Enterprise software has gotten more complex, and so has the enterprise buyer’s journey. Add the terms “AI” or “machine learning” into the mix, and you’re likely add even more confusion for your customer.
According to research firm CEB, only 14% of buyers can differentiate the value proposition between multiple competitive solutions. When everyone also advertises they “use AI”, then AI is no longer a useful differentiator for marketers and salespeople to use with customers.
Buying journeys are also highly non-linear. If you think your buyer is following a neat path down your funnel to conversion, you’re wrong.
More realistically, your buyer’s journey looks like a maze of content consumption, industry discussions, and stakeholder checkins. CEB further reports that “suppliers provide just 47% of the information that buyers consult during a purchase decision. If most suppliers have three or four competitors, each individual supplier is left with just 10-15% of mindshare.”
Unfortunately, much of the knowledge that a would-be customer wants to acquire is hidden away intentionally. Current customers may not want to reveal how they leverage AI for a competitive edge, while AI vendors may not want to share how they’ve acquired their data or built their technology.
“Differences among AI vendors are normally reliant on two things: breadth and depth of data sources and AI architecture,” says Toby Await, Product Marketing Manager at Hiretual. “Unfortunately, both are fairly secret to keep a competitive edge, so differences among vendors often come down to actual evaluation of the product.”
With such fierce competition for customer mindshare and so much confusion in the AI industry, how can you educate prospective users and build enough trust to convert them to paying customers?
Education Through High-Quality Content Is Critical
Content marketing is a marketing strategy focused on attracting prospects through the creation and distribution of relevant, high-quality, and up-to-date content. Its goal is to focus on building a trusted relationship with a clearly defined audience of prospective customers.
This is a long-term strategy in which content takes center stage. First, well-targeted content first increases general attention to your brand and products. Second, consistent release of quality content that the audience finds valuable encourages them to engage with your brand and spread the message to others. Third, continued brand loyalty will encourage prospective customers to choose your product when it is time to purchase, or at least to evaluate.
“We view high-quality content as the ‘gas’ required for a high-performing brand-to-demand engine,” says Catherine Harrell, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing at PrecisionLender.
Content Creation Can Be A Challenge, But Many Strategies Exist
Creating compelling content for your brand is much easier said than done. One of the persistent challenges is finding writers who have both the technical aptitude to explain AI technologies and the creativity and editorial skills to make them sound interesting and accessible to readers. Another challenge is getting enough time with the domain experts on your team, such as engineers and research, who can speak to your technical differentiation in detail.
Even with the right content production team in place, keeping your branded content consistently high quality is no simple task. You often can’t predict how well a piece of content will do, even if you know your industry well.
Often vendors can start out by releasing a single piece of content based on feedback from employees. According to Olga Yatsyna, Head of Global Digital Marketing at Ciklum, one of her company’s most successful content pieces started our an in-house request from the Sales department, who wanted to know about IT costs and trends were growing in popularity. The internal report received so much positive feedback that the company decided to publish it publicly with additional, third-party data to make it relevant to other industries.
“The simplest thing to do is create an initial piece of content, i.e. a report based on third party stats, without spending tons of money on resources,” says Chris Jacob, a Product Marketing executive at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. “Use that as basis of a webinar and have companion blog article. Measure them all and align them to key company sales goals and performance.”
Content can also take any form. Voucherify released “software as content”, providing a single feature of their product as a free service to attract traffic. The company’s audience shared the free tool widely on social media and bumped the company to 1st place Google search results for relevant keywords.
Content marketing is also iterative. PrecisionLender tests snippets of trial content on social media to measure engagement before committing to the larger strategy, while Salesforce uses a ‘hub and spoke’ content system, creating a marquee piece of content and then building multiple presentations around the information.
But, as always, the content has to appeal to your audience.
Profile-Raising Is A Slow Game And True Investment
Content marketing is a long-term commitment. Releasing content today may not mean immediate sales lift. However, it can start to bring in information that will help you refine your campaign and targeting.
“Invest in content marketing even if you get no customers the next day or next week,” Michal Sedzielewski, Co-Founder & CMO at Voucherify suggests. “In 2-3 months, your content will start bringing you audience and leads. From there, you can learn something about the keywords you’re interested in, then use them as the basis for new content.”
Content marketing is about capturing attention with valuable content. This means quality over quantity. When Katie Smith, Retail Analysis & Insights Director at EDITED, first started content marketing, her team thought that a continuous stream of content was the “right way”, but soon realized that audiences were connecting better with longer pieces that shared solid research.
The need for patience is a universal theme in successful content marketing. Amy K, co-founder of K2 Global Communications, estimated that it probably takes a minimum of 6 months before a company can really start to see results for natural ROI. Similarly, though Ciklum’s content strategy took six months to pay off into a 41% conversion rate into sales, Olya Yatsuna estimated that she would not usually expect good and high-quality leads in less than a year after investing in content marketing.
In general, the investment pays off in raising general brand awareness through increased social shares, branded search, or organic inbound traffic, but it often can bring other indirect benefits as well. “VCs and investors love to know that their investments are validated in a company that is getting attention,” says Edward Yang at Firecracker PR. A series of magazine articles by Beyond Limits, one of Firecracker’s clients, resulted in invitations to speaking engagements for the CEO and in positive uplift during their fundraising efforts.
Creating high-performing content is also not free. Prepare to spend both time and money on both talent and tools to ensure you’re producing real results. Toby Await of Hiretual advises that startups employ at least one full-time marketer on content activities and also invest in content creation and promotion tools.
“At minimum, expect to spend $80,000 for a full-time person and tools,” Await warns. “More realistically, you’ll spend $120,000 to $150,000 right out of the door for body count and promotion. We spend about $2,000 per month just to pay for content marketing tools, which is $24,000 every year.” If you want to amplify your content distribution with paid strategies such as search or social media advertising, be prepared to also add additional marketing costs on top of your baseline costs of talent and tools.
Consistent Customer Education Can Help Overcome Confusion & Hype
AI is a new and challenging space to market in due to customer’s lack of familiarity with how the underlying technologies work and the sheer volume of noise in the space. When every enterprise vendor feels the need to claim “AI-powered” features, customers struggle even more to determine who is truly legitimate.
Customers want to know whether a product will deliver on its promises, not how a product works. This is especially true for enterprise AI products, where your clients may covet the benefits that AI brings but don’t necessarily have the technical knowledge to discern which product is right for them.
Content marketing will attract prospective customers, who may not know how an AI algorithm works but is fully capable of discerning whether your brand demonstrates a good understanding market conditions and customer needs. In other words, whether your product is the best fit for their needs.
By producing high-quality content that encourages audience engagement, your brand can convert fans of your content into happy repeat customers.