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:

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:

What is Marketing?

The one curveball question all marketers get asked at some point is ‘what is marketing’…

This seemingly simple question is actually a complex and difficult one. The answer depends on who is asking and the context. Do we define marketing as a group of tactics (activities), as a function (the marketing team) or as a strategic approach (a customer-focused way of going to market)?

what is marketing

Defining marketing

All the things that marketers do day to day, from big things like managing corporate reputations and building sales pipelines down to tweeting and de-duping target lists are necessary parts of marketing. But if we define marketing as a daily laundry list, then we suffer from marketing myopia.

Marketers need to be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture if they are to succinctly explain to other functions what marketing is.

The fact that this is no easy task is shown by the fact that there are an average of 40,500 monthly Google searches for the term ‘what is marketing’.

Obviously, this is a question many people want answered. By comparison, only 9,900 people are asking “what is finance”. Similarly, “what is sales” is a question that on average occurs to only 4,400 people a month. So one could argue that sales is almost ten times better understood than marketing…

Why is marketing less clearly defined than other functions?

Marketing is both a function (group, team) and an activity. And in order to work effectively and achieve organisational objectives, marketing needs to work with other functions, such as sales, product management, HR and finance. In fact, David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, famously proposed that “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

Marketing is as important as it is difficult to define… Take for example Kotler’s famous definition of marketing as “meeting the needs of your customer at a profit.” Clearly, this definition goes far beyond marketing as a function, and would make R&D, customer service, finance and other functions part of marketing. Other more contemporary definitions often focus on branding and creating experiences through different media – see this link for a list of 72 (!) definitions of marketing:

With so many different definitions of marketing, it’s no wonder marketers are being asked to clarify what it is they do… Marketing is many different things to different people, depending on their role, organization and aims.

  • If you work for a start-up or are self-employed, chances are that you define marketing as everything you do that brings in new business.
  • If you work for a mid to large size firm, marketing is typically a group within the firm that coordinates external communications, from email campaigns and events to advertising
  • If you work in B2B marketing for a Fortune 500 firm, a large proportion of time is dedicated to internal communication, such as working with HR and management to create employee buy-in for organizational goals, and providing customer-facing functions such as sales and support desks with the tools they need to articulate complex value propositions and build long-term relationships with the various buyer personas that are involved in b2b purchase decisions.

But how can we define modern marketing more succinctly and simply? Pick your favorite definition below:

Or leave your preferred alternative definition in the comments section…