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Why marketers should avoid direct references to their product

Judith Niederschelp, MD of Aberdeen Group Europe, argues marketers struggling with top-of-funnel generation and conversion should try avoiding direct references to their products

Many B2B marketers complain that generating and converting top-of-funnel leads is a major headache. It’s true that top-funnel marketing can be challenging. But lots of brands make life harder for themselves because of one misguided assumption - that anyone at the top of the funnel is actually going to be interested in their product.

Treat the product like dirt
One of my US colleagues has a great way of putting this. The product, she says, should be treated like dirt. The cold hard truth is that buyers have a whole life outside your product, full of priorities and objectives that, on the face of it, have nothing to do with your product. No matter how useful or innovative you think it is, chances are that to them it’s about as interesting as dirt.

Now, that’s not to say these people can’t be in the market for your product. Far from it. But it does mean you need to tread carefully at the outset of top-funnel communications. It means finding ways to create content that’s aligned with some of those wider priorities and objectives.

Use data to define and understand the audience
Data plays a critical role here. Used intelligently, it can help you gear top-funnel content towards buyers with the greatest propensity to need your product in the near future. Initially, it can help define your target set. Then, when you understand who is likely to need your product, you can drill down into the data to get to know them better.

Once you begin to understand some of the interesting – and challenging – things prospects face in their industry and job role, you can begin to talk about the things that matter to them. Priorities and objectives they face might include complying with upcoming legislation or regulation, boosting workplace efficiencies, enabling more flexible working practices or enhancing system security.

These issues provide a fertile ground for great top-of-funnel communications. You can think of this as the ‘discovery’ end of the buyer journey. Prospects will mostly be interested in short-form content that sheds some light on the problems they face. As a rule of thumb, blogs, infographics and short videos are effective vehicles to achieve this. They can act as accessible information sources on what needs to be done to get from point A (where prospects are today) to point B (where they aspire to be).

Sliding scale of product-centricity
The critical success factor here is understanding your customers’ priorities. But you also need to make implicit links between those priorities and your product, which can be unburied later in the nurturing process. At the discovery stage of the journey, prospects are only looking for a road. But some time later, they will be looking for the materials to build that road. As prospects begin to consider their options, you can progress to more in-depth content, such as research reports or webinars, which refer to products in general terms. Then, when they start to evaluate which product options are most suited to their circumstances, case study content with more direct product references comes to the fore.

Tailoring content so it has a sliding scale of increasing product-centricity as prospects move through the demand generation funnel is the key. Yes, it makes content marketing a little more complex, but it also makes it a whole lot more effective. Research shows that marketers who align content with buying stage information enjoy conversion rates 73 per cent higher than those who do not. So, what’s to lose?