Thanks to the work of Richard Thaler, Amos Tversky, Shlomo Benartzi, and many other behavioral economists, it is now commonly accepted that humans are irrational decision makers. This holds true both in personal and in professional contexts. The long list of cognitive biases that cloud our judgement is a frequent topic both of casual conversations and of serious business deliberations.
For B2B marketers initially engaging audiences with top-of-funnel content, two types of bias hold particular appeal: negativity bias—the tendency to pay more attention to negative news—and loss-aversion bias, which says we dislike the prospect of losses more than we like potential gains. This is because, when it comes to implementing technology solutions, it’s often the squeaky wheel that gets greased. Naturally, marketers feel compelled to frame their solution space as the squeakiest of all.
The sky is falling everywhere
The result of all this jockeying for attention is top-of-funnel content that plays up the dire consequences of the status quo, focusing on negatives such as operational complexity, staff shortages, data loss, etc. These are further underscored with pessimistic modifiers such as “costly,” “explosive,” and “accelerating.” Finally, lest they be faulted for engaging in empty hyperbole, content producers have learned to pepper their papers with stats of all stripes, from analyst reports and a variety of in-house and third-party surveys.
Substantiation is important. But negativity as a messaging tactic is short-sighted at best. It’s not only because everyone is doing it, and all writers in a technology field tend to draw from the same well of stats. It’s also because, though decision makers may be lured by negative information, they decide—and defend their purchase decisions—based on the perceived value of the offering. Bain & Company’s elements of value pyramid, styled after Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, offers a plethora of value concepts they found matter most to B2B buyers.
Don’t wait for the light at the end of the funnel
Obviously, top-of-funnel content does not stand alone, but serves as the entry point into a marketing funnel (or customer journey) that includes plenty of value statements and other positive messages. Common funnel marketing wisdom holds that top-of-funnel content should focus on challenges; middle-of-funnel content should lay out the best approaches to the solution; and bottom-of-funnel content should show how the vendor’s solution applies the aforementioned approach.
But if top-of-funnel content focuses only on negatively-framed challenges, what motivation do readers have to proceed down the content funnel? Does telling readers how their business might be harmed by threats offer any real value? If not, does it make sense to waste readers’ precious attention span on such information? It’s likely they have already been exposed to it, assuming they consult the same analyst reports and industry rags we do.
Positivity isn’t just for Pollyannas
The next time you sit down to draft top-of-funnel content—or brief the writers who will—try focusing mostly on a positive vision: the outcomes decision makers seek, the changes they would like to put in motion. Put another way, engage your customers to look forward to a better future, instead of harping on the challenges of today. Then, spend the bulk of the copy framing that vision in a way that will make readers more receptive to your technology solution approach.
Interestingly, many of the concepts in Bain’s elements of value scheme are the same ones commonly deployed—in their negative form—in top-of-funnel content. A simple change of perspective can enable marketers to say the same thing in a much more valuable way.
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