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Webinar tools have evolved – and marketers should evolve their use of them. Marketers should look at how webinars can be used as a tool for audience development across every stage of the buyer’s journey. By taking this approach and integrating webinars into more stages of the buyer’s journey, marketers have a much better reason to ask for an increasing amount of information during registration, and can begin to improve the quality of their marketing database.
Webinars: New Views To Creating Customer Experiences
New Views To Creating
Mapping Webinars To The Entirety Of
The Buyer’s Journey
By Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer,
Content Marketing Institute
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THE BUYER’S JOURNEY ISN’T PAVED
WITH MEDIA TYPES
One of the most common misconceptions we see at the Content Marketing
Institute is this notion that the buyer’s journey is segmented by content
type. It is still common to see customer buying journeys segmented
where the “awareness” stage is populated by blogs and videos, and the
“consideration” stage is all about webinars and white papers, the “purchase
stage” is all about ROI Calculators, and the “loyalty” stage is all about the
The truth is this: the platform of media has little or nothing to do with how
much influence it has at any one stage. In a study conducted by Google,
Ogilvy and TNS in June of 2014, researchers studied what they called
“Generation C”, customers that are actually engaged in social media,
sharing content and creating content around brands. In other words – they
studied exactly the people that most marketers are trying to reach through
content. They found that while consumers are “spoiled for choice” in
content and media types, they are looking specifically for “media to match
the purpose with which they lead their lives.”i
From a B2B perspective, we believe this is meaningful because it aligns with
our own research, as well as a study done in 2010 that found that 95% of
recent B2B purchases chose their provider because they “provided them
with ample content to help them successfully navigate through each stage of
the buying process.”
But, further, the Google/Ogilvy study also found very little correlation
between media type and influence. In other words, one of the most common
mistakes a marketer can make is to silo a particular media type into one
element of the buyer’s journey and assume that it has no other place.
For content marketers to go from “good” to “great”, they must get out of
the “medium first – message second” mentality and instead start thinking
about the idea that it is the content’s purpose that should be segmented
by the buyer’s journey – not its ultimate format. Time and again when we
see businesses employing successful content marketing strategies, we see
them creating a powerful story first, and then finding the right balance of
platforms to create, manage, distribute, promote, then measure that story.
In the 2015 edition of CMI’s yearly content marketing research, which we
conduct each year in conjunction with MarketingProfs, webinars were
utilized by more than 60% of content marketers. And, for the second year
in a row, webinars were the second most utilized content type – just behind
“in-person events”. ii
So, it seemed like a good time to take a closer look
at webinars - typically viewed as a content type only appropriate for lead
generation and/or training – and how they might be applied and mapped
across the entirety of the buyer’s journey
WEBINARS: FINDING SOLID FOOTING
ON THE BUYER’S JOURNEY
There is no doubt that webinars have been utilized very effectively to
generate leads for companies. In fact, CMI’s own research shows that
webinars are consistently rated in the top 12 most effective tactics for
And this aligns with
research analyst firm
Forrester that said
that “webinars are the
number one source of
lead generation for B2B
businesses”, with 51%
of marketers generating
new leads through
But, we’ve also
discovered that content
marketers are finding
tremendous success with webinars at other parts of the funnel as well. In a
research study specifically focused on content marketers and webinar usage
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
Marketers’ Goals for Webinars
CMI Research: Webinars - They’re Not Just For Leads Anymore - February, 2014
from earlier this year, CMI found that content marketers who are finding
continued success with webinars are broadening the scope of how they use
them. They are applying the concept of webinars across the full spectrum of
the buyer’s journey.
In fact, one of the most interesting results that came out of our study
was how many marketers found success with setting webinar goals that
stretched over every aspect of the buyer’s journey. From brand awareness,
lead generation to thought leadership, customer acquisition and all the
way down through customer retention and loyalty – successful content
marketers are truly expanding the use of webinars for all aspects of the
The research also suggested that, of those who don’t currently utilize
webinars, the majority that had used them in the past, had only used them
for the “traditional” applications (e.g. training/education) and then stopped
because of a reprioritization and budget challenges. This suggests that if
webinars can be shown to have value across a wider part of the buyer’s
journey – that marketers that aren’t currently using them could reconsider
their priority as part of their content marketing mix.iv
So how do marketers begin to map Webinars across the entirety of the
Buyer’s Journey? What are some of the best practices we’re seeing for
approaching content by purpose – rather than by type – to make Webinars
a successful part of the content marketing tool box. Let’s explore the new
buyer’s journey and how webinars play an important role within it.
UNDERSTANDING THE BUYER’S JOURNEY
BY CONTENT PURPOSE
At Content Marketing World 2014, there was a tremendous amount of
discussion about the new “marketing funnel” and whether it was even
an appropriate metaphor any longer. Keynote speaker Andrew Davis
called the new strategy “meeting the moments of inspiration” and
discussed how the new non-linear nature of search, social and content
on the web made even creating a funnel an almost impossible task.
But, the reality is that marketers do need to map content against stages
of a buying journey. The key is that content marketers should map it
against those “moments of inspiration” and the desired impact of the
experience rather than the classic content types or calls to action that
have so long been part of the sales and marketing process.
So, as an example – if we look at a very basic, and traditional,
buyer’s journey we might assemble it along the lines of:
Awareness – of our product or service
Consideration – of our product or service
Decision – in our favor – a purchase
Loyalty – to the purchased product or service
Evangelism – of our product or service
The Traditional Buyer’s Journey
Illumination of a new way
a problem can be solved,
or a desire met.
Education about new
approach, regardless of
product, but alignment
between brand value and
purpose of the customer.
Compelling illustration of
how product or service
actually solves the problem
and makes people’s lives
better. Showing – not telling.
Selling the hole, not the nail.
Aligning brand values with
value beyond the product
In this classic buying process, marketers frequently take an inside-looking-
out view and insert “proof points” or “reasons to believe” at each of
the stages – and then assemble content that focuses on those unique
propositions. This is, sadly, where the silo effect of content types at the
various layers comes to play. For example, because webinars are often seen
solely for the “consideration stage” – they often only get used at that stage –
and then only for “educating” prospects on products etc…
Instead, content marketers might view the simple buying journey as a way to
deliver value to the customer at that stage – and how to match content (in
varying types) to the customer’s purpose while they are in that stage. So this
buyer’s journey might resemble something like the following:
The New Buyer’s Journey - Value Delivered
The theme, of course, in each of these is a customer-centric view that helps
to direct the content purpose and what the marketer can deliver at each
stage. And each then creates a discrete experience that, on its own, may
be the catalyst to actually generating business value. In short – if a brand
can focus on delivering high-impact value at the “awareness stage” – there
may be no reason the customer has to go through the “consideration”
stage. They may move directly to purchase, or will at least move through
consideration with a much higher bias in the brand’s favor.
MAPPING WEBINARS TO THIS BUYER’S JOURNEY
When we look at then how to map Webinars to a purpose-driven
content experience – what are some of the opportunities a brand may
want to examine as part of this process? Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank
Online and author of Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More
Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing
framed this well. He said:
“looking across the customer lifecycle from awareness to purchase to
retention and advocacy, webinars provide a content experience that closes the
gap between prospect and customer, customer and advocate like few other
content marketing tactics.”
But while closing the gap between the brand
approach, and the customer’s need is a
top goal for marketers who use webinars,
this is also one of the biggest challenges.
In fact, CMI discovered this explicitly
in the research we conducted earlier
this year. The study showed that the
biggest challenge for those marketers
that felt like they were “most effective
with webinars” was “developing the
However, the biggest challenge for those marketers who felt
like they were “least effective with webinars” was “securing enough
registrations and getting them to attend”. Basically, marketers that are
successful with Webinars are challenged on the right thing – how to develop
content that will be most resonant, and are not then challenged with
developing an audience that will view it. To put it even more simply: if a
marketer consistently creates great content at a variety of stages in the
buying journey, developing audiences becomes less of a challenge.
So – how can marketers begin to develop great webinar content specific
for other parts of the buyer’s journey. Let’s look at our sample, and some
Webinar Mapping Across The Buyer’s Journey
Illumination that there is a new way or that a problem can be solved.
ᮣ CONTENT NEEDED:
Storytelling – bonding emotionally as well as intellectually. High-level education
about the topic in general – but engaging to get an emotional reaction as well to
drive not only awareness, but interest.
A startup B2B marketing software company created a series of webinars and
engaged thought leaders from the industry in a spirited discussion/debate about
new ways of structuring the process the company’s software helps manage. They
didn’t even participate – they just hosted, and facilitated the discussion.
They received hundreds of new registrants to their marketing database.
Education about why this new way, regardless of the product chosen,
aligns with the purpose of the customer.
ᮣ CONTENT NEEDED:
Deeper dive about a specific approach, and tactical information about how it
solves an unmet desire or need.
An IT professional services company partnered with a well known industry
analyst with a series of webinars going through – step by step - a very specific
approach to modernizing the business user’s ecosystem of technology.
They maintained a 40% return rate of webinar registrants that attended all three
webinars – which produced much higher lead quality for sales enablement.
Webinar Mapping Across The Buyer’s Journey (cont.)
Compelling illustrations of how this product or service is actually making other
people’s lives better. Showing – not telling – how this is valuable.
ᮣ CONTENT NEEDED:
A reason to believe in the brand’s approach, as opposed to the product.
A Safety Device company created a series of educational webinars including
video interviews that illustrated the stories of actual doctors who saved lives,
and some of their “best practices” for doing so (one of which was the use of
their product suite).
This webinar (and subsequent ones like it) became the company’s top method
of closing prospects who were in the midst of RFP review and were on the fence
about the brand.
lOYAlTY & EvANGElISM
Aligning our values with the customer to demonstrate that we care about
them beyond our product or service.
ᮣ CONTENT NEEDED:
Value beyond the product or service.
A financial services company created a monthly Webinar bringing in thought
leaders from outside the financial industry to educate clients on separate,
but related topics, such as international economies and politics, the future of
technology, art and pop culture etc…
The series of Webinars (and the physical events it has inspired) is consistently
mentioned as one of the top five reasons that clients renew each year.
As you can see, one of the keys to all of the success of these webinars and
how they mapped to each stage – was not only an approach to the content
itself – but how the story was told and who told it.
At the awareness stage, the B2B marketing software company engaged
thought leaders to have a spirited debate about a particular process and
then acted as host. They didn’t try to direct the conversation to their
“sales pitch”. This accomplished two goals. The first is that they could stay
unbiased and let all of the variety of strong opinions of the thought leaders
“raise the tide” of the brand.
The second is that by drawing in as many third party thought leaders as they
did (who themselves have audiences) – they take advantage of reaching new
prospects that may be unaware of the company. This was a webinar with
very few slides – and more like a “talk-show” format – where the excitement
and emotion was with the panelists – not in a flat series of informational or
Then, illustrated at the loyalty stage – the Financial Services company
actually hosts and provides this wonderful event every month by serving as
host, facilitator and even offering some opinions in the discussion. But, by
far, the draw to the Webinar is the out-of-the-box thought leader that the
company brings in to talk about something very interesting. By doing this,
the company can align its own point of view on the topic with the guest –
thus demonstrating its own differentiation that “we’re the people who bring
you this interesting content” and aligns with their customer’s purpose of
being more well rounded and informed people.
Getting beyond the “death-by-slides”, “voice-only” and “product demo”
aspect of webinars is an extremely important key here. Mike Agron, a
webinar expert summed this up well in an eBook that he wrote on the best
practices called Webinar Ready – A Step-by-Step Guide To Hosting Successful
Webinars. He said:
“If you don’t engage the audience, they’ll ‘turn the channel.’ The webinar event
has to be polished, entertaining, and stimulating. You’re creating a ‘one-act
play’ that has theatrics involved, so your players have to be well-rehearsed,
relaxed, professional, and on message.”
CMI heard this time and again in our research earlier this year. One
participant to the study even said that she has found success in what she
called the “flipped webinar” – where content is sent to participants in
advance – and “then the interactive session is solely devoted to Q&A.”
WEBINAR SUCCESS: INTEGRATING OTHER
CONTENT TYPES TOO
Webinars are great – but they are even greater when conducted in concert
with other content efforts. In all of the examples above, and in what our
research illustrates, all content types are a means to an end – and not the
end itself. In other words – success is about starting with an idea – and then
determining the right story, place, and platform to tell each part of that
In the case of the example above in the Consideration stage, the IT Services
company first worked with the Industry Analyst to develop a White Paper
that went deep into the practical applications of this specific approach.
Then, the company developed the concept of the Webinar, which would
speak to the themes of the White Paper, and establish it as the call to action
(desired impact) from the Webinar itself. Then, they created a series of
blog posts out of the White Paper that would create some emotional and
intellectual curiosity about this particular topic – and promote the Webinar
specifically. They also created a strategy for another series of blog posts
that would follow on to promote the re-broadcast download of the webinar
– and a plan to revisit the entire lifecycle in the next quarter. So, ultimately
they created an entire ecosystem of content from one story idea – and
placed each at the right stage of the buyer’s journey – and planned for a
story arc that would last six months.
For this particular story and idea – Webinars sat at the Consideration
stage. But one could easily see how the company could bring the story
idea to life in a Webinar in the Decision stage with a customer that had
actually implemented this approach – and the pitfalls and best practices
they learned along the way. This is the key. As CMI Founder and CEO,
Joe Pulizzi said:
“Just because webinars are great at delivering demonstrations and trainings,
it doesn’t mean that’s all they should be used for. We’ll get the greatest value
out of our tools if we figure out how to continually focus on building a more
engaged audience over time.”
Webinar tools have evolved – and marketers should evolve their use
of them. It is no longer the case that businesses have to stick to the
“traditional” screen-sharing, product demo-centric, static Powerpoint
slide webinars. Rather, those that are finding success are utilizing
capabilities such as video conferencing, polls and surveys, online
collaboration, mobile capabilities, integration with CRM systems
and more to drive more creativity and visual storytelling into this
classic content delivery type. Additionally, by taking an “audience
development” approach and integrating webinars into more stages of
the buyer’s journey – marketers have a much better reason to ask for an
increasing amount of information during registration, and can begin to
improve the quality of their marketing database.
For today’s content marketer, webinars shouldn’t be left on the island
of “lead generation” or “training/education”. There’s no doubt that
they’ve proven their worth at this stage, but instead marketers should
look at how webinars can be used as a tool for audience development
across every stage of the buyer’s journey. They can be an incredible way
to integrate a story much more fully – and make the great content being
created work much harder than it is already.
There’s a wonderful quote by the author Reif Larsen that says: “a map
does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges
between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know
were previously connected.” For content marketers, mapping the purpose
of content and looking at the content delivery types we have - including
webinars – across the entirety of the buyer’s journey will unlock so much
more meaning. It can truly be the bridge that connects the ideas that we
had no idea were previously connected.
ii. Content Marketing 2015 Study
iii. https://www.forrester com/2012+Tech+Marketing+Planning+Guidance/
iv. CMI Webinar Study From June, 2014