What is H2H marketing and should you be doing it?

Jessica Lucnik / Posted 3.14.2017

What is H2H marketing and should you be doing it?

One of our clients recently asked, “How do I know if my marketing efforts are going to spark interest in my target audience?” and my first thought was that he either needed to create buyer personas or revisit an old, outdated version. It didn’t take long before I decided that I didn’t want him to just create a buyer persona and stop there, I wanted him to understand how his audience is connecting to his content and how different responses could be if he looked at marketing in an uncommon and creative way.

Gone are the days of keyword-stuffed, SEO-focused content, clickbaity social media posts, and salesy email blasts. The average internet user is experienced in weeding out generic content, which is why User Personas were created. A User Persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. There’s a lot of knowledge available on the internet to educate you about the importance of building a user persona or two, and what they can do for your marketing strategy and business. It’s common for companies to look at Google Analytics and fill in a spreadsheet with some demographic data of people who frequently visit their website. Typically, name, age, marital status, income, and role within a company are a couple of the items in the spreadsheet. But what is all that information actually doing? Is it truly valuable? Absolutely… but only to an extent.

Some of the main types of marketing today are referred to as Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing. However, these categories are focused on corporations and large groups, and don’t incorporate the idea of marketing on a human level. When people are buying from small businesses, like ours or yours, they are making a human connection; they aren’t just buying from a faceless entity. This is why I believe it’s important to incorporate a new, uncommon, and creative type of marketing: Human to Human (H2H).

First, let me start with the powerful example of the unanticipated downfall of Microsoft Windows Vista in 2007. Windows XP had been THE Windows version for five years when Vista hit the scene. Many customers were very hesitant to upgrade to Vista, even more so when reviews revealed that the new OS was less user-friendly than XP. This led to users paying to have their Vista systems downgraded back to XP and Microsoft admitting its mistake and allowing computer manufacturers to offer XP on new computers.

This is a classic case of not listening to your customers. With minimal research, Microsoft could have surveyed their current and potential users to understand what they liked and disliked about XP. They then could have taken that information, built something their customers actually wanted, and confirmed Windows Vista was going to be desired, aligning with what consumers wanted and needed for their next OS. Instead, Microsoft upset people enough that they either stopped using Microsoft altogether or paid to downgrade back to the lower package.

Microsoft’s story reminds me that even some of the most sought-after and admired companies cannot avoid one of the most basic rules of business: know your customer.

Consumers today are dramatically changing the way decisions are made. They’re no longer relying on salespeople; in fact, salespeople are often ignored! According to marketingdonut, only one in fifty deals are made at the first meeting. Also, on average, it takes five follow-up efforts after the initial sales contact before a customer says yes. FIVE follow-ups.

Sales cycles are growing longer and this is causing many companies to constantly reconsider their advertising and marketing approaches. It’s becoming much easier for consumers and businesses to choose how and when they will engage with a company. The Corporate Executive Board’s (CEB) Marketing Leadership Council released a study revealing that on average, B2B customers are nearly 60% of the way through the purchase decision before engaging a sales representative. Customers have a multitude of resources and networks to choose from to make buying decisions without your input… and they’re happy to do so.

When to apply Human-to-Human marketing

So you have your demographic data built into your user persona, but what comes next? I’d like you to think about how you would fit Human-to-Human (H2H) marketing into your next step. What would happen if you were to “interview” your buyer—or someone who has previously considered your product and declined? What information do you think you could get by talking with someone who has previously weighed their options, who considered or rejected the potential to work with you and who also made a decision similar to the one you want to influence? When a journalist needs to discover facts about something or someone, they go to the source. They get their story in the source’s own words. Why should it be any different when it comes to your buyer personas? This way of H2H thinking serves as the foundation for understanding your buyer on the next level.

Information from a real buyer has a lot of potential to affect your messaging, increase the quality of your leads, and even shorten your sales cycle.

The main benefit of taking the next step in your buyer personas is more effectively influencing a particular buyer’s market so you can become a useful, trusted resource throughout the decision-making process. This requires becoming a good listener.

Get to know your buyer

So what kind of data can you gather from “interviewing” your buyer? Your goal should be to understand what happened in the buyer’s environment that triggered the search for a solution. If you’re paying attention to every word and encouraging the speaker to describe details such as what they saw, heard, and did, you will find great first-hand insight into that person’s thoughts and decision-making process.

It’s important to note that the conversation with your buyer isn’t meant to be an actual interview and it’s best not to prepare many questions or read from a script. It should be a natural (H2H) conversation, and your questions should never try to alter a decision or add solutions. You should be asking questions that dig deeper into context and keep the conversation moving. Your goal should be to listen to these real buyers as they tell their stories, starting with when they decided to look for a solution to their problem. If you think of this conversation from a sales perspective, it’s quite similar. Experienced salespeople have found that attention to their buyer’s perceptions, successes, and resistance areas all lead to a successful account strategy. These three areas have the same effect in marketing.

Some questions to start off and to keep the conversation moving could include:

  • Take me back to the day…
  • What information were you hoping to find through this search?
  • Were there any resources that were particularly helpful?

If you’re really listening to the answers and the words the speaker is using, you may notice keywords such as cutting-edge, flexible, easy to use, or scalable. These are words that clearly impress your speaker and could be used to organically boost your own marketing material.

Other parts of the conversation may lead to a question, such as What changed or occurred to make it a priority to start looking? In your speaker’s response, you may find him/her talking about what was happening within the company, and he/she is likely to mention other colleagues that may have played a role in their decision-making process. Here’s where you realize it wasn’t a one-person decision, and you may need to evaluate your marketing collateral to ensure it appeals to other company roles such as a CTO or CEO, as well.  

I think many people would be surprised at how open and honest potential customers, current customers, and people who were considering working with you can be.

After you’ve collected these personal insights from your buyer, it should be easier to go back to your drawing board and imagine this buyer’s decision and what might happen to prevent the buyer from choosing your service or product in the future. You can also expect to gain a clearer picture into the your target user, to create more relevant content and write it faster, to know which people/publications/sources your user sees as influencers, to know where to promote your content so your target reader will find it, and to dramatically increase your conversion rates and shorten your sales cycle.

H2H marketing is about incorporating humans and allowing them to be a part of your conversation. Here at Q Digital Studio, we have been working on H2H marketing by putting real-life photos of our team on the website, using real photos for the background of our article banners (no stock photos here!), and sharing more stories on our blog. Personally, H2H marketing fits with my personality; I’m very much a people person and I love learning about other people, their challenges, and their successes. Our experience with H2H marketing has been rich and rewarding compared to previous, old school marketing methodologies.

Jessica Lucnik

Jessica Lucnik

Digital Marketing Strategist

Jessica Lucnik is the Digital Marketing Strategist for Q Digital Studio, a web design and development studio in Denver, Colorado. She is an innovative, solutions-oriented marketer with a keen eye for detail. Jessica believes digital marketing is part technology, part content strategy, part marketing-art and science. She leverages years of marketing experience and has worked with a variety of nonprofit and global organizations. Jessica manages marketing automation programs while building SEO and web performance optimization for some of Q Digital Studio's client partners, as well as supporting Q's internal marketing campaigns. For thoughts on digital marketing, social media and creative solutions, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on twitter @jeslooch.