The B2B balancing act: putting the human back into B2B marketing

Why B2B marketing needs to evolve

 

B2B ecommerce sales are expected to outgrow B2C ecommerce sales by 2020. [1]

To make the most of this growing opportunity and to keep up with ever-shifting expectations, it’s more important than ever for marketers to address B2B audiences with relevance. But, as of today, it seems that we haven’t fully grasped the concept of communicating to professionals.

 

Hold on, though – why?

B2B marketers just aren’t digging deep enough to understand their audiences. In fact, 81% of B2B marketers rely on firmographics, opting to segment by company size, location and industry. [2]

Okay, so, firmographics are easy to use and do have their uses, yes. But it’s far more powerful to segment according to customer behaviour, needs and attitudes. This deeper level of understanding lets you precisely tailor your offer and messaging in a way that treats the person on the receiving end like a person, not a faceless business.

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way

And more crucially it cannot be this way, as brands risk being left behind if they can’t keep up. After all, the typical B2B buyer profile is evolving beyond recognition, with close to half of them now millennials – nearly double the figure from 2012. [3]

The good news is that we can be part of this exciting change. But first we have some work to do.

 

Let’s take a look at three important truths about B2B marketing…

 

1. B2B or B2P?

Truth: One business is made up of many professional individuals

We tend to think that B2B communications are aimed at businesses. But ultimately, they’re really targeted to the people behind the businesses – the professionals.

And yes, stereotypical “professionals” are more likely to wear suits, follow corporate rules and adhere to their industry’s legislations, but no, they are not emotionless, robotic humans. They’re real people with real feelings, who also have a personal life and don’t drastically change their personality when they go to work.

Of course, professionals do hard graft for the benefit of a company. But inextricably, they have personal motivations and their daily lives are driven by individual objectives and ambitions.

So, if we take a step back, B2B as “Business to Business” doesn’t really make much sense. It should be “Business to Professional”, or even “Professional to Professional”.

 

2. You’re hurting my feelings…

Truth: Professionals do respond to emotional messages

There is proof that, in fact, professionals do respond positively to more emotive content, as expressed by The Drum: “After all, buying a new IT system or fleet of vans is a far more emotional buy than a pair of trainers or packet of crisps. It impacts your organisation, the team around you, effectively your job could even be affected by the decision.” No pressure, mate. [4]

We can take a great example of a campaign based on a human, emotionally charged message from everyone’s favourite marketing automation platform Mailchimp.

Rather than focusing on the practical details of their offering, the campaign “Did you mean Mailchimp?” was about creating brand affinity by transforming a potential brand weakness (the mispronunciation of their rather unusual brand name) into an entertaining, memorable campaign that would stick in their audience’s minds.

This type of communication enables Mailchimp to stand out against its competitors’ functional, dry messages.

Additionally, as working becomes more mobile and flexible (cheers, technological advancements), the line between professional and personal lives has become far more blurred.

According to the Office of National Statistics, half the UK workforce is expected to work remotely by 2020. [5] But it’s not all working in your PJs in bed. A study conducted by Vodafone in 2016 found that three-quarters of companies worldwide have already adopted flexible working policies and 61% of them believe that it had increased their company’s profits. Even more convincingly, 83% reported that productivity was boosted by flexible hours, rather than reduced by them. [6]

Both emotional content and a more relaxed working culture continue to be on the rise. These developing social norms will have a direct impact on the content professionals resonate with and expect in a B2B context.

 

3. Unavoidable truths

Truth: Undeniably, there are complexities and specificities to consider when marketing to professionals.

There are a number of unavoidable elements of the B2B sector, which can add layers of greater complexity and specific things to consider when creating marketing content. These juicy problems include:

  • You encounter longer, more complex sales cycles when selling products and services to businesses
  • Professionals think more rationally about what suppliers, partners or vendors could offer, when compared to a consumer making a choice that affects only themselves
  • The channels of communications are different:
    • In 2017, it was reported that 80% of B2B social media leads stem from LinkedIn [7]
    • 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought-leaders [8]

So, we can see that there are different frameworks that B2B marketing has to work within when compared to B2C. But these are by no means barriers to dynamic, relevant, emotional content.

Overall, it’s important to remember, even if you are targeting B2Bs, you are still talking to professionals – to people, rather than businesses.

Although we can’t talk to professionals in the exact same way we’d talk to their consumer alter ego, the key is to strike a balance between practical information and emotionally relevant messages. Then, it’s about conveying those messages through the right channels.

B2B marketing can learn a thing or two from B2C marketing and we shouldn’t separate and polarise them quite so dramatically. So a little less function-led jargon and a little more MaleCrimp, please.

 

If you would like to know more about how to create great B2B marketing with relevance and impact, we’d love to hear from you: steve@bbpagency.com

 

References:

[1] Ecommerce Platforms, 2018.

[2] Circle Research, 2018.

[3] Big Commerce, 2018.

[4] The Drum, 2018.

[5] Office for National Statistics, 2018.

[6] Office for National Statistics, 2018.

[7] Ironpaper, 2017.

[8] Demand Gen Report, 2016.