Branding your business is not just something to do for consumers: for some firms, business-to-business marketing is just as important – if not more so – than glossy consumer-focused campaigns found in magazines or online.
Companies such as Marks & Spencer, Virgin Media and donation website JustGiving are all working to get the message out that they don’t simply focus on communicating with the average Joe on the street. JustGiving, for example, is increasing its business-to-business work, after seeing a rise in the number of people who register on the site via their corporate, rather than personal, email addresses.
The consumer restaurant booking site Bookatable is ramping up what its business arm Livebookings does, focusing on providing more data to restaurants, some of which is so valuable that the company charges for the information. Bookatable is a standalone website where people can read restaurant reviews and book a reservation online; Livebookings is the technology that makes this happen – it also allows restaurants to manage reservations via their own website.
Gemma Carver, the brands’ group marketing director, says that having dovetailing strategies for its B2B and B2C arms can be lucrative.
“Using this approach seems to [be helping us to] buck the broader economic trend. Online bookings for restaurants went up almost 7 per cent between February 2011 and February 2012. Aligning B2B and B2C so closely has allowed us to accelerate that growth,” she says.
The number of restaurants that can be booked online is key to Bookatable’s success – there are 9,000 on the site – and the business is looking to increase its dining ‘inventory’ further.
“The restaurant inventory is key because unless you can provide consumers with enough variety and choice, they’re not going to be interested in using your site, so expanding that has been a focus. Between 80 and 90 per cent of the restaurants we work with using Livebookings are on Bookatable,” explains Carver.
Bookatable is not the only brand discovering that providing consumer insight to its business customers is important to its future success. It is also a growing trend for other organisations in a multitude of sectors. Website JustGiving also provides data to business brands – so much so that it has hired a team of three data ‘scientists’ over the past year to help grow its B2B arm.
The consumer side of JustGiving allows people to set up charity collection pages for their personal sponsored activities, but the more complex business side of the company works with the charities as well as corporate companies that want to donate.
JustGiving makes money whenever someone donates via its website – taking between 2 and
5 per cent of the value of the donation. But it also provides tools to charities, such as text giving, which might appeal to organisations that want to reach people who might not be online.
JustGiving head of marketing Romain Bertrand says: “We have a lot of data from the past 11 years and we can see the evolution in demographics and patterns and trends – there are new trends in religious giving, for example.
“Religious charities typically [work with] older age groups and are often small and have to work very hard. They might use JustTextGiving as it is easy to donate – so it is about understanding who these people are and then trying to develop technology that is really simple to use.”
JustGiving is pushing the B2B side of the brand, encouraging businesses to set up donation pages so that corporate fundraising activity can all happen in one place.
Vodafone, for example, is encouraging its several thousand employees to fundraise in the workplace and will match what staff raise. Bertrand claims: “We are not spending any money doing that, it is all happening through word of mouth and PR – we did a launch event and a press release – but it has spread organically.”
JustGiving is also benefiting from people’s need to spread the word about their fundraising efforts. He adds: “We asked whether people wanted to tell their colleagues about it and the answer was an overwhelming ‘yes’, so now when someone creates a page, they can link it with their company’s site, so we have been able to think about both sides.”
The donations website is looking to expand further afield but may need to approach individual markets differently. In some countries, such as the UK, Australia, Canada and the US, people are used to sponsorship and donations, while the Asia-Pacfic region is less mature.
Meanwhile, as Marks & Spencer expands abroad, so does its B2B arm. M&S for Business provides vouchers and incentives to clients looking to reward employees, sign up consumers to a service or help promote loyalty (see case study, above). It is looking at working in euros, which would support M&S’s presence in Europe.
M&S for Business has the advantage that its parent company is well known to consumers, which makes its vouchers more desirable. As John Bohan, head of sales at M&S for Business, explains, the company keeps in regular contact with its business customers to keep them up to date with the consumer promotions it is offering, such as Dine In for £10. It might also work with clients to put together deals on shirts, if the customer needs corporate clothing.
Similarly, Virgin Media Business has found that having such a famous brand name behind it has helped it become Virgin Group’s largest B2B brand. Head of marketing Jon Hexter says that using a Virgin tone of voice – putting its customers first and behaving like a challenger brand – encourages its B2B marketing to be clear and easy to understand.
“We like to bring the technology to life and are trying to cut through years of jargon and confusion. We try to use the Virgin tone of voice that our colleagues in the consumer business use, to try and cut through the technical language,” he says.
Virgin Media Business focuses on showing the benefits of its technology to the end consumer, whether it’s a citizen benefiting from the service it provides or a council, hospital or someone who buys from a large company.
Since Virgin Media rebranded from NTL Telewest, the business and consumer marketing teams have worked closer together – this year on video work telling the business division story. “We tried to bring in some of the consumer expertise and ask them how they would bring something to life to make sure we are being simple and engaging and not overly technical,” says Hexter.
The two divisions are also working closely to talk to different audiences about what they do. For example, they attended some of this year’s political party conferences in a bigger way than before.
“We have multiple stories we’d like to tell certain stakeholders – the consumer group wants to talk about broadband or TV and we want to talk about public sector procurement,” he adds.
As local and central government try to save money, public services are looking to procure services en masse, says Hexter. “We’re playing a key part in that and are working as a group to tell a common story, whether it’s to a local MP or authority.”
He adds: “We are trying to link our [marketing stories] so people understand the whole group and not just a piece of our business.”
M&S for Business
Marks & Spencer has long been selling its gift vouchers to corporate customers and everyday consumers and around five years ago, it set up M&S for Business to allow companies to procure a range of products for their organisations.
Having a strong parent company brand has helped the business-to-business arm to be successful – when corporate clients buy its vouchers, there’s a good chance that the recipients will be familiar with the company.
John Bohan, head of sales at M&S for Business, explains: “The geographical reach and the number of people we have walking through our doors are really important. Even if you’re not an M&S customer or don’t think you are, you’d be able to say straight away where your nearest store is.”
As well as reaching new clients through advertising and PR in marketing or HR trade titles, M&S for Business also uses professional social network LinkedIn to find potential new customers. Its sales teams can search for people in particular roles who may be interested in working with the brand.
Providing vouchers in new formats is also helping the B2B element of the brand develop its services. Hayley Santus, client relationship manager, adds: “We have different products to suit different companies, so that might include an egift card for example. Not many high street retailers have that, but it might suit [a company’s] target audience.”
For example, this type of electronically delivered incentive might suit a market research company that needs to reward people for taking online surveys, where sending out paper vouchers might not be suitable. Alternatively, paper vouchers might be preferred in a sector such as insurance, if it has an older clientele.
As well as being used to entice people to sign up to a service such as a Sky subscription – currently the TV service is offering a £100 welcome voucher from M&S by email – Bohan says that companies are also looking at how to retain customers. He says there is a trend towards companies giving smaller gifts to customers throughout the year rather than large lump sums, but that “organisations are spreading them across a 12 to 18-month period so people are reminded that they are treated well and therefore there is no reason to leave”. For example, BSkyB will give a £75 M&S voucher to existing customers who introduce a friend to the service.
M&S vouchers are also popular as staff rewards, especially since companies are less likely to be able to offer pay rises or bonuses in tough economic times. Bohan explains that treating employees well can often make a significant difference on the overall performance of the brand.
“For most organisations, it is about whether it is going to make staff feel more engaged and valued, whether it will reduce the ‘churn’,” he says. “The same companies come back to us [repeatedly] and that is the true measure of success.”