Should B2B marketers adopt B2C strategies?

Should B2B marketers adopt B2C strategies?

As the trend for ‘human-to-human’ marketing accelerates, there is a clear pathway that B2B marketers can adopt.

Passcodes for B2B financial services technology firms tend to be rather dry affairs. The same is true of much marketing in the fintech world – indeed, in much of the B2B world. So B2B financial services technology firm Intelligent Environments caused quite a stir recently when it launched the world’s first emoji-only passcode.

“An emoji is far easier to remember and mathematically more secure than traditional passcodes,” says Hew Leith, CEO at 10x, the consultancy that invented and created the emoji. “It was highly commended at the recent Marketing New Thinking Awards.

It got the whole world talking and the client is now in discussions with its financial services clients to roll the technology out to their consumers within the next 12 months.

“Over the last few years we have seen more and more brands recognising the truth in what their agencies have been saying for some time – B2B marketing has much to learn from B2C. Business people are consumers too, and believe it or not, some FTSE CEOs have a life outside of business. It's not business-to-business or business-to-consumer anymore; it's human-to-human.”

This is not an entirely new phenomenon. It has always happened to some extent with forward-looking marketers seeking to learn from outside their immediate circle, but there is some evidence that B2B buyers are increasingly exhibiting consumer behaviour and that this is accelerating the process.

For example, business buyers are making ever greater use of online research channels before committing to purchases. In fact, according to Acquity Group's 2014 State of B2B Procurement Study, only 12.4% of the 500 business procurement professionals surveyed prefer to speak with sales representatives in person when making purchase decisions; 31.6% would rather research and purchase online and only call sales if they experience any issues.

Another interesting finding in the study was that 61% of B2B buyers would increase their online spend if it were easier and more convenient for them to browse and purchase items from vendors' websites. B2B buyers experience personalisation, convenience and multichannel options when shopping as consumers, and increasingly they expect a similar experience when spending their business budgets.

Finally, it seems as though the practice of seeking peer recommendations before booking a holiday, downloading a film, or ordering any new gift is filtering into the B2B purchasing sphere. According to Demand Gen Report's 2014 B2B Buyer Behaviour Survey, 53% of the 150 B2B buyers surveyed said they rely on peer recommendations when making a purchasing decision. This had risen from just 19% in 2012.

How to react

So, what can B2B marketers do to respond to this shift in behaviour by their target audience? What can they take from their consumer counterparts?

Sarah Traill, VP of Brand, Digital and Communications at Thunderhead, believes B2B marketers need to look at how their consumer counterparts use technology. “Marketers need to embrace scalability and actionable insights,” she explains.

In the same way as their counterparts, they can personalise, deliver a convenient multichannel experience and become more active on social media to build social media advocates. However, for most experts the key is to acquire a more human face. As Traill puts it: “When building a B2B brand it is vital to demonstrate personality, passion and compassion, and be really creative. It is important to stand for something and let it shine through all you do, from email campaigns to lead generation, events to content, and everything in between.

For example, technology giant HP humanised itself through storytelling – HP Sprout makes itself relatable through concepts like hands while demonstrating that people at the company are passionate about what they do and believe it is important. Meanwhile, Dropbox illustrates emails on fairly dry topics with doodle art and uses casual language, including everyday words and phrases. Video, in particular, provides a lot of scope to demonstrate personality, passion and compassion.

Traill concludes: “When I think of B2C I think of endless possibilities and brands that ooze personality. When I think of B2B, the word ‘dry’ generally springs to mind. This needs to change.”

Interested in B2B marketing and how to engage with today’s business customer? Sign up to our course on The Modern B2B Customer, and discover the different buyer types and how to influence them. 

Alex Blyth Freelance Journalist CPL
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