The traditional approach to B2B marketing has been a very direct one, designed primarily as a starting point for developing quite personal, one to one relationships.
This was always fine for businesses that had a small group of high-value B2B customers, but for large B2B customer networks this was often impractical and inefficient, resulting in low-quality, unimaginative marketing campaigns which relied on deals or offers to encourage a callback response.
The problem here is that people who run businesses are still just that - people. In their personal lives they are used to carefully considered marketing campaigns, websites which know who they are and respond accordingly, messaging which appeals to the emotional as well as the rational.
The shift between these two 'marketing experiences' has become an unpleasant one for many business owners. They expect the same level of polish and creativity that they see in B2C campaigns, which has seen pressure put on B2B marketers to 'up their game' and change the way they communicate with prospects and clients.
Some good examples of this are:
- BT's Business Gremlins campaign (RKCR/Y&R) - this featured the Gremlins film characters and TV Dragon Peter Jones as celebrity endorsers. The ads used humour to sell the slightly dry service of IT support - a very B2C-like technique, but which works very well here. It was also accompanied by other videos from Peter Jones on how to get the best out of technology in business, leading the viewer to discover more about BT's range of products and services.
- Carlsberg 'We Deliver More' - Carlsberg has done amazing things with their B2B local marketing hub 'We Deliver More'. The platform provides unmanaged licensed outlet owners advice on how to run their business, special rates, deals and promotions, critical business data, forums, news and calendars to plan around key sales times. It focuses on giving value to the user rather than a direct sales pitch or lead generation. The tone is also very B2C - friendly and helpful - a guide to running a better business rather than just a supplier.
What is driving this consumerisation? First, expectations within the business community have increased. A generation of business owners that have grown up with the sophisticated use of web technology and emotionally charged advertising campaigns are expecting to see the same in their business communications. Agencies have played a big part in pushing businesses to be bolder in their approaches, which goes hand in hand with clients being more open to it.
Additionally, in the last few years, the downturn in the economy has caused the B2B landscape to become incredibly competitive, so businesses are looking for ways to acquire and keep B2B customers which go beyond price or offer-led messaging.
They are looking for ways to engage on a deeper level with their customers and become a central part of their businesses, which in turn creates more loyalty. Finally, it’s delivering results. That's pretty much the only barometer for any marketing campaign that matters.
The opportunities of increasing consumerism are very exciting. Businesses that are able to get the tone right will see greater engagement, improved acquisition rates and increased loyalty.
B2C business that lead on brand testify that it's one of the few ways to create true loyalty, that doesn't just fall over the minute the market succumbs to price promiscuity. B2B marketers will see just the same.
Likewise, by creating tools or interactive solutions which become business critical (as platforms like Facebook have for consumers in their personal lives) they will be able to further increase loyalty whilst also better understanding the needs of their consumers.
To capitalise on this it's important to undertake a full review of what your brand currently means to your customers and how they view it. Consumerised brand messages hinge on authenticity, so knowing what your brand is really about right now is the only way to know how you're going to take it forward. Then you should develop a clear tone and persona for your brand; are you going to use humour? Are you going to be friendly and helpful? Or serious and useful? All of these are the sorts of questions which should be addressed.
There are risks, of course. The main one is getting the tone or messaging completely wrong and alienating the loyal customers you already have, hence the reason for a proper brand audit before you begin to adopt a new messaging position.
Also, keep reminding yourself to be credible at all times. Be true to your service and your industry; don't try to be something you're not.
If you have bought loyalty in the past, it can be difficult to wean existing customers off offers or price-led messaging.
Managing this incredibly carefully, using the segmentation of customers with RFM scoring (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) should help to mitigate that risk and develop migration planning.
I can't see this trend reversing for B2B marketers - it’s a natural evolution, and a positive one at that. We are seeing some fascinating examples of B2B organisations using traditionally B2C-led channels to generate leads and engage better with clients, which will only inspire others to do the same.
It's an exciting time for the B2B marketing sector, but to capitalise businesses have to 'think like a human' - be more emotional, have a sense of humour, and be authentic.