B2B marketing has typically been considered the rationally-driven, less glamorous cousin of B2C marketing with its inclination for high profile, often emotion-led communications.
B2B marketing’s cause has not been helped given the longer sales cycles, smaller budgets, the need to manage more constituents, and the pressure to demonstrate an immediate, direct return on investment.
However, with the onset of digital and social experiences becoming the norm, the rise in demand for personalised experiences, and the emergence of millennial decision-makers, B2B and B2C marketing strategies are beginning to converge.
Now more than ever, brands need to continue to uncover what drives its customers, develop content that’s relevant for the right people, and deliver this content at the right time and place. This strategic approach, coupled with the changing landscape, works in B2B marketers’ favour, because B2B has already been paving the way on many of these aspects.
Insights inspired by data
Data driven insights help B2B and B2C brands better understand customers’ mindsets and interests. B2B marketers have known this for a while, going back to trade shows where representatives would have a list of leads, they would look to impress. Since then, new technology has allowed B2B businesses to better apply data driven insights to help create content that resonate with varying B2B customer priorities, needs and challenges through every stage of their journey.
IBM is a prime example of a company that’s used data and insights to support their sales team in having engaging conversations with their customers. The programme, called “Intelligent Listening”, launched in 2017, leveraged social listening to understand trending themes and topics around cloud computing based on real-time customer conversations and activity. This information was then passed to the sales teams to share content that aligned with the discussion they were seeing. This resulted in product orders four times higher that quarter than the same time the previous year.
Content is key
With the rise of social and online experiences, B2C marketers are now fully realizing the benefits of content marketing in their go-to-market strategies – from the increase in influencer videos and user-generated content, to tutorials and guides that help further engage new customers whilst building loyalty amongst existing customers.
However, according to the Content Marketing Institute, only half of B2C marketers craft content based on specific stages of the customer journey, and nearly half of the content created focuses solely on awareness versus looking at the full end-to-end customer journey.
That said, content has always been king in B2B marketing because of the longer sales cycles, and the number of constituents involved. In fact, the world’s oldest content marketing goes all the way back to 1895, with John Deere’s “The Furrow”.
Whether it’s targeting small and midsize businesses or enterprises, B2B marketers rely on content to attract, engage, educate, inform, nurture and convert prospective B2B buyers into qualified leads. Furthermore, content has enabled B2B marketers to communicate their brand story, purpose and solutions, whilst delivering on key customer needs.
Take T-Mobile’s Magenta Edge for example. Using a customer-centric content approach, T-Mobile created a valuable content platform to nurture subscribers and audiences. The content platform offers educational programming, original stories, and insights for all entrepreneurs.
While the overall goal of content marketing has not changed, the types of content that both B2B and B2C brands can create to engage with their audiences has increased exponentially. Additionally, improved access to more data enables both B2B and B2C brands to create content that resonates more with their audiences at each stage of the customer journey. These two combined results in boundless possibilities for B2B brands to build on and optimise their existing content strategies.
Fish where the fish are
Not only is it important to create engaging content, but it must also be served to customers where they are already consuming their content and/or to their circle of influence.
Data goes beyond informing content topics, it also provides a specific understanding of where decision-makers are consuming their content. Due to tighter marketing budgets, B2B marketers have been pushed to find more creative solutions to get the most value from their budgets, leading to a reliance on data to inform hyper-targeted approach with low media waste. This dates all the way back to the early 1800s, where B2B businesses began advertising in trade journals. Additionally, in the 1870s, a growing railroad system enabled B2B businesses to reach their customers in a more targeted way: via direct mail. Montgomery Ward & Co.’s mail-order business is one of the first instances of hyper-targeted B2B marketing.
Montgomery Ward & Co.’s mail-order catalogue
These low media waste targeting strategies are still relevant and being utilised in our B2B world today, through account-based marketing and CRM strategies. Xerox’s “Get Optimistic” campaign applied very targeted advertising focused on a limited key account list. In order to reach executives and their employees involved with decision-making, the campaign took a more personalized approach that concentrated on prospects’ needs and content consumption, rather than a broad, one-size-fits-all strategy. Xerox leveraged the campaign’s key distribution platforms, including a partnership with Forbes, and ongoing email communications.
Although recent B2B trends have, in some regards, closely followed B2C, B2B marketers need to continue to stay true to the innovative strategies that have allowed their brands to successfully reach their intended audience. The lines between both disciplines are increasingly blurred, but combining the strengths of B2B innovative strategies, with B2C creativity extends the horizons of possibility and could help B2B businesses create epic experiences in an experience-driven economy. Through doing so, B2B businesses strengthen their brand presence, increase customer engagement and grow revenue.
Jerone Larson is B2B lead for VCCP.