No Respect for Collateral

Thanks to Kathleen Schaub (@kathleenschaub) for allowing me to re-post her blog post ‘No Respect for Collateral’ from April 21, 2010. On April 28, 2010.

“In the 1986 classic film, Back to School, Rodney Dangerfield plays a self-made millionaire who attempts to earn a college degree by leveraging the skills that made him a business success. For instance, he outsources term papers to subject-matter experts, then evaluates their work by weight. “I dunno,” Dangerfield mutters as he hefts a stack of paper, “It feels like a ‘C’.” We laugh, because we know that you don’t judge content by volume, unless you are trying to be funny.

Yet, according to the American Marketing Association, as much as 80-90% of collateral plays no useful role in the selling process. No one laughs at that.

Companies produce a huge volume of digital and print marketing collateral. We can get seduced into believing that because we have so many communications pieces, we’ve really communicated. Consider a new product go-to-market plan. It’s often largely a checklist of collateral items. Business presentation? Check. Technology presentation? Check. White paper? Check. Website update? Check. Sales training material? Check. YouTube demo? Check. Twitter hashtag? Check. The list may go on for pages.

Measurement is good. But measuring launch preparedness by the volume of collateral is like using a scale to measure the temperature. Instead, we should measure the completeness of our ability to answer our future buyer’s critical questions.

Each buyer’s journey is a cognitive path leading from unawareness to enlightenment and agreement. The steps on a buyer’s journey are questions. For a B2B technology purchase, I estimate that there are about 25 critical questions that a buyer needs answered before he will buy. Early in this cognitive journey, he asks questions like, “how can I be better?” and “am I headed for a problem?”. In the middle of the journey, questions such as “what vendors offer possible solutions?” and “have companies like us been successful at actually realizing promised benefits?” Near the journey’s end are questions such as “why should I buy now?” and “what are this vendor’s terms?”

A company’s marketing communications materials are supposed to answer these questions. Our answers must help remove cognitive roadblocks so that the buyer can keep moving towards a purchase.

Technology companies typically answer, maybe, eight out the 25 questions. These same eight questions get answered over and over again in different media. The volume and range of communications materials tricks us into thinking our job is done. Meanwhile, the rest of the buyer’s path, containing his other 17 questions, remains dark and murky. All it takes is one key question inadequately answered to derail a sale.

I’m definitely a fan of interesting, creative, marketing communications. Brain-friendly content that is made to stick improves message transmission and comprehension. If we first measure how completely we are answering our buyer’s key questions, and then apply our communications ingenuity, we will truly have a winning collateral strategy.

Otherwise, if 17 out of a buyer’s 25 critical questions remain unanswered, we will find our sales people discarding our kilos of award-winning brochures, clever podcasts, and stunning community websites for a home-made Powerpoint deck that does the job they really need.”

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