In a world fixated on changing consumer behaviour, there’s been an enduring assumption that how brands sell to business audiences has not and will not change. Wrong. From the influx of social media usage, the rise of the visual web and a truly mobile first approach to just about everything, consumer trends are influencing the B2B buying process like never before.
So do we really know who today’s new B2B buyers are, and how best to attract their attention?
Perhaps surprisingly, European research from Google has found that modern day B2B buyers are considerably younger and more digitally savvy than ever; in fact, 40% of European researchers are aged between 18 to 34. At one end of the spectrum lie buyers who are complete digital natives and don’t know a world without mobile. At the opposite end are buyers who have witnessed with their own eyes the recent digital evolution and adapted with the times.
There is no doubt that B2B buyers are becoming younger and more commercially aware in their approach, but making a business purchase is still a well-researched and considered decision. Often the sales cycle is long, comprising multiple stakeholders. So how can PR help a brand to capture the attention of buyers (and researchers) and be included in the shortlist of one or two vendors, or how can they insert themselves into the sales cycle once it has already started?
Overall, brand consistency must be a priority when creating a good customer experience. It is the responsibility of B2B communicators to acknowledge that the customer’s experience of the brand is equal to the importance of its products and services, delivering engaging customer service initiatives, efficient ecommerce platforms and intensive customer research to accurately predict the future preferences and needs of B2B buyers.
But how does this work in practice, when communications are coming from many different areas of the business?
With 18% of companies saying that digital marketing is separate from the rest of the business and other marketing functions (according to data from Econsultancy), it’s clear that B2B brands still tend to approach communications in silos (such as the ‘mobile team’ or the ‘social team’) – they’re not integrated. The problem with this approach is that customers expect to interact with brands across multiple devices and platforms. If the approach is siloed, the customer journey is disjointed.
“B2B marketers need to stop selling and start inspiring – bringing more emotion into content production, rather than just promotion”
At a recent event hosted by Nelson Bostock Unlimited, Tony Mays, European PR director at AVG Technologies, agreed that many organisations have some work to do to fully integrate PR and marketing functions in order to drive a consistent customer journey. For Tony, the solution lies in addressing the culture of the business, particularly regarding content creation, rather than trying to control all of the content and messaging around the business centrally. B2B brands need to learn to relinquish more control to their customers and stakeholders across the organisation. This process of breaking down barriers to content creation, he argues, will ultimately lead to far richer and more meaningful output from the brand.
According to Econsultancy, Barclaycard has made a successful transition into a ‘brand publisher’, creating content across multiple channels for business customers, by more closely aligning its marketing functions around a common purpose. In a competitive market, the brand is continuing to focus on content creation rather than revolving around product-led initiatives. Barclaycard is a great example of a brand that refuses to be boring, and genuinely understands that its customers prefer relevant human interest stories and that B2B marketing doesn’t need to be overly corporate in tone.
B2B brands need to remember that they sell to people. As a result, many of the tactics around B2C communications and marketing strategy can be applied in a B2B context. To create engaging and interactive content, put yourself in the shoes of the new B2B buyer audience, understand their challenges and build a campaign around those insights. There are many B2B brands getting it right by creating content that isn’t self-serving and can be repackaged to fit across all stages of the sales cycle to ensure consistency in messaging and customer experience.
European data centre provider TelecityGroup won several awards for its integrated approach to PR and content marketing with its ‘Telecities: It’s Hot in Helsinki’ campaign, created by Nelson Bostock Unlimited. The campaign elevated its story beyond data centres and instead focused on what they enable in Europe – providing the backbone for the most innovative businesses and organisations across the continent. By telling stories about exciting digital hubs and innovative young companies, TelecityGroup reached new audiences and showed how data centres are at the centre of business transformation and growth today.
GE is another great example of a brand that is prepared to push boundaries. Known for building jet engines, the company celebrated its involvement in NASA’s moon mission by creating a high-top trainer based on the footwear worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they landed on the moon 45 years ago. GE already has a sizeable presence on social media, but it took a risk and stepped outside the box when the company launched its first dedicated Snapchat account, as well as a microsite for the products, combining digital and real-world marketing. It is the perfect example of a B2B brand being brave with its marketing to highlight how some of its advanced materials have industrial and scientific applications.
B2B brands need to be braver in their approach and be prepared to experiment by investing in new channels and strategies that help them stand out from the crowd. Brand and message consistency across all platforms and at every touchpoint must also be a priority to create an invaluable customer experience. To achieve this consistency, B2B brands need to have a cross team approach and a collaborative company culture.
At the same time, content should not be produced for content’s sake. B2B marketers must stop selling and start inspiring – bringing more emotion into content production, rather than just promotion. Clear communication, both internally and with agency partners, combined with technologies that help bring channels and content strategies together, are the key to success. The business of B2B communications is changing, and it’s crucial that PR and marketing professionals not only keep pace, but also try to stay one step ahead.