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Brand Empathy: The One Critical Quality B2B Content Lacks [Video]

We could all use more empathy in our lives. The ability to think about the world from someone else’s point of view isn’t a nice-to-have or even an aspirational quality for content marketers. It’s absolutely critical. Our jobs revolve around our ability to understand consumers’ mindsets and reflect them in the content we create.

True brand empathy is different from merely identifying needs, serving up useful information, or even understanding the personal motivations that drive consumption.

True brand empathy is about creating a shared journey between your brand and its audience. It involves a deeper connection to and understanding of that audience on an emotional level, as well as rational and transactional ones.

True brand #empathy is about creating a shared journey between your brand and its audience, says @joderama via @cmicontent. #B2BMarketing Click To Tweet

While B2C brands and nonprofits often excel at this approach (tell me you’ve never felt the anguish of those homeless animals depicted in the humane society’s fundraising spots), B2B brands are lagging, says April Henderson, Forrester Research’s consulting vice president of market impact. And that means they’re missing an important opportunity to cement relationships with potential buyers.

B2B buyers want empathy, not empty promises

In her presentation at Content Marketing World 2019, April delivered some harsh news: B2B consumers don’t want your company’s content. Forrester’s research on technology-purchase decision makers backs up the statement: 65% of B2B consumers say they already get too much material from marketers, and almost as many think what they’re getting is useless.

Those numbers may be hard to swallow, but they beg for a closer inspection of why buyers feel that way. As April sees it, their reluctance to embrace your content might just boil down to a perceived lack of empathy. The content doesn’t demonstrate that your brand understands their needs or their everyday problems, let alone offering anything to help address those challenges.

“They want your business to understand and share in their feelings. Why do they want that? Because business buyers aren’t buying your product. They’re buying into your approach to solving their problem,” says Henderson.

Business buyers don’t purchase a product. They buy into your solution, says April Henderson via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Building an empathy-driven content program

Although B2B-buying decisions may be more complex than some B2C purchases, the decisions are still made by people. As April says, they don’t turn off their B2C brain when making a B2B purchase.

CMI’s editorial team spoke with April at Content Marketing World to learn more about her approach for adding empathy into the B2B content equation and using it to build a stronger rapport with consumers. This video shares the highlights of the conversation:

April acknowledges that some people are naturally more empathetic than others. Yet, she contends, any marketer can use her technique to build that mental muscle and use it to strengthen the content’s emotional relatability and personal resonance:

Step 1: Understand logical and emotional triggers

From a logical standpoint, it’s easy to understand what most B2B buyers want – products that save them time and money, help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, and cause as little disruption as possible to day-to-day operations.

But pure logic isn’t the only factor in a decision-making process. People invest emotionally in the purchases they make – and in the businesses they choose to buy from. And, increasingly, they expect those businesses to invest in them personally – considering the emotional drivers alongside the transactional ones.

People invest emotionally in the purchases they make and the businesses they buy from, says April Henderson via @CMIContent. #B2BMarketing Click To Tweet

In April’s view, demonstrating deeper empathy begins with understanding what your customers are looking for – including the requirements of their functional role and what they need to get their jobs done every day. According to the Forrester research she shared, your content should aim to satisfy these four needs:

  • Help: Peer examples, business case data, and ROI-focused content were among the most valuable types of content respondents say they can receive.
  • Personalized for their use case: 84% find it important or essential that ROI-analysis content is customizable to their organization.
  • Desire to engage on their terms: Considering that 80% of B2B decision makers want vendors to provide relevant content at each stage of their buying process without relying heavily on calls with sales, it’s clear that B2B customers prefer to remain anonymous until they are ready to reach out.
  • Credible, trustworthy expertise: Nearly 90% of buyers want their vendors to be a trusted source of industry insights that reflect an awareness of current market conditions.

Step 2: Impart insights that help them succeed

B2B decision makers don’t just want to see how your products and services might give them an edge in their market. They want you to earn their trust by proving your brand’s commitment to helping them succeed – whether they are ready to make a purchase now or not.

April asserts that sharing credible, authentic stories illustrating ways your brand helped customers accomplish their goals is a great way to demonstrate an enhanced level of empathy.

Sharing authentic stories of how your brand helped customers demonstrates enhanced empathy, says April Henderson via @CMIContent. #B2BMarketing Click To Tweet

As an example, she points to a project she worked on for LogMeIn’s Bold360 customer engagement solution. Forrester research uncovered a meaningful difference in results by organizations at different levels of maturity regarding customer engagement tools, processes, and strategy. To highlight this finding, Forrester used its data to build an interactive assessment tool called Bold360.

Not only did following this data-fueled, level-setting exercise enable prospects to see how their current situation stacks up against their competition, it also opened an opportunity for LogMeIn’s sales team to initiate direct conversations. Then they could offer more personalized recommendations to help prospects apply those insights to their unique use case. “This is about giving something to customers to help them understand where they stood and how they might improve,” April says.

Step 3: Embrace emotion to make your insights more memorable

April shared ShoreTel’s A Day in the Life video as an example of how to accomplish this. While the story certainly features some of its tech and solutions, the video is not all about specs. The story is about a father torn between taking his daughter to school and retrieving key budget information from his office in time for an important client meeting.

ShoreTel products facilitated his business goal, and more importantly, they enabled him to share a meaningful moment with his little girl – something any customer who’s a working parent can relate to.

Step 4: Humanize the complex buyer’s journey

B2B customers don’t follow a single, prescribed path to a purchase. Marketers need to provide content that aligns with the buying journey their prospects are actually on – not a generic one your brand wishes they would follow.

Empathy here starts with respecting their engagement preferences and adapting your content strategy to let customers determine how, when, and where they’ll interact with your business without sacrificing the relationship you want to build with them. For example, if your prospect prefers to drive further into the journey on their own, it doesn’t mean that you give up the opportunity to create a two-way conversation. It just means you’ve got to think harder about how to do it effectively.

Considering that today’s buyers likely prefer certain content formats and channels at different points in their journey, it’s essential that marketers look for ways to atomize content strategically. Then the content can surface whenever, wherever, and however customers want to engage.

Atomize content strategically so it surfaces whenever, wherever, and however customers want, says April Henderson via @CMIContent. #B2BMarketing Click To Tweet

For example, in the graphic April shared (below), you can see how rich, detailed cornerstone content – like ROI case studies and detailed thought leadership pieces – can be sliced, diced, recombined, and repurposed to fuel multiple customer paths across channels. Infographics can draw their attention at the discovery phase; blog posts can drive their deeper explorations; or sales tools can provide critical guidance when they are ready to buy.

April also suggests including sales leadership as a stakeholder when planning your content atomization. “If sales is expected to act as a consultative decision maker once they get in the room with prospects, marketers need to fuel them with the brand-supported information that enables them to serve their customers better,” she says. “When your salespeople have the ability to contextualize and deepen the conversations started by your content, trust increases, and empathy increases.”

Is your marketing brain hard-wired for empathy?

April recognizes that her formula for increased empathy is a starting point. Ultimately, it’s about a change in your mindset: Focus everything you do on increasing your ability to understand and share the feelings your customer is experiencing.

“This is what’s going to take you from being a seller to a business partner. Empathy creates trust; it creates an experience that’s based on more than just a transaction; it moves buyers from being passive and skeptical to actually engaging with you because they care. And when they care, they’re more likely to stand with you, to advocate for you, to create more business, and to be loyal because they have no reason to go anywhere else.”

Catch experts who make you see your content marketing work differently at Content Marketing World this October. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute