In the last few months, I published a couple of articles about some of the shortcomings in how companies tackle content marketing, specifically content written to persuade people to buy certain products.
The first article was about the realities of marketing through digital platforms and how they create a natural pressure for everybody's content to be too similar. As the article argued, the antidote is to focus on "non-obvious" content. A subsequent article used a piece of Forrester Research that explained how companies—more often than not—misunderstand the sources of value their customers derive from their products.
Both observations have important implications for anyone trying to develop persuasive content—multifamily technology providers in particular. In this post, I will focus on another.
Motivation, justification and a bit of Psychology
Companies produce ever more abundant content, which will continue to be the case. Occasionally it hits the mark, but most of the time, it probably doesn't, partly because of the reasons described above. But also because when vendors think about sales and marketing, they frequently miss an important distinction in how their prospects think about solutions. That is the distinction between things that motivate people to buy things and things that justify sales. They are not the same thing.
In his excellent 2021 book, "The Constitution of Knowledge," Jonathan Rauch explores in depth how humans use reasoning to understand the world, form opinions and make decisions. He notes, quoting previous work by Jonathan Haidt, that our ability to reason did not evolve in humans as a way of discovering the truth, which is how we tend to think of it. It evolved as a means of persuading others of our opinions and perceptions, which was essential to the development and maintenance of societies for most of human history.
It's important to understand the role that reason plays in decision-making. For example, we tend to think about business decisions as highly rational, data-driven processes where we identify objective data points to make decisions. But as both Rauch and Haight argue, reasoning acts far more like a press secretary than an objective truth-finder. We deploy reasoning to justify our intuitions, which are the real motivator of most decisions.
The Buyer-Seller Disconnect
The delineation between motivation and justification is an important one. Think of any piece of marketing collateral or a sales presentation that you've seen recently. It probably featured rational-looking data points that tell us about the benefits of the products they are trying to persuade consumers to buy.
While these data points have a role to play in the marketing and sales conversation, we constantly overstate their persuasiveness. We see this all the time in the dialog between vendors and buyers. In a recent LinkedIn conversation, Steve Lefovits referred to a "Trade Show City of Babel ," creating a familiar picture of dozens of vendors describing their products in their language, but not always the language of the potential buyer.
Perhaps the most widespread example of this is the way that companies use ROI as a means of selling their solutions. In the 2022 edition of 20 for 20, we asked participating companies how they decided how much to spend on each technology item that we asked them about. Out of 80 cases, not a single purchase decision had been motivated by a tangible ROI number. The respondents' motivations were usually that the technology offered some change that aligned with their beliefs about what improves their business.
Marketers and salespeople frequently seek to focus the conversation on the arithmetic of ROI, which is, at best, a justification for a decision. To get ahead of the decision, we must understand motivation so that we can focus on teaching prospects how their business could be different.
Why This Matters now
It has never been more critical to get this right. A growing multifamily technology footprint means a growing number of increasingly specialized solutions. Amid the noise, it becomes harder to understand what motivates operators to buy technology.
To connect with potential buyers and persuade them, vendors must prioritize understanding what buyers are attempting to achieve and how their products can help.
In the era of OpenAI, the amount of content in the marketplace looks set to explode. Rewards will not accrue to the companies that produce more content - that is about to become commoditized. The winners will be the companies with the highest quality ideas that are the most persuasive to potential buyers. And the critical need to focus on ideas in the era of OpenAI is a subject to which I will return in the next post.
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