How To Keep Buyers At the Center of Format Choices

Today we have an unprecedented number of content formats, with new ones coming online all the time. Our choices can hinge on shareability, interactivity, tracking capabilities, visual appeal, cost, complexity of messaging — lots of important things. But let’s be honest: We all could do a better job thinking about content formats from the B2B buyer’s point of view.

Making buyer-centric format choices is an easy rule to let slide because (a) we naturally return  to formats that have been successful for us in the past, and (b) we love new ways to tell our stories and so easily fall in love with shiny new formats.

Either strategy — whether intentional or not — can cause a content asset to fall below engagement expectations, which can be costly considering that 52% of content marketing professionals will spend more on content in next 12 months, according to the 2016 Content Budgeting and Measurement Survey

What can you do to better align content format choice with buyers? I recommend two things.

First, pay attention to recent data about your buyers. Content preferences can change quickly. For example, in the most recent Demand Gen Report Content Preferences Survey, the portion of respondents who said they want content to be shorter shrunk by 11% compared with the prior year. This reversed the trend of a growing number of content consumers clamoring for shorter pieces.

Also look for data outside the marketing industry that could affect content preferences, such as mobile device use (heavy, average, below average), time constraints, time spent online, even current challenges buyer roles are facing. Right now if I were creating content for the oilfield services industry, for example, I would consider that the remaining buyers are working in understaffed workplaces due to layoffs and therefore have less time to consume content.

Second, know your buyer’s content consumption pattern. This is different than format. This is the way the buyer most commonly consumes information. The reason why this is important is because mimicking that pattern through tone, design and format choice makes content consumption a familiar, comfortable experience, so deeper content engagement is more likely.

Engineering roles comprise a group where paying attention to consumption is important because the pattern is on the other end of the spectrum compared with marketers. We use data and data analytics, but it’s a puny portion of our lives compared with engineers. These men and women are knee-deep in data points every working minute. Consequently, they don’t like disorder, and favor accuracy and clarity over brevity and emotion. If everything could be defined using a spreadsheet, engineers would be in heaven. Experimental formats probably aren’t going to work well with this group.

Case in point: I have an engineer friend who is a successful business owner. He writes a lot for business but recently wrote his first novel based on his experiences growing up in Canada in the 1970s. It was a beautiful story and well written, but his information consumption pattern showed through in the prose like this: “The Judge was an incredible man, but our opinions were simply based on feeling. . .now we had the data points to go along with our hypothesis.”

The bottom line is, even if we think a content format is super cool, it might be a miss with a buyer who has a different information consumption pattern.

To summarize, keep in mind that there are a lot of great choices for formats, and most offer unique capabilities. The key to making the best choice is to look at the formats through the buyer’s eyes, and that takes up-to-date insight into content preferences and information consumption patterns.

Tonya Vinas is Senior Content Strategist at Content4Demand, where she helps marketing professionals craft memorable stories that not only educate B2B buyers, but also help them achieve their personal and professional goals. Although content marketing is still a relatively new concept for many organizations, Vinas encourages clients to take risks and stand out by integrating fun themes and messaging into their assets, especially infographics — her favorite content format. When she’s not driving marketers to push the content limits, she’s cooking, reading about global trends and the economy or taking a leisurely walk in the valley parks along Lake Erie.