Shadow influences drive considered decisions

The term “the usual suspects” is used widely in law enforcement and marketing vernacular. We are creatures of habit and we gravitate toward what we’ve grown accustomed to or at best toward what seems to work.

I spend much of my professional life analyzing data related to the neuroscience of buying technology products. These purchases can range from a commodity laptop to a system-wide precision medicine platform. Some products require a receipt from Best Buy to be approved; others require extensive collaborative and CFO sign-off.

Having worked with database-driven direct marketing for years, I was programmed to think of buyers as fitting into buckets, almost entirely driven by job titles and company size. To this day most enterprises are driven by the “normal suspects” approach. For example, in healthcare technology most marketers want CIOs in hospitals with 500 beds or more.

If there are 100 IT companies sending messaging to this database demographic each day, we all know what the result will be when the healthcare CIOs open the inbox.


The only inbox survivors are emails with incredibly compelling subject lines that resonate with a burning need that the recipient has. We know that those are rare.

As a result of the recipient being desensitized to the “from line” of the offending sender, the database falls victim to “list fatigue” and “criteria fatigue.” Since data is now a core corporate asset, every lost file is a reduction in that value proposition. The more important the person’s title on the database, the greater the loss in data asset value. Unfortunately, marketers look at getting the messages out to customers regardless of fatigue.

In my research on considered purchase influences and their engagements with content, I’ve been finding more and more that targeting the “normal suspects” may be the logical thing to do, but not necessarily the most effective strategy to deploy.

The research shows that the purchase of big ticket items is much more collaborative than one would think. Yes, everyone knows that it’s a collaborative process, but there is a mystery about who the exact collaborators are.

Leverage shadow influences

Savvy data analytics pros will look for patterns of content engagement from organization outliers or shadow influences who do not fall under the stereotypical decision-making job titles or profiles. These engagements need to be verified by targeted communications to these shadow influences in order to determine whether they are truly involved or if the engagement was a random “false positive.”

As I mentioned in a previous blog about what enterprise IT needs to know about account-based marketing, there will be clusters of shadow influences, with nebulous or in some cases no recognizable titles, who are absolutely critical in influencing the purchase of high-end products and services.

For example, with considered purchases for extremely complex healthcare technology products, many of the shadow influences were technology-savvy nurses or clinicians who would never be thought to be part of the typical enterprise IT decision-making matrix.

Knowing that they consistently engaged with the same content that more senior technology leaders had read put them into an influence category that would have never been imagined had the database criteria been limited only to the normal suspects.

The most important aspect of casting a broader audience net is that the shadow influences are underserved from a content delivery standpoint whereas C-level executives are bombarded by emails, making engagement nearly impossible unless content is incredibly provocative.


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