It’s no secret that buyers are more educated and have access to more relevant information than ever before. Most B2B marketers anticipate that their buyers will be well into the consideration phase before they ever make contact. That’s why savvy marketers are putting so much emphasis on creating top-of-funnel, educational content. They understand that their prospects are out there, hungry for relevant information and research, and providing nourishing, quality content is the best way to stand out.
But what about, as David Dodd calls them, the “casual learner”? Casual learners aren’t actively seeking a solution to their business problems, but they are educated, voracious consumers of industry-specific content and publications. They stay abreast of industry trends and hot topics; they keep their finger on the pulse of what’s new and innovative. They may even encounter a solution to their business problem before they knew they had one. If marketers wait to engage until casual learners enter the formal information-gathering phase, they may be too late.
That’s why establishing #thought leadership in your industry is crucial.
Put yourself in their orbit by placing articles in the publications they consume. Provide content that sparks their interest, and maybe it might also solve a problem they didn’t know they had.
Why B2B Marketers Should Care About “Casual Learning”
Much of the conversation in the #B2B marketing world over the past several years has revolved around the emergence of empowered and independent buyers. A wealth of easily-accessible information now enables buyers to perform research about business issues and possible solutions on their own. The most widely-discussed result of this development is that many – though by no means all – buyers are postponing direct interactions with potential vendors until later in the buying process.
Information abundance has also led to a dramatic increase in what I call casual learning. As I’m using the term, casual learning refers to learning and information gathering activities that occur before an intentional buying process has begun.
Most traditional models of the B2B buying process assume that the process begins when a company’s leaders or managers recognize a need or problem, and decide to address the issue in some way. These “buyers” then gather information about the need or problem and possible solutions, they evaluate the available options, and they may or may not decide to purchase a product or service to address the problem or need.
So our traditional view of buyer behavior is that most information gathering occurs after an intentional buying process has started. Today, however, information is so abundant and easily accessible that many business people routinely consume information about business issues long before they have formed anything close to a “buying intent.”
In their book, Absolute Value, Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen call this type of information gathering “couch tracking,” and they argue that couch tracking is one of the major emerging trends in consumer decision-making. The same abundance of information that drives couch tracking by consumers also fuels casual learning by business decision makers.
The growth of casual learning has important implications for B2B marketing, but the significance of casual learning isn’t fully appreciated by many marketers. Most B2B marketing tactics and programs are designed to identify business people who are ready to begin a buying process, or to encourage those already involved in a buying process to move toward a buying decision. At any given time, however, most of your potential customers aren’t likely to be “in-market” for the products or services you offer, and most of your potential buyers are more likely to be “casual learners” than “active buyers.”
Creating relationships with casual learners is important because the impressions they form during casual learning remain influential when they become involved in a buying process. Therefore, if a company can build and nurture relationships with casual learners, it will have a competitive advantage when those casual learners turn into active buyers.
The bottom line is, B2B marketers can’t afford to ignore this important group of “embryonic buyers.”