What B2B marketers can learn from B2C

Guidance on how to adapt your B2B marketing strategy in an evolving landscape.

The lines between B2B and B2C marketing are blurring. Recent changes in the B2C market are feeding into the B2B world. Advancements in digital technology have caused a huge shift in consumer purchase behaviour. The multichannel distribution trend is playing a big part, with a Deloitte study reporting one in three consumers using several channels to complete a purchase. This trend started with the internet, but now mobile is driving consumption which allows the easy access of information.

This means the B2B customer experience is being redefined. A purchase can now be made in one click, and there is no longer a singular path — but many. As consumers demand immediacy, businesses are under pressure to deliver innovative experiences. Although buying has never been easier, this means stiffer competition for B2B marketers. They are constantly under pressure to develop a similar customer service level to B2C.

Historically, B2B marketers have been slower than B2C at developing digital marketing strategies. A key problem is their sales cycle, which is longer and requires much consideration. Multiple decision makers are involved in a sale, who all need to show return-on-investment (ROI). With this higher perceived risk, B2B marketing has relied on more direct channels of distribution. Traditional channels like in-person events are still favoured, because personal relationships are needed between buyers and prospects. Although this is important for trust and repeat sales, connecting with the new customer still remains a big challenge.

B2C companies are virtually unlimited when it comes to opportunities to reach prospects. But how can B2B learn from B2C, and overcome the multichannel problem of reaching customers? The following examples have taken inspiration from B2C brands and embraced digital marketing, and created a content strategy that connects with their audience:

Problem: Complicated Decision Making Process

Solution: Educate your buyer with innovative insights

There are an increasing number of stakeholders involved in today’s B2B decision-making process. Aside from individual problems, there are also company wide problems affecting purchasing decisions. Similarly to B2C, you need to have a buyer persona in mind. Think of multiple personas in a business and consider the personal reasons behind why they buy.

Create a ‘scenario’ which takes demographic data into account (eg. job title/occupation, seniority, company size) to gain useful insights. B2B buyers are looking for those who understand their pain points and are knowledgeable about their industry. Move away from overt sales messaging and show you are an expert in your field, by offering value-add insights.

Case Study: Forrester

The objective was to showcase how far we’ve come with mobile technology, and how much more it will develop in the coming years. By providing this perspective on the technology market, they engage their target audience through education. This research is interactive and prospects are encouraged to apply it to their own challenges.Forrester (an influential global research firm) succeed at this. They wish to “challenge the thinking of our clients to help them lead change in their organizations”, when primarily working with business leaders. A prime example is how they teamed up with software company Ceros, to produce ‘The Future of Mobile’ ebook report.

Problem: Overload of Information

Solution: Cut through the noise with storytelling

The world is saturated with content. The availability of this online and the growth of social media have made B2B buyers more educated than ever before. Information is not only widely available, but also extremely accessible. According to an Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research at some point in the buying process. As the online landscape becomes more competitive, storytelling is becoming a popular way for brands to differentiate themselves. It allows you to switch from lengthy corporate messaging and humanise the face of your business.

Case Study: Microsoft

Microsoft was one of the first big companies to embrace content marketing. Interestingly, founder Bill Gates coined the phrase “Content is king”, and stuck to his word when launching the ‘Microsoft Story Lab’ in 2013. They no longer just sell Word — this beautifully simple website showcases internal stories with branded content. Its purpose was clear – “Get an inside look at the people, places and ideas that move us.”The range of content is diverse.

Stories delve into societal issues or discuss complex topics like artificial intelligence (AI) with the use of ‘explanimator’ videos. As consumers get to know Microsoft on a more personal level, they have changed the perception of their brand and cut through the noise. In June 2015, LinkedIn revealed their top 10 most influential global brands. Scoring their content marketing efforts, Microsoft beat Google, Forbes, hp, IBM and others to claim top spot.

Problem: Building trust

Solution: Help your prospects learn something (rather than selling)

The modern buyer is increasingly cynical of businesses. You are no longer the credible source of information. With B2B audiences becoming more educated through multiple channels, this is altering the traditional model of buyer trust.

The role of sales departments need to change. They are perceived to be pushing an agenda, rather than solving audience problems. A LinkedIn survey found that B2B buyers are 5x more likely to engage with a sales professional who provides new insights about their business or industry. Therefore, the most efficient way for a salesperson to gain credibility is to become a trusted advisor.

Case Study: Santander

When launching this four-page supplement with The Times, they reinforced their expertise whilst creating an online hub to bring the print to life. By using a variety of channels, Santander stays front-of-mind. They build trust with their target audience, by addressing issues that are hindering their development.

Consumer trust in banks has been low for years, especially after the financial crisis. The Edelman trust barometer named financial services the least trusted industry in 2016, and said companies need to be more “dynamic” in building solutions. Many banks are turning to content marketing as a response, like Santander. They launched the ‘Successful Modern Entrepreneurship’ campaign in 2014, which focused on helpful tips, news and case studies for smaller sized enterprises.

In summary:

  1. Interest your audience by being a knowledgeable resource.
  2. Tell stories to cut through noise and meaningfully connect with prospects.
  3. Earn the trust of customers by addressing their pain points.