This time it’s personal: Can B2B marketing satisfy the emotional needs of a new generation of B2B buyers?

In B2B marketing, copywriters are often tasked with writing brochures, website copy and emails that convey ‘the strategic value that the product delivers to the enterprise’, or similar. The basic tenet of B2B marketing is that the value relates to the corporate entity, and the user benefits also relate to the business value. For example, if you were marketing B2B software that helps someone do their job twice as quickly, the messaging would revolve around the “reduced cost and increased efficiency, which frees up your time to focus on more strategic projects”.

Now imagine you are a B2C marketer developing an advertisement to sell a more efficient vacuum cleaner to a busy professional single with a good income. Would you market the product with the tagline ‘The new DustDemon 2000 will save you time – and enable you to do more ironing’? Your ad copy would never make it to the printers: Focus groups or someone else’s common sense would reveal that this messaging is unlikely to have the intended appeal. The target group would be more likely to respond to messaging about spending less time on chores and more on leisure pursuits.

B2B buyers dronesAnd here’s the lesson for B2B marketers: B2B buyers are people too, and people are selfish. Yet traditional B2B marketing campaigns often treat buyers as überrational, Spock-like corporate drones, whose only aim in life is to do as much work as possible and save their employers money.

Is that realistic? Compare the likely success of such messaging with the way Google pitches its enterprise solutions. Would you rather do more ironing with the DustDemon 2000 or “work the way you live” with Google’s Enterprise offerings? I know what I’d prefer, and Google’s success and track record of innovation speak for themselves.

More objective evidence that consumer-focused B2B messaging does wonders for corporate bottom lines was found by a new study recently published by strategic branding firm Siegel+Gale. Their marketing strategists polled close to 9,500 consumers and 450 business decision-makers to assess 64 B2B-focused brands, and found that B2B technology brands such as Google, CISCO, Siemens, IBM and Intel created competitive advantages by building consumer relevance.

Specifically, brands with a high consumer relevancy score experienced 27% more growth in stock value and 31% greater growth in revenue (from 2010 to 2013), than firms which relied on ‘generic, vague and trite’ campaigns that were ‘devoid of relatable specifics’. One B2B company that’s caught on to this is CISCO. Although its products are sold to CTOs, “the networking design company has long spoken to its B2B audiences like they were consumers”, which Siegel+Gale’s researchers found helps CISCO connect with B2B buyers on a human level and makes their value proposition real.

All this goes to show that even in B2B industries, it’s important to remember that it’s people who buy products, not machines: That is until they develop consciousness and take over the world, in which case you can always revert to your 90s marketing messaging and watch repeats of the original Terminator movie. For now, B2B messaging needs to appeal to the Sarah Connors of the world, not the Cyberdyne Systems Model T-101.

This is more important now than ever before, as we are seeing a generational change that means the B2B buyer’s persona is changing: The emotional needs of Gen X- and Y-ers are different from the post-war baby boomers who were often said to “live to work”, while the later generations work to live and place greater value on personal fulfilment as well as environmental and ethical considerations. B2C marketers have already adjusted their messaging accordingly, by showing that brands understand how to make consumers feel good about themselves and the world they live in. Thus marketing messaging needs to appeal to this new generation of buyers on a personal level. While the offered product needs to provide a benefit for the organization or department, it also needs to solve a problem and satisfy a need for the person making the purchasing decision.

So how can B2B marketers make sure their messaging appeals to B2B buyers on a personal level? One time-tested concept is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a widely-accepted psychological theory of human motivation. Below, you’ll find some suggestions on how B2B marketing messaging relates to the concept:
pyramid

Until humans evolve to the point where faster processing, memory capacity and customized dashboarding become basic human motivators, B2B marketers would do well to take a leaf out of the B2C marketing book and create marketing campaigns that speak to buyers on a personal level and provide specific benefits that real people with lives outside work can relate to. And here’s an example of how a B2B brand can make their service more relatable to real people. 10 out of 10 for CISCO:

Time for A Better B2B Marketing Mix?

Time to Redefine the B2B Marketing MixMany marketing jobs require that candidates have experience of the ‘full marketing mix’. But how relevant is the marketing mix model for today’s b2b marketer? The traditional 4Ps marketing mix (consisting of product, price, place, promotion) has been used by marketers since the 1960s, but the Harvard Business Review recently carried out a five-year study of more than 500 managers and customers in multiple countries across a wide range of B2B industries, and found that the 4 Ps model undercuts B2B marketers and needs to be redefined to be useful again.

The concept was last updated in the 1980s in response to the growth of services marketing, and three further Ps (people, physical evidence and processes) were added. Arguably, it’s about time the marketing mix was redefined for modern B2B marketers.

How many marketers do you know who are in control of all seven aspects of the marketing mix?

In all but the smallest start-ups, many of the seven Ps would be outside the remit and responsibility of the marketing manager, no matter how senior he or she is.

Product warranties and design, for example, are typically owned by the product manager, who is usually a technically oriented person with no marketing experience. The product manager consults the product marketing manager when it comes to branding, icons and other visual experience related elements of the product, but the actual functionality, technology and associated user guarantees are determined and managed by the product manager, supported and executed by developers.

Similarly, in smaller firms pricing and distribution channels (Place) are firmly within the remit of sales and commercial directors, if not the CEO himself. Service levels (People) fall within the responsibility of the customer services team or account managers, who look to marketing to provide tools and templates to help shape the conversation, but I have yet to hear of a marketing director who is actually in charge of drawing up service level agreements and managing the delivery of client service.

If the 7Ps do not reflect the actual work of marketers at the more complex end of the b2b spectrum, does the concept at least cover all important elements of the marketing mix? I don’t think so, as three key aspects are not explicitly covered:

1) Positioning – competitive, in market
2) Proposition – value to customer
3) Presentation – the visual and brand experience

Product positioning and the product’s value proposition are important and distinct element of the marketing mix. While the value proposition articulates the added value that the product or service delivers to customers (e.g. freshly baked bread delivered to your door every morning by 7am), the product’s positioning is often formulated in relation to competitors and taking into account organizational strengths (Jones & Sons – Springfield’s family bakery. Every loaf handmade and delivered to your door, since 1832).

The value proposition needs to be clear. Getting this right is particularly important when products have multiple target audiences and uses. For example, the same product could be positioned differently for small and large firms in a b2b context. Good product positioning creates differentiation and customer mindshare through carefully crafted messages which resonate with target audiences.

The final P relates to presentation. This does not just relate to formatting of PowerPoints, but the overall visual brand experience and identity across different elements of the marketing mix and customer touchpoints. A brand that is consistent across different presentation channels (think web, social media, brochureware, events etc.) enables prospects and customers to recognise products and services easily – and the consistency of presentation will convey the values of dependability and professionalism.

These three points are especially important when dealing with sophisticated consumers, such as b2b buyers, who will experience brands and products in a variety of settings before making a decision. Neither physical evidence nor promotion cover these concepts, as a proposition is not physical, while promotion usually only covers marketing communication channels and not the actual messaging that should be at the heart of all marketing campaigns.

The traditional 7Ps model of the marketing mix does modern marketers a disservice: B2B marketers add most value through producing unique  positioning, proposition and presentation, as these are important aspects of what marketing guru Kotler called the ‘augmented product’. In a competitive global market such as the b2b technology industry, marketers can create a difficult-to-copy differentiated and enhanced value proposition through the use of an extended marketing mix that includes the additional 3Ps.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts: To what extent do you use the marketing mix as a business tool?

How to Market a Product: Five Marketing Lessons to be Learnt from Dating

Marketing Lessons to be learnt from dating Yesterday, thousands of singles thought about bad dates they have been on and contemplated why they are still single this Valentine’s Day. As I asked various people about their Valentine’s plans, it occurred to me that there are a lot of parallels between good marketing and great dates. In the same way that singles try to make good impressions, present their best selves and build lasting connections, marketers create attractive brands and formulate positioning which appeals to differentiated target audiences. Still not convinced? Think back to your single days and consider what these dating scenarios can teach us about good marketing:

1) You go on a first date and he presents you with his bank statements, family tree and graduate diplomas.
This is essentially what many people think product marketing is about – compiling glossy brochures and technical white papers that outline unique product features, long company history and competitive service level agreements. While all of these are must-haves for the b2b selling process, the reality is that no b2b buyer wants to see these on the ‘first date’.
Lesson: Overwhelming prospects with product information while they are still in the early stages of the sales funnel will most likely have the same result as discussing your bank balance on a first date. It’s all relevant information in the long run, but make sure the other party has bought into your value proposition and is serious about making a commitment before you get down the details.

2) You want to impress your date and pick her up in a Porsche you hired for the evening.

Product marketers need to make sure the different elements of the marketing mix are in line with the product’s positioning.
Lesson: If your packaging implies premium, but your solution is based on a ‘no-frills’ economy model, then you are wasting money and attracting customers who will be disappointed with the actual core product. If they do buy based on a false premise, they will not make a repeat purchase and you will face a lower return on your marketing investment (ROMI)

3) Your date looks stunning but talks about herself all night, leaving you repeatedly checking your watch and eyeing the exit.
Some people misunderstand the term ‘product marketing’ and believe that it’s all about the product. Yet good salespeople know that they should spend more time listening than talking in prospect meetings. Similarly, product marketers need to know as much as possible about the needs and desires of their target market before they start holding forth.
Lesson: The best way to market a product is to let your prospects and customers talk about themselves, and use this information to produce customer-centric marketing pitches. Good product marketing is all about the customer, not all about the product.

4) Your date said she would call you tomorrow to arrange to meet up. That was two weeks ago and you’ve not heard since.
There’s an equivalent scenario that is not at all uncommon in B2B marketing: A prospect requests a trial or a meeting with a consultant, but the person in charge of following up leaves the lead sitting in the CRM software until they get a reminder that their task is now overdue.
Lesson: Prospects face a wide choice of providers and are not ‘desperate’. Make sure the handover from marketing to sales is smooth and closely monitored. Harvard Business Review found that leads that are followed up quickly are seven times more likely to result in a meaningful conversation with the decision maker than leads that are left to go stale.

5) You are half-way through a nice dinner when you realize that your date seems to know way more about you than you’ve told her.
If you met through friends, chances are she asked around about your past relationships and your likes and dislikes. Whichever way you met, it is now almost a given that your date will have googled you and visited your Facebook page. Similarly, your inbound marketing enquiries will come from b2b buyers who have visited not only your website but done extensive research on your product on independent third party sites.
Lesson: According to a study by salesforce.com’s Pardot, 72% of B2B buyers typically start their research for a purchase on Google. It is imperative that b2b marketers go digital and manage their firm’s online and social media presence as carefully as any other aspect of their company’s reputation.

Do you know of any other dating scenarios that have relevance to good b2b marketing? Please share them below or via Twitter with @yasminetweets

Three Reasons Why Content Marketing Works For B2B Sales

Content MarketingThere are plenty of people who think content marketing has no place in the B2b marketing repertoire. They think that B2B selling is about matching product features to customer requirements, building relationships through rounds of golf, liberally distributing branded pens and business card holders and attending the annual industry tradeshow. But most B2B marketers and many salespeople have come to understand that traditional, product-focused marketing is becoming less and less effective. Unless you want your marketing to go the way of VHS tapes, LPs, CDs and iPods, it’s time to get on the content marketing bandwagon and find out what you are missing.  So what’s the alternative?

What is content marketing?
Before we get stuck in, let’s make sure we know what we mean by content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute has helpfully provided this definition of content marketing: “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
The key words here are ‘relevant’ and ‘valuable’.

Being a marketer, you will understand that these words relate to the customer, not to you. If your marketing content does not address your customers’ pain points but extols the virtues of your products, services and employees, then you are not engaged in content marketing, but in advertising and promotion. Good quality marketing content focuses on delivering good quality information and insight to customers. It’s not a sales p itch masquerading as thought leadership (e.g. ‘how  our next generation software can solve all your problems’..)

Why Content Marketing Works Best For B2B Sales
In the B2B world, products and services tend to be complex, big ticket purchases, requiring a relationship-based rather than transactional, short-term sales approach. Good content marketing is ideally suited to facilitate B2B ‘solution selling’:

B2B Sales CycleReason #1: Long Sales Cycles In B2B marketing, with its long sales cycles, content marketing fulfils the valuable role of nurturing the prospects and positioning the firm as expert and problem solver. Imagine you work in an industry where there the buying decision comes up every two or three years.  Product-focused, promotional marketing works fine for low-value, ‘impulse-purchase’ items, but in the B2B world, there are no ‘offers of the week’ or ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ discounts on enterprise software. Long sales cycles mean that interruption marketing that is promotional and product-focused will be perceived as unsolicited, unhelpful and ultimately pointless. Content marketing on the other hand – that is marketing content that is educational or entertaining to the buyer – will help shorten sales cycles by creating brand preference and will help nurture existing opportunities as well as engaging cold leads who are not currently in buying mode.

B2B Buyer PersonasReason #2: Complex Sales Process In B2B sales, there’s often more than one person who has a say on who is awarded the contract. The end user of the product is only one of several people in the decision process. That’s why B2B marketing content must not only speak to the user buyer, but also to the host of buyer personas that are typically involved in today’s committee-style buying process. The technical buyer, for example, may be very interested in details of how the new product will integrate with the existing IT infrastructure, and will want to know about the different deployment options available. Software-as-a-Service, customisable interfaces and open APIs may be strong selling points for this persona. The user buyer will be most interested in how the new product or service will make them more efficient in their job, and help him climb the career ladder – or head home on time. The economic buyer, on the other hand, is more concerned with how the purchase supports departmental and corporate longer-term objectives. He or she will not usually be concerned with the ins and outs of everyday interaction with the purchase, but keeps an eye on the bottom-line and the strategic justification of the purchase. Marketing content that is tailored to the needs of the different buyer personas will be most effective in a B2B marketing context. Blanketing all different types of people involved in the purchasing decision with detailed product information will not help close the deal – and may even be detrimental.

B2B Sales FunnelReason #3: Differentiated B2b Sales Funnel As leads move through the funnel and become prospects and eventually clients, their content requirements change. Product-focused content only works if the reader already has awareness, interest as well as a desire to dive deeper into the product. This stage is actually a short phase within the highly evolved B2B sales funnel. Good content marketing will produce campaigns that deliver valuable information at different stages of the sales funnel – big topic, industry-focused content to raise awareness, more detailed white papers, customer case studies and videos to stimulate interest, and ‘how to’, practically oriented content to create desire. Social media, in-person events and community-building marketing can then help trigger action and foster loyalty in the long-term.

In summary, content marketing works best for B2B sales because it is capable of supporting a more sophisticated sales process. Content marketing can

  • engage without promoting products
  • entice without selling
  • educate without patronizing.

In addition, content marketing continues to support customer engagement and your company’s credibility long after the contract has been signed, and the plastic pen has been  discarded…