Pretty much everyone reading this piece is in the business of ‘Business-to-Business’ (B2B). You are not consumer-facing, and you are not aiming to persuade fashion-conscious players to play. No, your job is aimed at professional executives with purchasing power and the fate of your organisation in their hands. So why is it that so many organisations treat B2B marketing like a poor relation?
B2B has changed, big time
Not that long ago, B2B marketing within the gaming industry meant investing small fortunes in an endless tradeshow circuit (populated by many of the same souls), building up a cosy network of close clients (with most of the best work done in a social setting), being able to speak the correct jargon (and thinking it was clever) and – yes, it’s true – advertising in trade publications that were part of the furniture but actually waved your flag at far too many of the wrong people. But it has all changed, and today, B2B marketing is a sophisticated discipline, founded on proven principles. The emergence of digital channels and social media has resulted in a proliferation of branded content, thought leadership and the need to tell a powerful story.
Brands are now stories themselves
John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll and best-selling author, calls this ‘B2Beautiful’ and explains that brands are now stories themselves. And together with his co-authors of the excellent Stand-Out Marketing, Paul Johnston, former Marketing Director of the UK’s Bell-Fruit Manufacturing, describes B2B organisations as being “stuck in a sea of sameness” and asks, “Why should a customer choose YOU?” Returning to John Gerzema, he believes that for the smart amongst us, B2B marketing has evolved and that is time for those who are a bit slow to catch up. And ‘storytelling’, be it via PR or podcast, direct marketing or digital distraction, must be at the heart of this updated approach.
Key tactics that can apply to us all
The notion of ‘B2Beautiful’ is based around key tactics that can be applied to organisations of all sizes and sectors. The first of these is to pinpoint your story. Identify both your mission and your values and use what you believe in to frame your identity and positioning by weaving them into your story. Secondly, and very much aligned with the former, understand what your company stands for – your corporate culture – and share these convictions through the various channels you use. For example, provider of co-working spaces, WeWork, uses Instagram to showcase its global office locations, but shows occupants practicing yoga or some other leisure activity. They are re-emphasising their corporate slogan, ‘Make a Life, not just a Living.”
Don’t hold back and do diversify
B2B buyers are also consumers – as are we all – and so securing their emotional investment in your brand will be a huge positive step. If your B2B marketing activity to date has been limited, or fairly dull, then you have a fairly blank piece of paper on which to start telling your story. Not that you will be using much paper, this is the 21st century and you need to open your eyes and ears to new media platforms.
LinkedIn has long been the best social media platform for B2B activity, newsletters are great for direct communication of a bunch of information and consistent blogs are fun for storytelling. But don’t be afraid of the newer stuff – videos and podcasts are fantastic for impact and identity.
Never forget your true audience
It would be easy to get over-excited by all this stuff and imagine ourselves hosting a podcast in the style of a celebrated radio presenter, all bells and whistles and breaks for a traffic update. But let’s not forget the job and that is to sell our product. Returning to Paul Johnston’s question, why should a customer choose you? What are their needs? What are their values, their goals and how can we help?
One of the problems in the B2B world is that so many products and services are seen as commodities, in that there are several options, with little to truly differentiate them. This is why buyers can get away with focusing on pricing! For this reason, we should all evolve our B2B marketing strategies and tactics in order that we can differentiate our brands and create layers of appeal rather than offering customers a ‘widget’ that cost ‘X’… those days are gone, because business-to-business is now big business!