Marketing and sales textbooks vary slightly, but they all state that B2B buyer journeys have three to four stages. Take this Hubspot illustration, for example:
In my job, I have the awesome opportunity to talk to technology marketers every day about attracting and nurturing buyers using PR, social media and content. Sometimes in these meetings, their voices get soft….they pause….and quizzically ask, “but what if my buyers aren’t in any of these phases???”
Bingo! If you’re a growth stage company, chances are you’re creating new products or perhaps trying to form an entirely new market. In either case, your prospective buyers probably don’t even realize that they have a need that could be fulfilled. Similarly, legacy corporations often innovate internally and develop new solutions that their existing buyers don’t have an idea that they need.
Marketing agencies and MarTech vendors don’t like to talk about this, but - the buyer journey often includes a Stage Zero.
Let’s face it - Stage Zero isn’t easy. No one buys a product in Stage Zero. No one wants a demo in Stage Zero. Sometimes buyers don’t even know who your company is in Stage Zero. There’s certainly no trust in Stage Zero. It’s a lonely place.
But, ever the optimist, I personally think that Stage Zero is where all the fun is. The creativity and freedoms brands can have in Stage Zero are unlike any other stage in the buyer’s journey. In this stage, your PR writing can be as aspirational and provocative as the entrepreneur or inventor who dreamed up the new product in the first place. This is the time in the company’s lifecycle when you can (and should) talk about ideas and concepts, instead of the speeds and feeds of a product. So, break out the brainstorm materials - here are three types of marketing communications you can create to compel tech buyers in Stage Zero:
Thought Leadership. Thought leadership content, such as bylined articles, social media and blogs, gives innovators an open mic to discuss futuristic topics and comment on marketplace trends. Forrester says thought leadership has a greater impact of ideas on potential buyers than all other forms of content marketing; that’s exactly what you need to propel a buyer in Stage Zero into Stage One. The good news is that such content is in high demand. Thirty-five percent of B2B buyers say they spend 1-3 hours per week reviewing thought leadership content.
Data Reports. Buyers in Stage Zero are tricky because they don’t realize a problem exists, much less that there’s a solution for an unknown problem. The best way to combat this is by proliferating data about that particular topic. Especially for IT buyer personas who are heavily persuaded by metrics. In addition, media love data reports, so they often get heavy press coverage. And the nuggets within data reports play well on social media. Finally, data reports typically have a long shelf-life, which is great since there’s no rule of thumb for how long a buyer might linger in Stage Zero.
Analyst & Influencer Chatter. There are two primary reasons that you should engage analysts and influencers when defining a new category. First, people trust people. So, it’s imperative that you enlist credible third parties to spread awareness about the problem you are solving. Second, analysts and influencers hold these titles for a reason - they’re at the forefront of industry dialogue. They will want to know and understand your perspective on the marketplace, how technology is being used to solve new use cases, and more. In speaking with them, you’ll learn important insights from their perspective, too.
And lastly, here are a few types of marcomm to NOT do in Stage Zero. Why? Because most of these are persuasive and push prospects to take action, which means they should be used later in your nurturing efforts:
If your growth stage company is struggling with how to define a new category, or if your enterprise is innovating to solve new use cases in the marketplace, it’s imperative that you have a content calendar guiding the buyer’s journey - from Stage Zero to Three.