Design Thinking

Content in Human-to-Human Marketing (H2H Marketing). During the ongoing pandemic, many companies are faced with the question of how to maintain a relationship with their customers as humans even though sales of their value proposition have nosedived.

The reasons are manifold: Humans cannot access the physical value proposition through brick-and-mortar retail (B2C) or face-to-face sales (B2B).

Companies cannot access directly (face-to-face) their customers due to the pandemic. There is no demand any more for the value proposition. This affects, for example, companies in the tourism industry and all directly or indirectly related suppliers (travel agencies, hotels and their suppliers, airlines, aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers, etc.).

The pandemic disrupted global supply chains and ensured that some value propositions were at least temporarily unavailable to customers.

In all four cases, it is important to stay in touch with humans despite the acute absence of a business relationship in order to maintain the relationship (pull) or to enter into a relationship with them for the first time without disrupting them in their environment. This is where H2H marketing helps, for example with the H2H process.

To ensure that content marketing does not come across as classic marketing communication that overwhelms customers or interested humans with content that is of no value to them, it is important to follow a few principles that are presented in H2H Marketing. 

1. Reference to the human problem
The content must be related to a human problem that the company’s value proposition is intended to solve.

2. Build empathy with the people
Empathy must be built up with these people. As a rule, classic market segmentation is not sufficient for this. Rather, a persona must be developed for each target group that has the problem. The concept of the persona allows the company to build empathy for the target group. This can be done, for example, via an empathy map. In this way, well-founded assumptions can be made about what problems this persona has, what he or she likes and is bothered by, and what tasks he or she has to complete. In business-to-business, the buying center concept should be applied to identify the relevant personae, because here, too, it is about humans who have problems for whom the value proposition must be relevant.

3. Homo digitalis – considering the changed information process
Once a persona has been developed and empathy with it has been established, the process that she WANTS to go through in order to become aware of the value proposition, arouse its interest, become active, and exchange information with others in the form of questions or its own messages is determined for each persona. Here, the classic AIDA concept is no longer sufficient due to digitalization. Rather, the path must be supplemented with elements of asking and sharing on the Internet. The 5A model can be used for this purpose, for example.

4. Thought Leadership instead of short-term sales success
Companies need to become ‘thought leaders’ for the human problem they want to solve with their value proposition. This is only possible in the medium to long term and through relevant, serious, inspiring and educational content about the human problem and its solution.

5. Install the corporate website as central hub
The company’s own website must be the hub where customers come (pull) to get information and to engage. It is important to pursue a network approach consistently that ensures that other platforms, networks, and channels are used to draw attention to your own content on the website.

6. Meet humans in their own language
In order for the content not to be disruptive, the contradiction must be resolved that I have to draw people’s attention to me and my value proposition, but not disturb them. To do this, I need to know (precisely from the concept of persona) what the recipient of my message likes and then lead her to decide for herself whether she wants to continue the customer journey or not.

7. Find the human in her environment
This has to be done on a channel-specific basis. To reach as many people as possible with my messages, I have to know which channels they use and how. During the pandemic, these are predominantly digital channels. Once it is clear which channels they use (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest), it is important to determine from the persona’s perspective what is placed as enjoyable content and what the persona can do (if she wants to) to further inform and engage.

8. Focus on value, not the product
Highlight the value proposition or the problem solution and not the product in the communication. The cascade of communication must be that the companies in the environment of the persona communicate something that the persona likes (and not the company). Then a reference to a possible ‘problem’ must be made before the reference to the value proposition is made (e.g., a product or service).

9. Use the ‚Lean-Principle’
To avoid spending too much time planning and conceptualizing, it is important to test the right content in the right formats with the right channels step by step, measure it, and learn from what works and what doesn’t work. The best place to start is with content that most credibly combines an urgent need with the company’s specific competencies (the so-called sweet spot). Once this ‘sweet spot’ is found, it should be disseminated with content in all appropriate formats across all appropriate channels.

10. Increase your learning curve
The learning curve can only be sustainable if companies move away from the SR model (I stimulate via a new content and measure how many clicks we have on the website), but instead companies rely on a SOR model that consciously includes mental variables such as acceptance, perception bias or motivation. This allows statements to be made not only that something worked or didn’t work, but why something worked or didn’t work.

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Prof. Dr. Uwe Sponholz