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Industry Research : 10th Annual Customer Engagement Study Reveals Generational Shifts in How IT Decision Makers Engage with Tech Content

#contactcenterworld, @FOUNDRY2021

Foundry, an IDG, Inc. company, released its 10th annual Customer Engagement study which looks at the content preferences and effective engagement strategies that persuade IT decision-makers (ITDMs), providing a roadmap for technology vendors seeking to build impactful relationships with ITDMs.

The study delved into the technology purchase process, analyzing the types and volume of content consumed by IT buyers, as well as the effectiveness of technology ads. The research uncovered notable differences in content preferences among younger IT buyers, particularly Gen Z, compared to their older counterparts.

"For over a decade, our Customer Engagement Study has revealed the evolving preferences of IT decision-makers in their selection of tech vendors. This year’s results underscore the importance of tailored approaches, particularly as the workplace undergoes increased stratification across age groups. These results serve as a valuable strategic guide for vendors aiming to elevate their marketing strategies in the dynamic tech landscape," said Holly McWalter, Marketing and Research Specialist at Foundry.

The Impact of Effective Ads and Content

The study shows that tech advertising is an effective force in marketing. Over 98% of ITDMs said they took additional actions after encountering technology solution advertisements, with the majority conducting further online research (51%).

On an age basis, it’s worth noting that 30% of Millennials and 22% of Gen Zers interact with ads on social media platforms, a stark contrast to the more social-shy 9% of Boomers and 11% of Gen Xers.

Not to be overlooked is the enduring effectiveness of content in engaging ITDMs along their buyer journey. Overall, 90% expressed a willingness to share information with a tech vendor in exchange for valuable content, a result almost identical to last year’s 91%. This receptivity is most apparent in their readiness to register for product tests/reviews and analyst research. Vendor presentations, product demos, case studies, and technology news also rank high in their preferences.

Interestingly, age plays a role in the skepticism towards vendor content. Baby Boomers, representing the older demographic, exhibit a more cautious stance compared to their Gen Z counterparts. For instance, while 92% of Gen Z individuals are open to sharing information with tech vendors for content access, only 82% of Boomers express a similar willingness. This nuanced insight underscores the importance of tailoring content strategies to align with the diverse preferences of the target audience.

Timeliness Matters

Ensuring a prompt response is crucial in the realm of the IT purchase process. When ITDMs express the need for additional information, vendors must act promptly to maintain the momentum. Buyers indicated that the ideal timeframe for reaching out is within 17.5 hours after filling out a form.

It's noteworthy that expectations regarding response times vary across age groups. The tech-savvy Gen Z cohort, for instance, expects outreach within a swift 11-hour window, emphasizing their inclination for instant engagement. Conversely, Boomers adopt a more relaxed stance, deeming a response within 22 hours acceptable. Understanding and adapting to these diverse expectations can significantly enhance the effectiveness of vendor communication strategies.

Preferred Content Types Differ by Generation

Over the years, a key feature of the Customer Engagement research has been identifying the content types most valued by ITDMs throughout their purchasing journey. Since 2017, the top five categories have remained unchanged: product tests/ reviews (46%), demos/product literature (44%) and technology news (42%), vendor presentations and analyst research (38% each).

Broken down by age, contrasts do emerge in content preferences. Over half of Gen X respondents said product tests and reviews are important, a sentiment echoed by only 30% of Gen Z. Similarly, the value attributed to product demos and literature sees a contrast, with 44% of Boomers and 50% of Gen Xers finding them significant, compared to a much more modest 15% among Gen Zers.

In fact, the youngest cohort displays a reduced reliance on almost every form of published content when compared to their older counterparts. This divergence underscores the importance of understanding how to reach each age group based on the content they consume along the buyer journey..

Content Quality Is An Issue

Even though tech professionals value content, a substantial 87% find it challenging to discover high-quality content, revealing a persistent struggle in the industry.

A significant problem, cited by 39% of tech buyers, (up from 35% in 2022), is the overuse of marketing buzzwords. To elevate the quality of their content, tech marketers might consider minimizing or eliminating these jargon-laden elements, creating a more refined product tailored to their audience's preferences.

Other challenges highlighted by respondents include a lack of truly independent, unbiased information (35%) and content being too generalized (27%). New this year, Foundry asked ITDMs if they were concerned whether content is produced by product experts or is AI generated. Surprisingly, only 15% express concern, indicating either a familiarity and confidence in AI capabilities or a belief in their ability to discern flaws in AI-generated data.

Encouragingly, only 22% of ITDMs hesitate to download content because they don’t want sales follow-up. This reluctance has diminished from 38% in 2017 and 29% in 2022. This could indicate that tech vendors are better at targeting their outreach and applying account-based marketing tactics.

Region-specific nuances also come to light, with the hesitation to download content at 29% in North America but decreasing to 19% among APAC respondents and a mere 15% in EMEA.

Consistent Messaging Throughout the Sales Process

Content marketing is not just a nice-to-have—it's a strategic necessity, as affirmed by the 72% of ITDMs who express a heightened likelihood of considering an IT vendor that provides educational support throughout every stage of the decision-making process. This statistic mirrors the sentiment observed in 2022, where an equally robust 74% shared the same perspective. Furthermore, close to two-thirds of respondents emphasize the reliance on vendor-supplied resources to aid in educating non-technical business users.

The absence of educational material is perceived as a drawback by a substantial 71% of respondents, highlighting the pivotal role of tech vendors in dedicating resources to formulate and implement a comprehensive content plan. This consistency in attitudes underscores the enduring importance of informative content throughout each stage of the purchase process in shaping positive perceptions and influencing the decision-making landscape within the tech industry.

The Demo’s Staying Power

Demos remain the most effective marketing tool for tech vendors. Overall, 98% of ITDMs say they have received value from a product demo. The most prized format is the in-person demo that showcases product functionality (56% up from 51% last year). Additionally, a limited time, full function trial of the product holds sway with 49% respondents, while virtual live demos are effective among 42% of respondents.

Regional nuances play a role in preferences, with buyers in North America showcasing a strong inclination towards virtual live demos (56%) over other demo formats. In contrast, buyers in EMEA and APAC express a marked preference for in-person meetings.

By generation, the research shows that Gen Z is more reluctant to participate in in-person demos (39%) compared to Boomers (56%), Gen X (59%) and Millennials (57%). Gen Z’s favored format is non-timed use of the product with limited functionality (41%).

Getting to the Shortlist

This year’s results reveal that 78% of buyers choose known and trusted brands for their shortlist, which is up from 73% last year. Interestingly, this sentiment is even more pronounced among buyers in enterprise organizations, with 82% expressing a preference for known and trusted brands, compared to 75% among small to mid-sized businesses.

Peers wield considerable influence in the decision-making landscape as well. Almost three-quarters of ITDMs convey a heightened receptivity to outreach from a tech vendor when aware of a colleague or peer already utilizing the vendor's technology.

Given the pivotal role of peers as a trusted source of information, marketers should actively seek ways to foster positive word-of-mouth. Engaging strategies that amplify positive experiences within professional networks can significantly enhance a brand's standing and influence within the tech market.

#contactcenterworld, @FOUNDRY2021

Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent

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