I was first introduced to the concept of flow as we reworked our brand story. The brainchild of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is the engaged focus in an activity that brings an elevated level of enjoyment and fulfillment.
The concept of flow technically consists of eight elements, but we map everything to a subset of five critical components:
- Create concrete goals for every step.
- Provide clear and timely feedback.
- Ensure a balance between the challenge and skill level.
- Eliminate distractions.
- Eliminate worry of failure.
Thankfully, everyone is capable of experiencing flow. Whether it’s project management, user experience, content personalization, or lead nurturing, we have endless opportunities to create flow on a regular basis—we simply need to be deliberate about it.
Flow in Marketing
The heart of flow relates to effortless engagement and the peace of mind found in getting lost in an activity without a thought of the outside world. It happens in sports, music, gardening—even in digital experiences like content bingeing.
Let’s consider a hypothetical involving the customer journey: A potential customer becomes aware of your brand through a piece of thought leadership and clicks through to learn more. We can start by ensuring our website meets expectations when this person clicks a link in the article. His or her goal was to learn more, so we want the content on our website to address the specific topic while also providing a relevant next step.
This seemingly small step ends up addressing three of the five conditions necessary to fuel flow. It enables a concrete goal by encouraging people to learn more about the topic. The messaging addresses the topic and ensures customers know they’ve reached the right place, thereby providing clear and timely feedback. It also eliminates any fear of failure by ensuring people find exactly what they came for.
To meet the remaining conditions for flow, we need only do two things: Eliminate distractions, and ensure a balance between the challenge and skill level. In this context, we could solve both problems by focusing on user experience. If we’re using content personalization, we can emphasize relevant information. If not, we can adjust featured elements based on the timing of the article’s publication.
This is just one example. If we extend this approach through the life cycle of the customer and his or her needs, adapting our channels accordingly, there are many opportunities to streamline the digital experience and create flow.
Marketing strategist Ardath Albee argues that we should swap out campaign-based approaches in favor of a simpler continuum approach. By focusing on continuity in customer experiences, we create conversational engagements that can help fuel flow.
Considering the long buying cycle common in the B2B sector, adopting an approach that seamlessly supports continuity can help us conquer many challenges.
How to Implement Flow in Your B2B Marketing
Follow these five steps to make flow work for you. For this sample process, we’ll discuss how to get a B2B audience to consume more content in one sitting.
1. Establish Clear Objectives
You must provide a next step for each action to create a consumer continuum. Look for opportunities to get the next piece of content in front of consumers to encourage a content binge. That might mean recommending related articles inline at the end of a piece, adding a slide-in widget, or automatically loading the next article.
This creates flow by establishing clear goals and reducing the distraction of having to figure out a next step. It also ensures skill level matches the challenge because it requires minimal interaction.
2. Provide Timely Feedback
Some websites feature progress bars to help readers establish the level of commitment required to consume content. Various websites use different methods of accomplishing the same goal, but each strategy helps audience members feel like they’re making progress.
Ever get sucked into a clickbait gallery that “you have to see to believe”? We all understand the logic behind eliciting clicks, but this approach ends up killing flow. I can only imagine how bad the click-through rates of those galleries must be. Readers will be more willing to continue engaging if they feel like they’re working toward something.
3. Get Rid of Distractions
Flow depends on the elimination of distractions. Medium and LinkedIn, for example, both minimize distractions well when reading articles on their platform. Readers will not binge content if noisy ads play with every new click. By eliminating CTAs (or limiting them to the most opportune moments) and other disruptive material, we can build experiences that lead to flow.
4. Eliminate the Fear of Failure
When readers are unable to find the content they want, they get frustrated and give up. In fact, 74% of consumers get frustrated when they discover that website content appears to have nothing to do with their interests. No one enjoys feeling outsmarted by poor UX and mystery navigation. Clarity is always best. Better information architecture and content personalization can help readers find what they want and ensure they feel satisfied with their experience.
5. Balance Challenge and Skill
Complicated infographics with difficult interactive controls rarely lead to flow. Content bingers should only need to scroll and click, matching a low challenge to an easily mastered skill. Some audiences prefer more challenging content, but we ensure the audience has the necessary skill level before we provide that.
Most marketers strive to achieve flow without realizing it. By understanding how flow works and following these tips to achieve it, B2B marketers can create better experiences for their prospects and start seeing the results they want—in marketing and in other areas of their businesses.
How might you apply flow to your marketing strategy? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.