Much of the conversation around content marketing these days pertains to lead generation. While this is one of the primary (and more measurable) benefits of producing good content, its affect on the perception of your market and your ideal buyer is often overlooked.
But being hard to measure is not a good reason to neglect the impact of content marketing on value perception. The bottom line (quite literally) is that your position in the value chain can have dramatic affects on pricing and other important negotiations with customers.
Anything you can do to influence that perception in a positive way should be considered for your business development mix.
Perception shapes reality
You’ve probably heard the axiom “perception is reality” referring to the way someone’s perception of you will affect how you interact with that person in real life.
It definitely rings true in business, where the market’s perception of you can determine whether or not you survive.
Still, I prefer something a little less rigid, like “perception shapes reality,” because it gives us room to grow and develop. Perception influences how we interact with customers, but it doesn’t trap us there.
The perennial struggle of B2B technical businesses lies in creating the perception of value, based on reality. True to the axiom, this perception affects everything from the power dynamics of the relationship to pricing strategy to royalty agreements.
In short, it determines where you land on the value chain.
What is the value chain?
The value chain is kind of like a vertical spectrum that represents how you are perceived by your market in terms of the value you provide.
At the very top of the spectrum are high-end producers, premium products, industry experts, etc., while the bottom is occupied by generic or unbranded commodity producers.
Most businesses fit somewhere in the middle, often perceiving themselves to be much higher on the chain than their customers see them (I’ve been guilty of this in my own business).
Mind the gap…
The value chain is precarious. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to call it the value cliff face, but then that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.
To illustrate how easy it is to find yourself at the bottom of this cliff, ask yourself if you’ve ever heard (or said) anything like the following:
“They’re just a toll manufacturer.”
“He’s just an independent sales rep.”
“They’re just a chemical company.”
“She’s basically an IT technician.”
“I think they just do R&D; they don’t really make anything there.”
If you’ve ever found yourself or your company being referred to as “just a [generic descriptor],” then you, my friend, know what it is like to be kicked off the value cliff and to land with a resounding thud.
Expanding the buyer’s universe of experience
To feel confident in their decision to work with you, a prospective buyer needs to have several positive experiences with your company.
One way to do this is through a relationship with one or two points of contact within your company, e.g. management, account reps, etc. Over time the buyer’s good experiences with you will add up and you will eventually earn their trust.
The obvious downside to this approach is that it takes forever, maybe even years in some cases.
But arguably the biggest pitfall is that if (heaven forbid) you ever make a mistake, you can only leverage the strength of those one or two relationships to reassure the customer that you know what you’re doing.
This is no bueno.
Even with the strongest relationships, you are still just one or two people negotiating with a much bigger entity, and it will be very tempting for them to pummel you to the bottom of the value chain permanently should anything go wrong.
To increase your leverage and build greater trust, you need to expand the buyer’s universe of experience beyond their relationship with an account rep. Ideally, these will be experiences for which you don’t have to be physically present. This way they can be replicated more easily and have a broader impact.
So… what is a great, proven way to do this? You guessed it — create meaningful, useful content.
When you build a library that your customers and prospects can peruse for hours on end and consult when they have questions, you are setting yourself up as a leading authority in your space instead of “just another [unflattering descriptor].”
This authority extends well beyond the products you are selling and into the broader contexts in which your products are being used.
This means that your content has the potential to be used or shared throughout market or industry — in effect, creating a massive cloud of witnesses who can attest to your knowledge and expertise. This is truly branding at its finest.
What about the relationship?
None of this means the relationship with the account rep goes away. In fact, the account rep will become much more confident and empowered once they have a full arsenal of content to back them up. Your relationships with customers will become much richer over time as well.
What about your regular marketing materials?
Your product literature, website, and other collateral remain just as important as they always were. They are the source of information about your company and your specific products. Although most technical B2B marketing content could benefit from being much more customer-focused, that is a topic for another post.
The positive influence of content marketing extends well beyond mere lead generation and into customer perception and relationships.
Rather than the buyer’s perception being shaped solely by a sales person or a few samples being tested, their perception can instead be shaped by a variety of influences — a very significant one being your ever-growing library of content that shows how you add value to every customer engagement.