The forgotten paradise, the less popular sibling, the last kid to be picked in team sports, the milk bottle of the Allen’s party mix.
There’s no denying that B2B marketing has been neglected in our industry. The attention instead being lavished on the flash and drama of B2C. Until now that is. Over the past few years, there’s been a perceptible shift in the way business communications show up at the marketing table.
Why? Largely necessity. A proliferation of B2B brands investing almost exclusively in performance marketing, combined with a surfeit of overwhelmingly functional, product-led messaging resulted in a sea of sameness… particularly on digital platforms (Source: Content Marketing Institute, 2020).
To overcome the clutter, leading B2B brands have begun to challenge many of the suppositions that have informed marketing approaches thus far.
Chief amongst them are the notions that business related communication needs to skew rational over emotional, that performance channels are the most effective means of delivering sales objectives and - crucially - that business decision makers behave differently from everyday consumers.
Myth 1: Business advertising must be, well, “business like”
Scroll through LinkedIn on any given day and you’ll almost certainly be served a couple of B2B ads. Chances are the majority won’t be particularly distinctive, instead favouring product-centric messaging and corporate design cues. Flowcharts enjoy a noteworthy amount of time in the spotlight.
In contrast, the B2B brands that stand out are those that leverage and purposefully adapt B2C marketing cues to make some noise.
Take the likes of Westpac. As LinkedIn’s Prue Cox called out, Westpac’s recent activity on the platform supported a video asset that focused on SME businesses across Australia and the everyday moments where the bank could potentially support them.
This focus on storytelling and emotional cues represents a significant departure for B2B and it’s one that an increasing number of marketers are noticing, if not seizing immediately with both hands.
New B2B Marketer research released in the lead up to Cannes has found that 87% of B2B marketers agree that B2B purchasing decisions are just as emotionally driven as B2C. Yet, only one third are harnessing storytelling, emotion and humour in their campaigns (Source: LinkedIn B2B Marketers, 2022).
This intention-action gap represents a prime opportunity for B2B brands to get ahead of the competition by focusing on how they can use B2C fundamentals to start connecting in more meaningful ways with their audience.
Myth 2: Performance channels for business performance
Traditionally, B2B marketing has favoured digital channels that afford opportunities for intent and sector-based targeting. And this delivers when it comes to driving short-term sales results but works less well for longer-term brand building.
Recent research released by Ehrenberg-Bass further challenges this myopic focus, suggesting that, in focusing on digital media alone, brands are unlikely to capture the full opportunity. The paper - an evolution of the pivotal ‘How Brands Grow’ focused on B2B marketing - suggests that only 5% of a potential business customer base is likely to be in the market at any given time. (Source: How B2B Brands Grow, 2022).
This is due to a number of factors, most notably the infrequency of the average business purchase cycle and the length of time required to then have the key stakeholder make that purchase decision.
The implication for marketers is that the overwhelming majority of future customers aren’t likely to be in-market at any given time, meaning sales-focused, performance media marketing will miss them or, worse still, fall on deaf ears.
Instead, it’s suggested that 95% of the focus should really be on building mental availability amongst future consumers through the likes of broad-reaching, high impact media.
A recent example that put this theory into action was Australian insurance company CGU’s ‘Tall Poppy’ campaign. Making use of a full suite of broadcast channels from FTA TV to 3D Large Format OOH, the activity overwhelmingly focused on building the CGU brand in consumers’ minds through distinctive, highly branded work. The intention being that this would ultimately make it more likely that CGU is the first brand consumers think of when they are at that point of purchase.
Myth 3: Everyday consumers are from Mars and business decision makers are from Venus
Underpinning both of the aforementioned myths regarding business marketing is the entrenched belief that business decision makers are somehow mutually exclusive from the everyday consumer when it comes to drivers of purchase.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite, at least at a marketing effectiveness level. As the Ehrenberg-Bass work has shown, the determining factors when it comes to business purchase decisions are consistent with those of an everyday purchase decision; it’s largely contingent on a combination of mental and physical availability.
Orlando Wood’s definition of how mental availability is created summarises this well. As he says, “the kind of advertising that creates and establishes great brands intuitively understands the nature of the right brain – which understands metaphor, understands humour, understands music, all the things that create great brands that alert us to the advertising, to the work itself and to the brand.”
This is applicable for both audiences.
What is different for business consumers though is the category entry point or “CEP”.
It’s not enough to simply talk about the brand. To really make your message stick, the brand needs to appear in ways that are intrinsically linked with the category. And one of the most impactful means of doing this is through storytelling in high impact channels (Source: Romaniuk, 2022). In doing so, we start to build a world around our brand that makes it more memorable.
For business, this might look like including vignettes and images that are reflective of your target consumer and their workplace. It might be tapping into the sentiment of the category to inform your messaging and tone. Or it might even be understanding when business decisions are discussed and focusing media around those times.
LinkedIn CEO, Ryan Roslansky, expands on this. He says, “The ad industry understands so well how households buy washing powder and breakfast cereal. But you need to learn to understand how IT managers buy CRM software or cyber security systems, understand the issues facing business managers and leaders the way you understand the issues facing households.”
In other words, by linking your brand with these category entry points (CEPs), it will ultimately be viewed in ways that are more relevant and, at times, even more resonant.
So, what’s the takeaway?
In some ways, this is a bit of a love letter to B2B marketing. To the nuance it captures, and the potential it represents. We’re teetering on the brink of a tremendously exciting opportunity. But who are the brands most daring and who will win?
For those working in the space, there are three key things to remember;
Emotion and storytelling are not the reserve of B2C brands and using them in B2B marketing in the right way will deliver results
If you’re only playing in conversion-focused performance media, you’ve joined the party after everyone’s left. Instead, think about building future memory structures - visualise how the party was before it’s even begun - that will ensure you predict and prime your audience ahead of the curve and your competitors
Remember that B2B and B2C are arbitrary labels for consumers. You can be both. And that means a lot of the marketing effectiveness theory from B2C work is applicable in B2B too. If you can use this science and link it with relevant Category Entry Points, you’re already halfway there.