The way forward is a switch to ‘journey work’, which seeks to forge real connections with the C-suite decision-makers by creating a programme of communication that responds to their needs and solves their problems, over a sustained time period. It’s about starting from the outside, in, and adding value to these people’s lives so that they build a relationship with the brand, rather than simply wallpapering big messaging.
Journey work is a lot like those ‘choose your own adventure’ books many of us read as kids – you’d land on a page, get an idea of what was going on and then be offered the opportunity to choose a character’s next step by turning to a page, which took the story in a different direction.
On a marketing journey, how a decision-maker engages with a piece of content determines where they go next. They are directed down different, personalised and relevant paths, which help them through the marketing funnel in a way that delivers value to them along the way. At the same time, brands are learning more about these decision-makers and building a database of sales-ready leads which are far more likely to deliver a return on marketing investment.
Most short-sighted marketing sees potential customers get stuck at the awareness phase because there’s no real call to engage with the brand, beyond a URL which they may or may not visit. Instead, journey work invites customers and potential customers to come along on a path, talking to them about their changing needs over time and giving them the opportunity to engage with different types of content that adds value. This content can take many forms - articles, podcasts, infographics and the like, which are accompanied by tools that allow them to do their jobs and run their companies, better. Engaging with them over time can help create a positive perception of a B2B brand, preparing them better for conversion by sales teams.
By way of example, I'm currently working with a client which has always had a very traditional brief-based approach to marketing. They’ve done plenty of brand awareness work, but found that traction has been quite low. We’ve worked hard with several areas of the business – not just the marketers – to illustrate to them how journey work could solve this problem and deliver more of the kind of results they’d like to see. Once we had internal buy-in, we set about understanding the people they’re trying to reach – the CTO’s, CEO’s and CPO’s – and what matters most to them.
We then plotted a series of journeys which any of these people might experience, relative to the problems in their working lives that need solving. So now, the CEO of a potential client is not just seeing a billboard screaming a product or brand message – they’re seeing, for example, a print ad in financial media which speaks to a particular problem they’re facing. That ad seems to speak almost directly to them and has a clear call to action – a QR code which offers them the opportunity to download some information or a tool that may help them. The point is that, at this stage, there’s no mention of a product or a sales push – we’re solving their problems and creating an association with the brand, which we can nurture over time.
The challenge is that it requires a change in mindset amongst most marketers – and it also requires plenty of change management and internal comms to shift the way the company talks about, and even designs, its offering. Moving away from 6-week bursts to a sustained 12-18 month programme that takes potential clients along on a journey feels alien – but once we demonstrate the potential to build relationships, track leads and target actual potential customers more specifically, it’s hard to discount the approach.
This is not to say that once you’re on an 18-month path, that there’s no room for change – the feedback and tracking that journey work delivers is invaluable in helping fine-tune the plan to ensure that engagement is always relevant. The whole concept of journey work is that brands are creating an experience for decision-makers in the businesses they are trying to target, that, over time, causes them to come back to you as a source of advice and assistance, rather than you going out and attempting to convince them to buy a product or service.
This also requires a different kind of budgeting – instead of saying you have R1m to spend on 1 of 5 brand campaigns for the year, commit the R5m to running a programme over a sustained period and you’ll see much better results. For this kind of marketing to work really requires the whole business to commit and hold the line over a period. There’s less wastage, less ‘spray and pray’ and more immediate tie-back to lead generation that will ultimately deliver real business results for both the service or product provider, and the customers they service. And that’s how you build relationships that sustain businesses.