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The state of ABM and the need for personalized content

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher December 18, 2018
Account-Based Marketing is all the rage. The data tells us why - because ABM works. To the tune of twice the ROI of conventional marketing. But there's a big catch: the need for personalized content at scale.

2018 was the year account-based marketing took off. No, companies don’t have it all figured out just yet, but it was the year everyone seemly to have finally bought into the concept and started incorporating it into their marketing plans.

In Raising the Game with ABM: 2018 ABM Benchmark Study, a study from ITSMA and the ABM Leadership Alliance, we see where companies are with ABM and where they need to focus moving forward. Let me hit you with a few highlights.

I’m going to start with a definition because as the report notes; there are a lot of definitions going around for ABM (and a few I’ve heard that miss the mark):

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a strategic approach to designing and executing highly-targeted, personalized marketing programs and initiatives to drive business growth and impact with specific, named accounts. (from the ITSMA 2018 ABM Benchmark Study)

ABM delivers higher ROI

Of the 207 marketers from 190 companies (most of which are located in North America), 45% are seeing more than twice the ROI from ABM as they do from traditional marketing. ABM has also resulted in greater customer success (67%), better references and customer advocacy (66%), as well as collaborative innovation (57%). The collaborative innovation is interesting because it’s where customers and the brand work together to create new solutions that are then offered to other customers.

Because ABM requires tight integration with Sales and Marketing, in addition to other areas of a company, the report states that we are also seeing changes in corporate strategy and culture.

The ABM tech looks familiar

There are specific ABM technologies available with varying capabilities. But what the ITSMA benchmark study found is that most of the technology is pretty much the same as what marketers use for other programs.

  • Marketing automation tops the list at 71%
  • Digital advertising/retargeting - 66%
  • Insights - 51%
  • Website personalization - 41%

This focus on “known” tools is explained by a skills gap in some key ABM areas, including data and analytics for ABM, and ABM specific technology for accounts and programs.

There’s work to be done to create the right content

Perhaps even more interesting is the skills gap in content development. On a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being a master), the ability to tailor value propositions rated a mean of 3.2, and content creation and tailoring rated a mean of 3.4.  Also interesting to point out is that ‘creating targeted value propositions” is one of the weak areas for collaboration between Marketing and Sales.

There are three types of ABM, and each type has a different level of expectations related to content development.

  • 1-1 ABM is highly customized programs for a small number of accounts
  • 1-Few is a focus on a few groups of accounts with similar business imperatives
  • 1-Many is a wider group of contacts within a prioritized account list.

Value propositions and content development are highly customized in one-to-one and one-to-few ABM programs, which means the marketing team needs to do their research and understand these accounts and the roles they are targeting within the accounts well enough to develop highly targeted content. And that is a struggle - not only to create that content but to create it at scale.

We know that there’s heavy personalization of the messaging and content in a one-to-one scenario. That’s part of the reason why only a few key accounts are covered in this type of ABM program. But there’s still some level of personalization you want to do at the two other levels. So how can you create personalized content and messaging at these levels without needing to create a lot of new content?

According to the ITSMA study, the best tactics in a one-to-few program include email marketing, web personalization, direct mail, custom collateral/videos/podcasts/webinars, and events.

The best tactics for reaching accounts in a one-to-many ABM program are email marketing, reverse IP/targeted digital ads/content retargeting, events, direct mail, account-based content syndication, and intent data to trigger campaigns and context for reps.

With those tactics in mind, here are a couple of suggestions for content development that won’t break the bank.

Create content for a persona

Once you understand the personas you need to target inside your identified accounts, you can examine the role each one plays in the purchase decision and create the content they need. Each persona typically has a different perspective on the pain points and challenges you are trying to help resolve with your product or service.

In a one-to-many ABM program, this approach allows you to create content that is applicable across accounts. In a one-to-few, you may need to make slight adjustments, but you could focus these on email messaging, direct mail letters, or by making small adjustments to the content (such as a content block that is specific to each persona/account).

Create content for a use case

When you are trying to figure out the best way to segment your “few” accounts - consider grouping them by a common use case. You may find an account has several use cases that fit; in this case, select the one that has the most chance of getting you in the door and save the others for later (for the second wave of account campaigns or cross-selling opportunities).

For each use case, map the decision-making journey and create (or curate) the right content for each stage. You can use the content you create for a use case across accounts. There may be some small adjustments, but if you’ve researched the use case well, your content should be compatible with most accounts.

Another suggestion from the Flipmyfunnel community is to create content templates:

If your template is merely a one-size-fits-all approach that references multiple industries or products or themes then, yes [the approach is the opposite of personalization]. On the other hand, if the template is a formatting construct that identifies the type of insights you’ll gather, assess and format, the answer is no.

Another suggestion for personalizing content at scale comes from Marketo and is a tactic I’ve applied with my clients:

Revisit your content library and determine what can be tweaked to resonate with your target audience. For instance, can you personalize a general ebook for your target accounts by adding in more industry examples and changes some of the terminology? Can you up-level the messaging on a whitepaper to speak to an executive versus a practitioner?

Finding the right story

One of the biggest challenges marketers face with their ABM programs is creating content at scale. If you are starting from scratch every time, then it’s going to cost a lot of money and take too much time. Creating content chunks that can be mixed and matched can help you create the type of personalized content you need at a scale that works better than custom content every time.

But another challenge is telling a story with that content. It’s not enough to create multiple pieces of content. Those pieces together have to tell a story that captures the attention of the contact within an account and moves them to engage. And that story needs to be consistent across all the channels you are trying to reach that client on. We can resolve the challenge of creating content at scale, but getting the story right – that’s a whole different challenge that will be a big focus for the coming years.

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