Interview: Carnegie Mellon Professor Ari Lightman On How Students Are Empowered By Learning To Use Brandwatch Consumer Research
By Kara FinnertyJun 10
Published September 19th 2017
Enthusiastic praise, frequent boosts in industry publications, social engagement and shares…By these measures, our marketing at Cascade Insights was, well, awesome. Especially seeing as we have a pretty niche focus: market research for B2B software companies.
But, as we’ve said before, popular and profitable aren’t necessarily the same thing. We knew we had to gauge our marketing success in other ways.
Was our content reaching our target customers? Did our content help scoot buyers down the sales funnel?
We needed answers! Luckily, we know how to get them. We are a market research firm after all.
We were getting a lot of positive feedback from our podcast listeners, blog readers, and social media followers. That, along with the steady increase in cold inbound marketing leads told us that the quality of our content was not our top concern.
People liked what they saw when they saw it. So how could we get more people to see it? Especially our target customers?
We went right to the source and asked them.
We reached out to a few of our clients in companies we would like to do more projects with in the future.
Our interview subjects were executives in the marketing or market research departments of enterprise and mid-market B2B software companies.
In this case, we decided a survey would not suffice.
Instead, we wanted to have conversations with our clients that would allow for answers we may not have thought to ask questions about. So, we crafted a discussion guide for in-depth interviews to get the conversation started.
We designed the discussion guide to tease out when and how target customers find and consume content marketing. Here are few examples of our questions:
Other questions were designed to reveal how target customers evaluate the merit of the content marketing pieces they come across. Some questions in this category included:
Over the course of the interviews, we discovered something major: there is a huge difference between the way folks in mid-market software companies consume content marketing vs. those in enterprise software companies.
Basically, we realized our market segmentation needed more nuance.
To our relief, we got mostly positive feedback from our clients working in mid-market companies. Some remembered finding us through a Google search or being impressed by a topic covered on the Cascade Insights Blog or the B2B Revealed Podcast.
In other words, our mid-market clients had easily sought out or come across our content, and liked what they saw. This was just the sort of feedback any marketer wants to hear.
The story with enterprise software companies was quite different though.
Our enterprise buyers said they didn’t scour the Internet in search of new service firms to work with. Instead, they preferred to focus on vendors that had already been approved by their companies’ procurement teams.
Same deal with content.
Most of our enterprise clients said they first checked internal sources of information for their own company. Next stop was old standbys like Gartner, Forrester, or other syndicated firms that target their industry niche.
Our enterprise buyers said they were not looking at any service firm’s content marketing. They just don’t have the time for it.
Okay, so the enterprise buyer is not really the audience for our podcast or blog. But, our enterprise interviewees made clear that they do pay close attention to vendors’ websites.
The root pages, that is.
They’ll spend a few minutes perusing the website to get a sense of the sort of projects the firm specializes in and what kind of companies they have worked with. Our enterprise interviewees emphasized that they spend only a few minutes on service firms’ websites though. (We didn’t ask about how much time they spend looking at product websites.)
Clear, efficient messaging is key.
If a service firm is lucky enough to make it onto a preferred vendor list, they still only have a couple minutes to impress potential enterprise buyers with their website.
These interviews gave us a lot of ideas for honing our B2B marketing strategy.
Since our mid-market and enterprise clients are likely to find, view, and vet us in totally different ways, we realized we needed to have separate marketing strategies to reach and woo both.
For our blog, podcast, and newsletter, we needed to assume the audience was mostly from mid-market companies. If we kept on doing what we were doing, we’d probably reach these folks just fine. So. Keep producing quality, useful content and give potential clients a variety of ways to subscribe, depending on their preference. Check.
For enterprise buyers, we needed to focus on our website.
Our enterprise interviewees revealed that our website is the first- and likely only- marketing that a potential enterprise client will see from our firm. And they’ll be focusing on our home page and services, not so much on our podcast or blog.
We immediately took steps to make our website even more concise, streamlined, and compelling. We:
The interviews with our mid-market clients really showed us that a personal connection to a content creator was a big motivation for engagement with our content.
Several mid-market interviewees said that they listened to the newsletter, subscribed to the podcast, etc. because they had met or worked with our CEO, Sean.
True, they may not have had time to read or listen to everything we sent them, but that wasn’t really the point. They liked the periodic reminders of Cascade Insights’ innovative market research.
Even though this was positive and useful information, it prompted us to start considering how we could leverage other personal connections to our talented team of analysts to drive more of our content efforts.
It makes sense. Market research projects are an investment. Clients want to know that the whole team has expertise, not just the leadership of the firm.
Bam. New marketing initiative. Amplify the brilliance of our whole team of analysts.
Our mid-market clients weren’t shy about revealing their email addresses in their interactions with service firms. These buyers said they sent messages, filled out contact forms, or subscribed to newsletters when interested in a service firm.
Enterprise clients, on the other hand, were much more likely to call.
Before we market researched ourselves, our company phone had simply forwarded to the boss’s mobile number. He’s a busy guy though, and couldn’t always pick up. Being a small firm, we didn’t think that was much of a problem. But, from the interviews with our enterprise clients, we learned these folks wanted to get in touch right away, not leave a message.
So, we quickly hired a high-end answering service, Ruby. There was an immediate uptick in quality, inbound leads. It was a huge payoff for such a simple adjustment.
Our mid-market clients said that they subscribe to our content to remind themselves that we exist.
Of course, we’d also like to remind our enterprise clients that we exist. But, as we covered earlier, they probably won’t read vendor blogs. For enterprise folks, pay-per-click ads for our content would likely miss the mark.
We realized that impressions ads are a better approach for our enterprise buyers. Twitter and Facebook, for example, let users pay to have ads that target a specifically chosen audience. For instance, all Facebook users in your CRM system.
This, for our purposes, was perfect. Scrolling past our ad could gently and passively remind enterprise clients that there is an excellent market research firm out there called Cascade Insights.
We heard from both mid-market and enterprise buyers that they’d really like to see a case study from us.
The enterprise folks emphasized that when vetting service firms, they want to see that the firm has handled problems like theirs for companies like theirs.
Sigh. Case studies are a bit of a thorn in our side. A zillion non-disclosure agreements are signed for any given project. Who wants to read a case study that is mostly redacted?
However, we can solve the problem in another way. We can look back through our thousands of projects and do a quantitative study on those. That way, we won’t give away any one client’s findings, but reveal larger trends. We can reap meta insights without compromising any of our clients’ anonymity. (Stay tuned, we’re working on a study.)
For an informal qualitative study on a few target clients, we reaped a goldmine of insight and several new marketing strategies to boot.
To all the other marketing managers out there, imagine what a formal market research project could do for your business problem.