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:

Beware of Content Marketing Myths: Don’t Let These Five Beliefs Stop You

Content Marketing Strategy

There’s now plenty of evidence that content marketing works for business-to-business (B2B) markets. One of the latest studies on this topic was issued by the Content Marketing Institute. I was particularly interested in this new research, as it specifically addresses the content marketing practices of technology marketers. While I enjoyed the piece, it perpetuates streams of thinking which hold marketers back from doing more and better content marketing:

Myth 1: You need a documented content strategy
Content Marketing StrategyYes, you do need to know what you are doing. But this is less a matter of having a documented content strategy, and more about being able to make the connection between market developments, customer needs and your organization’s desired business outcomes. To use an analogy: Journalists create content every day – it’s their job. Now, ask to see a journalist’s content development strategy document. I predict you will encounter blank faces, and probably raised eyebrows. That’s because journalists’ raison d’être is to provide valuable content to their audience. Content marketers need to develop the same understanding: If they see their role as engaging their target market with their organization through content, then they will do a good job – regardless of how much strategy documentation they have produced.

Myth 2: Content marketing is the job of one person – the ‘Chief Content Officer’
ThChief Content Officere best content is produced based on knowledge of the market, buyer personas and customer pain points. If content is produced in an ivory tower, by a wizard of content magic, chances are that the result will not resonate with the market and will not be useful for the sales team. Content creation should be collaborative – content is everyone’s concern. I get ideas for some of the most successful pieces from talking to salespeople, and draw on the expertise of a great team of experts in various aspects of technology to make sure content delivers value to customers.

Myth 3: Content marketing is expensive
Content marketing is not expensiveMost companies would be able to reduce their marketing budget if they spent more time on content marketing and less time on traditional marketing activities such as tradeshows and advertising. Great content will have a longer shelf life than those tactics, and have a longer reach, as readers use it, forward it and share it via social media.


Myth 4: Content marketing is only effective if you use lots of promotional channels
Content marketing channelsContent by itself has no purpose – it’s like painting a masterpiece and storing it in the attic under dust rags. Without promotion, there is no ‘content marketing’ – there is only content. But it’s not the number of channels that matters. I have found that a focused approach works better – good content should be promoted carefully to make sure it hits the right audience at the right time. To avoid audience fatigue, choose your top 3 or 4 channels and phase your rollout: Email your infographic out one week, but link your social media promotion to the email and to your website in order to create a more integrated campaign. Give your customers and prospects time to engage with your content and then consider the next phase, for example targeted advertising via LinkedIn or a third party distribution to a list which is significantly different from yours.

Myth 5: Content marketing is all about bringing traffic to your website
Website content marketingWhile B2B technology marketers identify lead generation and brand awareness as their top content marketing goals, they cite website traffic as their top success metric. That’s not a logical choice, really. B2B technology is typically not sold via e-commerce websites, so web traffic is neither a useful measure of lead generation nor of brand awareness. Sales lead quantity and quality, response rates and market reaction (social shares, blog comments, media coverage) would provide better indications of the quality and effectiveness of your content.

A good takeaway is to think about what drives your content – be it industry trends, the profiles of individual decision makers or stages of the buying cycle – and the reactions you want to elicit from your audience, such as downloads, product trials, demo requests and so on. These are not complicated considerations, and most seasoned marketers have internalised putting the customer at the heart of everything they do. If you want to write it down and call it your content marketing strategy bible – it won’t do any harm. The key to effective content marketing is not documentation: It’s the application of good marketing principles to your daily work.