Why it is damaging to treat business and consumer communications alike

I feel compelled to respond to Gyro MD Nick Jefferson’s letter (MW 22 November) in which he claims that “people don’t divide B2B and B2C, so why should we?”

As a chief marketing officer, I find it ironic and rather disturbing that this letter should appear in the same issue as we read that 70 per cent of chief executives have lost confidence in their CMOs, and where ISBA, the CIM and many fellow CMOs are clearly signalling that marketing has been “too artistic”.

With the CMO Council saying that the CMO should be “the lead marketer, driving business strategy, owning customer experience and (here’s the key point again) translating the brand into business”, and the Fournaise Marketing Group report saying that CEOs feel that marketers “live too much in the brand, creative and social media bubble”, I have to say that too many creative agencies fail to understand the fundamental delineation between B2B and B2C, and that may be a key part of our problem.

Those B2B vs B2C fundamentals remain unchanged, and anyone who denies this is dangerously naive. Let’s look at just two that are rock solid:

Purchase power

First, in business, the money being spent is almost always a capital cost, with depreciation over three to five years, and the decision is rarely ever made by a single ‘decision maker’ but by collective influence and discussion (including procurement, the ‘user’ function, the chief financial officer and possibly the CEO). There is no ‘impulse buy’, no ‘pester-power’, no disposable income and certainly no unbridled ‘desire’. This is shareholder’s money and therefore a considered decision.

Sales cycle

Sales cycles are typically between six and 12 months, often longer. Roll-outs can take the same amount of time, and in-life usage can be between three and 20 years. There is almost always an incumbent supplier, with legacy, history and all the influence that goes with substantial tenure.

Just add these two together and then start to work on the how/when/why/who/where processes of not only winning new business, but sustaining annuity revenue over multiple fiscal cycles, through multiple channels, languages and so on. Then you can begin to see why Mr Jefferson’s position is out of touch with reality. Social media is not an excuse; it’s an enabler. It is very navigable if you are prepared to invest in the tools, turn data into information and act on it.

Ask yourself these questions to see the major differences between business and consumer campaigns: are there blurred lines of communication with business communications? No. Is business behaviour the same as consumer behaviour? No. Do business campaigns need to capture ‘desire’? No.

Of course, there is a place for great creative in this process; not just good creative but genuinely compelling, great, creative. But creativity that is out of context, and out of keeping with the way that business behaves does damage to our reputation and our budgets.

I agree that putting this into a box of either ‘at work’ or ‘at home’ is wrong. ‘Work is no longer somewhere you go’, after all and that’s why we have mobile strategies.

Perhaps what Mr Jefferson fails to understand is that our CEOs meet with our customers, through regular review meetings, personal one-to-ones, customer insight groups and at social events. Customers (especially a customer’s CEO) will proactively tell the supplier CEO what they “don’t get” from our marketing efforts. Every CMO hears the backlash from that kind of customer experience, directly from the CEO too.

Of course these audiences use social media for data gathering or for checking reputation but in terms of finding that the “lines between life and work are now so blurred it is no longer appropriate to talk about labelling communications as ‘business’ or ‘consumer’” is to fail to see that people actually do understand that difference. To say that the lines are blurred perhaps points to the need to get better data, get better insight and make the effort to see the line more clearly.

For some of us it is not blurred. IBM’s ad on page 9 of the same issue as Mr Jefferson’s letter points to the answer. It says: “CMOs used to try and shape customers’ desires; now they’re actually learning how to predict them”. Very well said, IBM.

Is there a question with regard to my own personal confidence rating? Well, it’s actually pretty high. I co-created the business strategy for our company almost four years ago, changed the go-to-market, created a new pricing strategy, built new propositions, launched the B2B social media-centric insight strategy (now a case study with Forrester) and refreshed the brand. The company was recently acquired for 12 times its earnings and with a market valuation almost triple that of where we started, giving us happy shareholders, CEO and chairman too.

One final thought: if a CMO fails, and is ejected as a consequence, then the downstream consequences ripple through the roster of agencies too. The CMO hires agencies, after all, and an incoming CMO changes the agencies. We need to be careful. These are difficult times and the less divided we are, the better chance we stand of doing the right work and getting the right outcome. We are in this together – and we need to try harder.

Nick Eades, chief marketing officer, Psion

Competition rules will help up our game

The IPM is to be congratulated for grasping the nettles of Twitter and Facebook promotions. Although online promotions look easy to run, too often marketers don’t think through the mechanics or give scant consideration to all that can go wrong. This frequently leads to disaster and undermines consumer trust in promotions generally as well as the brands involved. Clear guidelines explaining not only how to set up social media promotions as well as how to implement them safely and in compliance with the CAP code will be widely welcomed.

Jeremy Stern, managing director, PromoVeritas

Underestimate the mobile web at your peril

Your article ‘Don’t leave your mobile site to the IT guys’ makes it clear that mobile optimisation encompasses more than creating a site that fits within a mobile screen.

Businesses need to be making an impact by providing a site that is useable and relevant. But it also means understanding how the customer is using mobile – to browse, research or buy – and what the brand should look like on mobile.

And herein lies the problem.

The only way to decide what content or design works best for your customers is to ask them. The role of user experience (UX) now is to come up with a number of possible designs and content options and use real-time testing to find out which one people like best and which drives the most revenue.

But as with any technology in its infancy, best practice is sketchy and UX teams are often feeling their way.

Brands also need to consider that user ‘journeys’ are often multi-channel, so content needs to be consistently delivered across them.

A structured approach to testing to determine the relevant and appropriate business strategy across all channels, including mobile, is the key to an optimised experience and requires involvement from the all stakeholders in the business.

Tim Burge, director, Maxymiser