To B2B or not to B2B, is that the question?

To B2B or not to B2B, is that the question?

To B2B or not to B2B, is that the question?To B2B or not to B2B, is that the question?  Recently, B2B marketing has been suffering from an existential crisis.

Last year, one well known voice maintained his belief that B2B had ceased to be altogether . His opinion being that, due to the prevalence of mobile telecoms and personal computing, “Being at work is no longer a place, but rather a state of mind”, and that “work-life balance is a myth; it’s just life”. He also said that “the individual has replaced the firm as the organising principle of B2B marketing”. The underlying thought being that business decision-makers are just people – consumers, first-and-foremost – and should be addressed accordingly. They are now always connected, always on.

There is some truth in this. Here at Earnest, one of the things we remind our clients when we first meet them is that the people who they’re targeting with their business communications are people too – they just happen to be at work.

The same, but different

That said, a quick Google search on ‘The difference between B2B and B2C marketing’ , brings up many opinions stating that the ways and methods to speak to business consumers vary greatly from how you would to traditional consumers. Exact Target (for one) think that “there are some fundamental differences between the needs of B2B buyers and that of B2C buyers that impact how businesses should interact with their customers” – especially when it comes to social channels.

It’s fair to say that the days of lead generation being “if you cold-call them, they will buy” have more or less been superseded. But to say that B2B has died, combined with B2C or just shaken off the shackles of any other three letter acronym is possibly overplaying it. Nevertheless, B2B marketing is certainly changing.

It’s been emotional

Emotional factors normally play a large part in a consumer’s decision to purchase. In contrast, B2B purchasing decisions tend to be more rational and task (and budget) oriented. This rationality is due to the often lengthy and complex sales cycles present in business purchases. But it’s wrong to discount emotional reactions, delivered in a variety of media, in this process.

The emotion in business marketing can come from the relationship and trust that brands have to create in order to be taken seriously. Also, common sense would suggest that no matter what type of consumer you are, if a message is interesting and relevant to you, you’re more likely to read it. Just because a decision is based on more rational criteria – doesn’t mean the message and creative needs to be bland and overly professional.

In the midst of this crisis of how and where to talk to business customers and whether or not they really exist, it's as important as ever to get the basics right:

  • Be relevant – speak in a way that shows you understand your customers’ business.
  • Recognise and solve a problem – no one likes headaches, especially those caused by ill-designed systems and infrastructure.
  • Avoid clichés and generalisations – be personal, when you can. Use your data wisely.

Getting the channel right

With the vast array of on- and off-line channels now available, there has inevitably been some crossover with businesses using what might have been traditionally thought of as B2C channels to interact with customers – with some interesting results. This is where the existential crisis is most evident. Should we consider separate channels for business and consumer messages?

No, is the short answer.

‘Content’ a mainstay buzzword across B2B boardrooms for years, is now considered a cornerstone of business marketing strategy. However, some of the earliest examples of content marketing were recorded over 100 years ago with age-old consumer brands.

In a previous blog post , we wrote about how in 1900 Michelin developed the Michelin Guide, offering drivers information on auto maintenance, accommodation and other travel tips. 35,000 copies were distributed for free in this first edition.

Similarly in 1904, Jell-O salesmen went door-to-door, distributing a free cookbook. Touting the dessert as a versatile food, the company saw its sales rise to over $1 million by 1906.

In 2014, content marketing is rife and integral to a good B2B inbound strategy. The upshot of this is that last year ‘71% of B2B marketers used content marketing for lead generation’ resulting in the fact that ‘ more than 2 out of 3 business buyer journeys started with a Google search ’.

Social media previously struck fear in the hearts of B2B marketers. “How does it work? How can we measure it? Will we get any likes? What if people just start abusing us?” Yet in 2013 ‘1 in 5 B2B buyers reported using social channels during the buying process’. Even more convincingly, ‘57% of B2B companies said they now generate sales via LinkedIn’.

Contextual healing

However, it’s important to understand that, even as the B2B/B2C channel mix becomes blurred, context (time and place) is more important than ever. Even if business customers are always on, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to read business messages in their free time. Sending social or email messages out of business hours or placing messages in unrelated media, could have negative impact.

So, is it dead?

B2B marketing isn’t dead, it’s just changed. Marketing the benefits of a product to an autonomous individual will always be a different process to marketing to an individual whose decision will affect the working lives of a group. Yes, they’re both individuals with personalities, senses of humour and a smartphone, but their jurisdiction is different.

There are now more channels than ever and people are exposed to lots information, so what you say, how you say it and where that message is seen is more important than ever. The stats confirm business brands can exist on the same platforms as B2C brands and succeed, but the message must be the benefit for the business, not just the individual.

Written by Andy Kay, and published originally on the Earnest blog.