In B2B markets, it is increasingly difficult to deliver information to a target audience online. In this article, we discuss how we reached this point and how the rise of AI-based tools and ChatGPT will make the task even harder. We end by exploring some potential solutions.
Information Delivery – A Short History
The earliest known flint arrowheads date back at least 40,000 years. We can safely assume these were traded (exchanged) in some way.
Move on through history and for centuries, little changed. Sales were based on show and tell and, when tribes started to move and interact, word of mouth. There were obvious limitations with this approach, but that all changed with the development of the printing press.
Now there was a way to deliver a message to a greater audience. All it needed was some way to increase access to that message. First, the audience needed to be educated and secondly, there needed to be a mass delivery mechanism.
By the early 1980s, those problems were solved. Print was joined by other mass media, including television and radio. Marketers had developed efficient ways to create awareness and generate enquiries. Then along came the internet.
What a wonderful idea, everybody could (in theory) now have instant access to the very latest information. The same issues (education and distribution) as print had to be addressed, but in 2023 that dream has been delivered. Or has it?
The World Wide Web is simply the latest information delivery medium. In theory, online marketing offers several advantages over the printed word including:
- Instant updates
- Multimedia integration
- Analytics and data
- Instant feedback
- Lower cost
But, multimedia integration and data analysis aside, the rest are debatable. Plus, online struggles (as we outline below) with delivery. How, given the intense competition, can a business ensure its content is found online?
A business needs to service the information needs of existing customers. It needs to generate awareness in the marketplace of a product or service. It needs to educate and from those in market, it needs an in – a sales lead.
In the early days of the internet, there was a scramble to get online. At first, the website was the receptacle for business information – An online brochure and/or catalogue.
As technology improved, more content in various formats was loaded online. Its purpose? To take over the role of awareness building, education and lead generation from traditional media.
Facebook launched in 2005, so social media marketing became a thing. Also in 2005, The term inbound marketing was (allegedly) first used by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan.
Inbound theory suggests a firm’s audience is resistant to information pushed their way. It claims best practice is to allow customers to seek out the information (pull) they need online. A dubious argument, but we will stay with it for now.
Online marketing developed at a pace from that point forward. Some tried to guide prospects along a path from awareness to sale using the old (long obsolete) AIDA model.
Others used a mix of content and Ads, with Ads the priority for those with commodity type products. Many missed the point that inbound works best with existing customers.
As marketers flocked to inbound marketing, the amount of content online exploded. Too much content online makes it more and more difficult to stand out. An argument neatly summed up in Mark Schaefers post “content shock (2014).”
The concept of inbound marketing suggested the customer was in control and pulled information when they needed it. That assumes they could find it!
The Problem With SEO
So, businesses outside commodity markets have to work harder and harder to be found online. We discuss how (business) information delivery via the World Wide Web has developed since the early 1990s and the online delivery challenges businesses face today elsewhere.
In summary, the key points to note are:
- To be found content (information) needs authority and popularity.
- Latecomers to the party are at a distinct disadvantage.
- Authority and trustworthiness measures are skewed. They prevent good quality content from rising to the top.
So if a business is not the major player in a market and/or was late to the SEO party, it is not competing on a level playing field. It’s true, some still succeed in coming from nowhere to rank in the SERPS. But look closely and you will often find that boost is driven by offline marketing activity,
Chat GPT As A Search Engine
We have used ChatGPT as an example here. They currently lead the field, but that could easily change. A lot of powerful companies are vying for position.
Let’s assume a business has overcome the issues outlined above and has found a way to deliver content online. We suggest there’s a further problem and that is the search experience (looking at you Google!) is awful.
For a given search phrase, contrast a search on Google with a search on ChatGPT and compare the experience. Google is trying to catch up with SGE, but we suggest they are too late. This might be their Kodak moment.
ChatGPT is a search engine on steroids. It is not perfect – far from it – but it’s evolving fast. In future Customers and prospects might use it as their only search engine, dispensing with Google, Bing and the rest.
More likely, users will have Google (and others) and ChatGPT working alongside each other to fulfil their needs. But, ChatGPT poses a new set of challenges for marketers.
Just one issue to consider. How does a business ensure ChatGPT delivers information specific to what they alone do/offer when someone types in a search phrase (prompt)? Is there going to be an equivalent of SEO for ChatGPT, we doubt it.
ChatGPT brings with it another potential problem. Give it the right set of instructions and it will generate content within seconds.
In our opinion that content is bland with little value. With a little practice it’s possible to identify it without too much trouble. None of that will stop people from using ChatGPT to spew out content at scale. That takes the “content shock” issue discussed above to a whole new level.
The Way Forward
As outlined above, delivering information to a target audience online is difficult. The introduction of ChatGPT and a raft of AI-driven apps will only make that situation worse.
Hands up, we admit it, like way too many marketers we have come at this from entirely the wrong angle. We have considered it from the delivery side rather than the customer’s viewpoint.
To correct our error, let’s consider if the first place a designer goes for information on a potential new component is the internet. Is it the first place a buyer goes when presented with an RFQ? We suggest not.
Where do they go? They might ask colleagues for recommendations. There are in-house communities like Slack. They might interrogate customised in-house data and systems.
When customers resort to the web we suggest they already have an idea of what they need. Now they want to know more, they have questions, but they are not ready to engage with a supplier. This is not new, as it was all discussed time and again during the rise of inbound marketing.
So from the customer’s viewpoint, what do they need? They need slick internal information stores (let’s call them knowledge bases) that they can easily access. Again, not new, remember all the hype about intranets.
What if key suppliers provided knowledgebases customers and prospects could interrogate to have their early stage questions answered. Thereby, eliminating the need for online search or multiple web page clicks.
What if customers had in-house knowledgebases they could interrogate using text based prompts rather than clicking around multiple intranet pages.
With the growth in deep learning-driven tools, this is (in principle) now possible, but it’s a potential nightmare for marketers. These issues we will discuss further in future posts.