B2B marketing hasn’t always seemed as interesting or as glamorous as its B2C marketing counterpart, but a lot has been changing in this space.
Read on to discover how B2B marketing is evolving and what you need to know to succeed.
What is B2B marketing?
At its most fundamental level, business-to-business (B2B) marketing is when one company is selling products, solutions or services to other businesses, organisations or individuals acting in a business capacity.
This might look like a freelancer working on their own or it might be an enterprise solution with hundreds or even thousands of employees around the world. Whatever form it takes, the products, services and solutions are not normally something average consumers would use in their leisure time.
Traditionally, a B2B marketing strategy focuses on three high-level objectives – driving responses (like clicks, website visits, downloads and event registrations), generating quality leads for the sales team and closing the sale, whether directly through self-serve mechanisms online or by supporting the sales team.
As a result, a lot of B2B marketing uses the same approach and tactics to try to reach the buying committee or end user, including:
- Informational and rational messaging
- Product or feature-focused advertising
- Hyper targeting on select channels
- Content marketing like blogs, whitepapers, ebooks and infographics
- Organic search activity
- B2B email marketing
- Live (stream) events and webinars
- Case studies and customer testimonials
- Higher impact content like podcasts or videos
All of these tactics may have a place and be valuable for businesses to engage in. But according to Marketing Week, Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo from the LinkedIn B2B Institute say that being product-led or sales-led rather than marketing-led can lead to short-term thinking and reporting, which can result in marketing becoming a ‘sales support function.’
Their recommendation is for marketers to align themselves with the finance department, which is more focused on the longer-term commercial health of the company – which is what true marketing cares about.
The difference between B2B vs B2C marketing
We’ve established that the customer, the product and the use context are different for B2B companies than they are for business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. But when it comes to marketing, is there really a difference?
B2C marketing is often associated more with creative advertising campaigns that run across both traditional and digital marketing channels. The work is often more creative, with a human tone and personal touch.
There’s certainly less jargon, and there’s often a better customer or user experience when it comes to the brand, website, app or buying mechanism. And technology and B2B marketing data are being used in really interesting ways to personalise and automate the interactions between brands and their B2B customers.
In the past, it’s felt like there has been a lag of two or three years between what’s happening in the B2C space and when it finally reaches B2B. But that lag is definitely shrinking and B2B organisations are incorporating lessons from their B2C counterpoints in their activity.
How is B2B marketing changing?
A recent webinar hosted by Justin Keller from Drift, with guests Mike Barbeau from Shift Paradigm and Mike Kaput from Marketing AI Institute, looked at how the blurring of lines between B2B and B2C marketing can help businesses grow faster.
Know your buying committee
Keller said that today, over two-thirds of a buying committee has a millennial on it and that 30% of millennials are now senior decision-makers in a company.
Now, I tend to side with Mark Ritson and his position that generational marketing approaches are often bullshit. Research by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has shown that the two billion millennials born between 1981 and 2000 don’t necessarily want similar things or think in similar ways.
But I do think Keller has a valid point that how people buy, what they expect from a digital channel and what role technology plays in that process is changing. It’s worth doing some research to understand who is on the buying committee and what is important to them.
Use technology to enable the journey
In LinkedIn’s report, ‘Rethink The B2B Buyer’s Journey’, the data showed that 90% of the buyer persona’s journey may be complete before a prospect ever reaches out to a salesperson.
The rise of customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and marketing automation are driving a lot of this change and companies are having to adapt not only the buying process, but also how they use a B2B content marketing strategy, what role digital channels play and how sales and marketing teams need to align.
Put empathy at the heart of your marketing
Keller also made the point that, psychologically, we’re all feeling tapped out right now – both across B2B and B2C.
Take your pick of what’s exhausting us – the after-effects of the pandemic, navigating hybrid working environments, continued challenges with the supply chain, rising inflation and interest rates, geopolitical drama…
Most of us have hit the limits on the finite time and attention available to us, and we quickly tune out if what we encounter doesn’t immediately feel valuable, entertaining, interesting or resonate with us on an emotional level.
B2B marketers are responding to these broader changes by putting empathy first – truly putting themselves in their customers’ shoes to create a personalised experience and sensitive messaging that speaks to the current moment.
The shift to a privacy-first internet and how companies use first-party data can be part of this.
Kaput said that “personalisation isn’t necessarily about using what we know about you to customise your experience, it’s about treating you like a person. Sometimes context is all you need to know – you don’t need the granular details.”
With so much in flux, it might feel like B2B marketers need to rip up the playbook and start from scratch. But that’s not the case. We advocate returning to four fundamental principles and B2B marketing strategies that demonstrate how marketing and advertising really work.
Four B2B marketing principles to live by
1. Understand the 95-5 Law
A new study for the LinkedIn B2B Institute showed that, on average, companies change their service providers – ie. banking, legal advice, software, telecoms – every five years.
So only 20% are in-market for those services in a given year – 5% in a given quarter. The other 95% are not in the market at all.
This means that it’s even more important that B2B marketers adopt Les Binet and Peter Field‘s long and short approach to marketing. You should be putting the emphasis on long-term brand awareness and salience activity so that when those customers eventually come to market, they’ll be aware of your brand and you’ll be part of their small consideration set.
Remember, it’s about the ‘AND’ here. You need to layer long-term brand building activity for the 95% not in-market AND do your short-term sales activation to capture the 5% of customers who are in-market in a given quarter.
2. Invest in mental availability through brand building
Weinberg notes the irony that only 16% of marketers list “awareness” as part of their marketing objectives, and then they get upset when they can’t generate leads. He makes the excellent point that “no one wants to buy from a brand they’ve never heard of.“
Colin Fleming, the SVP of Global Brands, Events and Customer Marketing at Salesforce, agrees. He found a report that showed “two-thirds of the time, when a business decision-maker purchases software, they already have a brand in mind and 94% of the time, they stick with that brand. So if you’re not in the original consideration set, you’ll never be purchased”.
Mental availability is about “making your brand known and easily thought of in buying situations“. The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science has shown that growth comes by increasing the number of buying situations that are linked to your brand.
Rather than focusing your paid media ads or marketing content on your brand attributes, focus instead on buying situations – also known as category entry points.
You’re trying to tell people WHEN to think about your brand – through situational advertising that is clearly branded and reaches everyone in the category whether they’re in-market or not.
Remember Weinberg’s mantra: “easy to mind, easy to find in more buying situations“.
3. Focus on customer acquisition
There’s a myth some B2B marketers subscribe to that you don’t need to do customer acquisition. Lombardo shared that 65% of marketers believe loyalty is more important than acquisition.
Unfortunately, that’s now been disproven by marketing science. We now know that the fastest way to grow is through customer acquisition.
The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science released a new study that confirms the law of double jeopardy applies to B2B brands just as much as it does to B2C brands.
The law of Double Jeopardy recognises the fact that smaller brands have smaller customer bases that are slightly less loyal in their buying behaviours and their attitude. Alternatively, larger brands with higher penetration enjoy higher loyalty rates and better perception overall.
It’s growth that drives loyalty and perception and so the conclusion of Double Jeopardy means that you need to focus on bringing new customers into the business in order to grow.
4. Commit to creativity
In 2021, the LinkedIn B2B Institute, WARC and Lions worked together to analyse the effectiveness of ten years’ of B2B digital marketing campaigns and to replicate Lions and WARC’s B2C study to create the B2B Effectiveness Code.
They found that for B2B brands to grow, they need a better balance between short-term B2B sales activations and long-term brand building as we’ve talked about above.
They also found that overall effectiveness, penetration growth, market share growth and profit growth all improved as Creative Commitment increased.
Creative commitment is a composite measure of the media budget, duration and number of media channels applied to a creative campaign or initiative. B2B marketing plans and campaigns are more effective when they have higher spend, run for longer durations and are spread out across more media channels.
The recommendation to B2B marketers is this:
“Pursue higher levels of creative commitment – especially when it comes to brand building. Even when you have lower spend, use those other levers of increased duration and number of media channels to maximise the effectiveness of your campaigns.“
How can we help?
We love all forms of marketing here at Hallam, but I’m definitely partial to B2B marketing.
The businesses that will win big as we move forward are the ones who can pair the marketing fundamentals with the technological innovation to reach buyers in more relevant ways.
To find out how we can help you, get in touch today.