start off assuming that the product (and the company) is a leader in quality and innovation. However, marketing touches the prospect before they’ve had first-hand experience. If they will lend us an ear, if we can then create a conversation, engagement happens sooner and with an aura of the expectation of satisfaction.

Aha + Tools + Agility = Strategic Readiness

Our journey has led us to a working theory on how marketing can create this competitive differentiation. I’m going to lay it out as simply, and in as few words as possible. You tell us if it passes the sniff test.

The foundational construct is what we call “strategic readiness”. This is when marketing has everything it needs to create this compelling competitive differentiation. There are 3 legs that give this concept stability. You have to have all 3 to pass GO.


Creating a series of “AHA” moments. This involves talking, and carefully listening to prospects and customers, with intelligence and empathy, to gain a deeper understanding of who they are as professionals and people, how they define their needs, and their criteria for a decision.

Each “Aha” moment is a moment of truth. If you are in B2B, and/or market a high consideration product or service these “aha’s” are high value insights.

We find the persona process to be uniquely strong in helping us to gain the insight we need. Per Adele Revella of the Buyer Persona Institute:

“When buyer personas evolve from authentic stories related by actual buyers – in the form of one-on-one interviews – the methodology and presentation allows you to capture the buyer’s expectation and the factors that influence them.”

One could say it’s like getting the answers before the test. Another way to look at it is – we are privileged to know and work with the smartest marketers. But none of them are clairvoyant.


Marketing technology may be the tools we’ve always dreamed of, but you need the persona to know how to use these tools.

“Knowing our customerand communicating with them in their language,in the places they goin an appropriate way… everything else is tactics.” – Peter Bell, Product Marketing Senior Director, Marketo

MarTech appears to be an area of critical concern, where adoption and deployment are often without the Aha or the Agility, and often result chronic underperformance. A recent poll undertaken by our organization reveals that 90% of marketers are realizing less than 50% of the potential of their MarTech investment. Strategic readiness is the cure.


The term originates in Latin and then surfaces in Middle French and Middle English to mean nimble, fleet, quick. We hear agility mentioned as an attribute of an athlete – the quickness of motion.

Marketing must be agile as a core competency. As we looked through our case studies we found an obvious, but distinguishing trend: the persona process frequently revealed that the emperor was wearing no clothes, that some basic assumptions, some widely held beliefs were dead wrong.

– One company found that their “tried and true” positioning for Market A, told decision makers in Market B exactly what they did not want to hear.

– One company’s product innovation was revolutionary, if not disruptive in a risk-averse market. They learned the appropriate entry point.

– One company entered a new market touting that the benefits of their recent release (11!). The decision makers didn’t care, they wanted the basics (release 1).

This is like open source code. We’re putting it out there and relying on all those really smart marketers we mentioned before to co-develop this. Put a comment here or hit me up at scott.hornstein@b2ppartners.com.

Do You Have a Marketing Strategy or Just Marketing Automation

Do You Have a Marketing Strategy or Just Marketing Automation

Do You Have a Marketing Strategy or Just Marketing Automation
By Scott Hornstein

Corporate decision-making is messy, confounded by perceptions, expectations, and personalities, with individual and professional motivations that often conflict. And, depending on who you listen to, 60% to 70% of the b2b sales process now occurs before the prospect engages in sales.

Marketing must stretch its intellectual tools to find and nurture prospects through more of the realization and qualification process until we have created a sense of preference.

Said differently, if your strategy is marketing automation, all you are doing is pumping out stuff, only a tiny fraction of which may actually be relevant. It is unlikely that a prospect will engage based on the sheer tonnage of communications.

If, however, your strategy is to align your marketing with the needs and preferences of your prospect, as they express them, then you are providing true value, and it is that value that will tip the scales.

Let me tell you a story about a really smart technology company with disruptive technology for the enterprise. They have come up with a longer lasting, more powerful, smaller, cleaner way to store and retrieve energy, in counterpoint to batteries, which can be noxious, are large and occasionally fail. Did I mention that this technology is new and thus has not been tested over time? And, because we are early in its lifecycle, it’s also expensive.

The impact on the industry could be huge. Think of a company’s data center. In case of an outage, most rely on lead-acid batteries, which cost a lot of money to maintain and have a shorter life expectancy.

To get real-world input to the marketing plan, this company engaged targeted executives in purposeful conversation, or an evolved form of prospect persona research designed to bring clarity to prospecting. The goals:

  • Identify high-potential prospects and low-potential prospects
  • Understand their information behavior – how they learn or don’t learn
  • Assemble the information into human form, to drive messaging and focus sales and marketing

Here’s what the research revealed – the decision making process in all its beauty:

  • The CEO only cares that he has a signed agreement regarding how many micro-seconds it will take for all of his critical data to be back online if there’s an outage. Doesn’t care how it gets done. Has a say in the final purchase decision.
  • The CFO is open to the concept of buying an expensive, superior technology to decrease the cost of ownership, but is under short-term pressure to push down costs. She is wary of being on the bleeding edge of technology. Get the vendor info through purchasing. She signs the check.
  • The CIO is very experienced. He lives and breathes data recovery. Losing power is his worst nightmare, and he’s survived a few. Batteries have always saved him. This makes him unlikely to “cross the chasm”. His peer network is his primary source of information on innovation (the engineers are his second). He also learns online, at executive-level events and from the trades, which he skims online in the office and reads at home on paper. If interested, he assigns indepth research to his assistant. He’s involved with key vendors, leery of others. He makes the purchase recommendation.
  • When exposed to the technology, his remark was “unproven”. He was specific about the testing and results that might eventually get him to try the technology, if not change his mind.
  • Engineers are voracious, gobbling bits of information from their favored websites, communities and social media. Always curious, looking for new ideas, innovative technologies that do things more elegantly – better, cleaner and faster. If an idea intrigue, they research (and they were very specific regarding the information they require), valuing anonymity until convinced. They feel a responsibility is to champion such innovation to the CIO.
  • When exposed to the technology they were impressed but cautioned that the data center’s batteries were unlikely to be ousted anytime soon. Instead, they brainstormed, what about use in remote installations, like switching stations on top of mountains, where they are critical to operations and maintenance is almost impossible.
  • Purchasing is responsible for vendor evaluation – both initially and ongoing – and their recommendation is part of the decision making process. They get their information from trade shows, vendor presentations, and online research. They have an uneasy relationship with Engineering.

These results, to me, are a beautiful thing, an intellectual and technological road map for marketing and sales to sit side by side and combine their energies. Marketing to sell.