It has long been believed that the sexy bit of marketing is the consumer end. Most young ambitious marketers dream of rising through the classic ranks of brand management and one day winning a Cannes Lions for their ground-breaking work for one of the big FMCG giants or some other global superbrand.
As a result this end of the market tends to attract the super creative talent – those who I envisage to be the man-bun, black-framed spectacle-wearing geniuses who come up with those super clever Honda ads and spend 6 months of the year considering how to “win” Christmas.
Now don’t get me wrong…. I had some great fun making ads with the likes of Juan Cabrel during my time running marketing at Eurostar, but as someone who started out in B2B marketing and who has won awards for trade campaigns, I have always got turned on by B2B. Here’s why…
Busting the myth
The common misconception that people have, often even those in B2B marketing roles, is that B2B propositions have to be functional; that purchasing decisions involve logic and reason, facts, statistics and numbers. They are highly value-driven, controlled by budgets, and with multiple stakeholders.
IBM don’t talk about their capabilities they talk about improving business, society and the human condition, Oracle talk about helping people unlock endless possibilities and SAP talk about helping the world run better.
And all this is of course true, but the one compelling fact about making a high value purchase decision is that trust will play a major part and that will be about relationships just as much, if not more than functional capability. Buyers need to know if the shit hits the fan on a big deal, their partners will be there to help them out.
I cannot think of a client that we’ve worked with on the B2B side who didn’t start out their journey thinking what made them stand out in the market place was either their technical capabilities, their global reach or their experience in the category.
Ask a boardroom full of B2B leaders what their unique proposition is, and I bet you they’ll all say one or more of the above and/or all say different things. B2B businesses are rarely led by their brand yet, funnily enough, those B2B businesses who do take brand seriously, tend to fare better; A McKinsey & Company study revealed that strong B2B brands increasingly outperform weak ones by as much as 20%. The same study found that brand plays an important role in the purchase decision of business buyers so why are the leaders of B2B organisations not realising the value having a strong brand presence?
It always starts with the customer
Whether it’s in B2C or B2C, a compelling proposition is where an organisation can clearly express how its uniqueness meets the customer need. And as most service businesses are made up of people, most customer experience will involve interaction with those people (rather than sample a product) so being able to identity and deliver on a clear customer promise becomes even MORE vital than ever.
The first thing that needs to happen therefore is to understand what actually is driving customer choice. We do this by doing something completely outrageous that most B2B organisations would never dream of doing…. We actually ask them!
That simple question of “Why choose us” is such a basic yet incredibly powerful tool in developing B2B brands and it is so often the case that that choice is driven by factors that the client hasn’t considered. Rather than technical ability or breadth of experience, we have found that most frequently it’s the people that have sold the business so it becomes our job to identify, bottle and communicate the “special sauce” that this people experience is giving them.
People buy People
We all know people buy people – how often have you kept returning to the same hairdresser even if they gave you a mullet just because you love them (or is that just me?) Or employed someone completely under qualified because you felt that you would enjoy working with them and trusted their potential?
People buy Brands
We all like to believe that branding and marketing have no influence on us; but we’re kidding ourselves. As much as anything else, it’s just how the brain works. Consistency, Creativity, Emotion, Distinctiveness… they all make more powerful memories and associations in the brain. And what the brain remembers and understands, it trusts and gravitates towards.
Rocket fuel for growth
There are so many compelling reasons by B2B organisations should have brand at the heart;
- To act as a compass for all stakeholders to move in the same direction, all working together to turn the vision into action
- To energise, inspire and motivate the team to intuitively bring your desired culture to life without the need for guidelines and explanations
- To stand out in a crowded marketplace where everyone is saying the same thing in the same tone of voice
You could actually argue that it’s MUCH more important in the world of B2B to be able to identify what makes you unique in terms of purpose, experience and culture, because this is the thing that really differentiates you. If you build your sales and marketing around technical capability or breadth, as soon as the competition can match that you’ve lost your competitive advantage. No-one can copy or steal a unique culture.