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:

Marketing Strategy and Plans: Are You Putting The Cart Before The Horse?

All too often, people talk about their marketing strategy, and mention things like thought leadership, lead generation, social media and digital marketing. All of these things are great, but the word strategy is often misunderstood as being the same as a plan, or list of activities. It’s easy to see why: the Oxford Dictionary defines ‘strategy’ as “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”.  But the focus of the definition should not be on the word “plan”, but on the words “long-term aim”.

Marketing plans: Don'tput the cart before the horseFor example, you could outline all the events, webinars and advertising you are planning to do in a given year, and think: “Voila, there’s my strategy”. If you follow this approach, the danger is that the marketing plan will amount to nothing more than a laundry list of unconnected activities.

That’s why you need a clearly-defined strategy which then informs your marketing tactics. It’s not enough to simply outline all lead generation activities and then declare that this is the strategy that supports the business objective of ‘meeting our sales targets’.

What happens if your marketing plan contains only tactics, and no strategy? A lack of strategy will often result in carefully planned marketing campaigns yielding poor results, for example because they are not targeted at the right segment, or because the messaging is not supported by the product’s actual positioning.

So what is marketing strategy? Let’s pick an example that most people will be familiar with:  Think of a cheap fashion retailer like H&M or Primark compared to a designer brand like Calvin Klein or Stella McCartney. The mass distribution clothing line will have a completely different marketing strategy than a high-end retailer that prides itself on the quality of its materials and the uniqueness of its designs. Some of the tactics deployed by the bargain basement retailer will be similar to ones used by the more exclusive apparel retailer: they will run TV and magazine advertising campaigns, exclusive previews, promotions and special displays before major holidays and discounted offers at the end of each season. Yet their strategy is different, because the STP (segmenting-targeting-positioning) element of their marketing plans will differ vastly. Each clothing retailer will design its marketing and communications activities to appeal to a specific target group and support its competitive positioning.

Take H&M as an example: Its marketing strategy is encapsulated in its taglines “fast-fashion” and “fashion at the best price”. This positioning appeals to cost-conscious young shoppers. Its marketing plan would naturally look to extend this successful strategy in line with the corporate growth strategy, which should be founded upon a recognised planning tool such as Ansoff’s matrix:

Ansoff Matrix

Ansoff Matrix

In H&M’s case, the growing appeal and short lifecycle of cheap of-the-moment clothes means that the company can continue to sell more of the same products to its existing target audience (market penetration) The Swedish giant is also pushing into new markets by expanding its eCommerce capabilities and presence in emerging markets like India (market development). In this case, H&M’s objective is to gain more marketshare for its existing products, and its strategy is to penetrate existing markets more deeply and also develop its presence in new markets. The chosen tactic, on the other hand, is ecommerce. Ecommerce is not the strategy, it is merely the chosen channel or tactic.

In short, a marketing strategy is a systematic future-oriented formula that answers the question “where will we play and how will we compete?” If your marketing strategy does not answer this question, it is most likely a marketing plan, i.e. a document that answers the question “what will we do?” If you want to find out more about creating great marketing strategies, watch this Harvard Business Channel youtube video, which I found via Mark Ritson @markritson:

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…

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…