July 30, 2014

How much do you “charge” for your content?

Lady Gaga at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Image via Wikipedia

Okay, so it’s difficult to actually pull money out of buyers for your marketing content (though there are rare exceptions: McKinsey has been doing it for years with the McKinsey Quarterly).

Yet while generally we can’t put a price tag on our content, we do charge for it. The price is the forms we make people fill out to download white papers or sign up for events. Trouble is, we take a one-price-for all approach to our content.

That has to change.

In many cases, we’re charging too much for our content and in other cases not enough. For example, there is no way that the typical Webinar is worth as much as an in-depth research report, yet we make buyers give us the same amount of information for both—we charge them the same price.

Make no mistake; buyers understand the prices behind marketing content. We’re the ones who don’t pay enough attention to it. Here are the components of the price from the buyer’s perspective:

  • Time. They have to spend time filling out the form and predict the amount of time they will need to absorb the content—and probably deal with the emails and calls from pesky salespeople after the fact.
  • Privacy. Buyers understand that they give away a piece of their privacy every time they fill out a form and engage with content.
  • Intention. Buyers want the most valuable content they can get. They decide how to reveal about their intentions based on the value of the content to them. They may also assume that a higher level of intent will net them more valuable content either in terms of quantity or depth.
  • Hierarchy. Buyers are all-too aware of their positions in the chain of command. Those lower down on the corporate ladder are more willing to “spend” their information because they realize that it has less value than those higher up, whose buying power gives them more information riches combined with less willingness to spend it (kind of like rich people in the real economy).
  • Access. Buyers understand that there are different levels of access to content depending on certain factors. They don’t always know what those factors are, but they value access enough to lie. For example, many assume that a higher level of buying intent will get them more goodies, so they say they are ready to buy when they aren’t. Many also assume that if they say that they are vice president instead of a director that they will receive better content and probably better treatment overall.
  • Relationship. This price is one that high-level executives have been calculating for years as providers woo them with memberships in customer councils and invitations to private events. But it’s less familiar to lower-level buyers, who are only beginning to calculate this piece as the economics of social media open up the privileges of relationship from cheesy tchotckes at trade shows to online social networks.
  • Account history. Buyers assume that the price of content will change depending on the number of times they have engaged with you. Even the most basic lead scoring mechanism raises the price of content as buyers consume more of it—i.e., If you download two white papers a week for a month, you should expect a call from a salesperson. Buyers get that—or at least they will probably see the logic in the pricing.
  • Culture and location. Culture, both corporate and social, affects the price that buyers are willing to pay for content. For example, research shows that Europeans value their privacy more than Americans—meaning that their information may cost you more. And some companies have disclosure rules that make it hard for their executives to participate on customer advisory boards.

The price will change
We should evaluate our content pricing models to see if we’re charging the right amounts. We should expect those prices to change as social media takes hold among buyers. For example, 99.9% of the links I click on in Twitter take me directly to the content advertised in the tweets. And when there is a gate, most Twitterers take the precious real estate needed to say that registration is necessary. Just as the web has gutted the business model of publishing it has also reduced the price of marketing content. It has also changed the scope of our content process, as Jon Miller points out here.

Mobile raises the price
But the price can go up, too. That possibility hit home with me this week as I read Steve Woods’ post about the B2B implications of the iPad. Steve points out, among other things, that the richer environment of the iPad could revive the “print” advertising market.

As publishers are able to present content that doesn’t look like crap like it does on a web browser, they can charge more and advertisers can grab more attention. And the multimedia possibilities mean that subscribers to the New York Times might be willing to pay for that embedded video interview with Lady GaGa.

No doubt marketers can also charge a higher price for a white paper that embeds a video case study or a how-to in a great looking media environment. I’m not sure whether the iPad is that environment or not, but we all know that some kind of portable media device will replace our dead-tree publications if the experience is as good or better than we can have with print.

And no doubt the location abilities of mobile devices like the iPad and smartphones will also raise the price we can charge for marketing content. CK Kerley and I went back and forth on this issue as she prepared an excellent piece about how mobile will affect B2B.

My thinking is that we’re so busy assuming that we need to bang down the door to reach buyers that we forget that sometimes they actually want to be found—not necessarily by us but by each other. By acting as a matchmaker at events and perhaps by creating communities with location-based functions, we can help them find each other and get to market to them as the price of fostering the connection.

What are they willing to “pay?”
So there is a price for marketing content. Maybe I’m focusing too much on semantics, but I think lead scoring only gets it half right. We assign points to buyers based on their actions, but we don’t think about it from their perspective. Lead scores don’t ask, “But what are they willing (and happy) to pay for our content?

Thinking about a pricing model for content also helps us target our content to the specific segments of the buying process. I talk more about how we need to vary the amount of information we take from buyers in this post, but the idea that there is a price to be charged and paid makes it clearer in my mind.

How about you?

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We need an app for that

I’ve been working on a report for ITSMA clients this week about analytics and it got me thinking about the proverbial bigger picture of B2B marketing.

We know from our research that we in marketing don’t do much with analytics—i.e., using data to determine and predict customer buying patterns. Only 50% of marketers in our survey said they had analytics programs, and of these, few were focused on predicting behavior; most were simply reporting past behavior. Even rarer is the ability to carry those analytics all the way through to a sale.

But we need to start doing that. Two of the companies I spoke to for my report use analytics to determine which marketing tactics are working and which ones aren’t. That lets them be more productive in marketing, by focusing effort and budget on the good stuff, and it lets them reduce the time to a sale by giving salespeople better tools to work with. One of them told me that it had used these analytics to reduce the average number of interactions needed to schedule a sales appointment in half.

So what are the rest of us to do? I’ve said before that this isn’t just a problem with the issues that come back to us in the surveys: lack of budget, clean data, and unified IT systems. We also have a cultural problem: numbers and metrics just aren’t in our bones; we’re the creative types, what others might refer to derisively as the English majors (yep, me too).

Make the analytics come to us
This is why we have to automate our way out of this problem. The metrics and analytics have to come to us; we can’t continue to expect to dive in and pull them out because we just don’t do it. The things we do and the content we produce need to be contained within an IT system that can watch what we do and tell us about it. This is especially important as more of our work moves online.

But I don’t think you can just start with an IT system, because we’re not much more inclined to be IT geeks than we are to being analysts. So you have to start with the bigger process picture.

I haven’t seen a better articulation of what marketing should be doing in B2B than Brian Carroll’s marketing funnel concept. He differentiates between a marketing funnel and a sales funnel because so many leads are lost in the handover between marketing and sales—94%, according to this report. The marketing funnel helps focus attention on a number of important issues:

  • Qualify leads. Marketing can’t send every lead to sales, nor can it spend too much time qualifying leads.
  • Universal lead definition. A lead that both sales and marketing agree is ready to be pursued.
  • Lead scoring. You can’t call everybody who downloads a whitepaper. You need a system for determining who is ready to talk. And as I discussed in this post, the qualification process needs to be gradual and non-invasive, what Brian has since christened “micro-conversion.” Steve Woods of marketing automation vendor Eloqua has an excellent list of questions to ask about lead scoring here, but I wonder if they rely too much on making people fill out forms.
  • Lead nurturing. There needs to be agreement on when and how a lead will come back to marketing if sales doesn’t pursue it or if the prospect turns out not to be interested.

But what about the fact that sales and marketing don’t talk to each other?
The key to this process is getting sales and marketing to work together create an integrated process. Suzanne Lowe makes the radical assertion that marketing and sales must be integrated together. Eliminate the silos, imbue people with both sales and marketing skills, and eliminate the problem. Once again, however, we have a cultural issue: Sales and marketing people are just different.

The system we’d like to see
In organizations where sales and marketing are forever destined to be separate, processes and systems have to do the integration work. At its foundation, it is a system that sees that the lead process is a loop, not a linear progression—especially considering the length and complexity of the B2B buying process—and is capable of tracking every interaction with a lead over the course of this torturous route.

The system needs to house every bit of content marketing creates, for both customers and sales, and integrates with the lead management system, so that marketers and sales people can use content, not qualification forms, to gauge progress towards a sale. For example, if sales has visibility into the content that prospects are downloading, and both marketing and sales have agreed on the pieces of content that indicate serious buyer interest, the system can signal salespeople to make the call, rather than waiting for marketing to ship the lead to them.

The system needs to be interactive with both prospects and salespeople so that they can rate and comment on the content. And finally, the system needs to integrate with whatever salespeople use (CRM, most likely), so that marketing’s impact on a sale can be automatically tracked from beginning to end.

If marketers had such a foundational system, we wouldn’t need to “create” analytics programs, all we’d need to do is look at what our customers and prospects are doing.

What do your process and system look like?

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