When marketing icon Rick Segal argued B2B marketing is “dead” in his speech at a B2B conference in Berlin over a year ago, those in the industry were stunned. How could the president of the global marketing firm gyro make this statement? After all, his entire business of the past 30 years has been founded on business-to-business (B2B) marketing, a concept he’s helped cultivate since 1981.
But if B2B is dead, does this mean businesses will no longer do transactions with each other?
“It’s not that salespeople or sales support have become irrelevant, it’s that so many of the messages they are carrying to the marketplace are humanly irrelevant,” Segal says. “The myth that has been busted is that business decision making is entirely rational. It’s not. It’s exceedingly emotional, and as living, breathing human beings have been empowered with computing and telecommunications technology on their persons, their emotional needs matter more than ever.”
The view of B2B being based on logic and selling to a faceless company is dead; instead, B2B is shifting to be more about selling products to the people in a company, seeing the company as not one uniform entity, but as a being comprised of individuals with individual needs and emotions. Segal’s approach emphasizes tapping into the human need, igniting emotions in the business decision makers, to create effective marketing.
B2B Revived with a B2C Approach
B2C (business-to-consumer) has always focused on the human relevance aspect of marketing, especially understanding testimonial selling, to keep up with a fast-paced market and keep consumers engaged. The B2B world also is moving with network velocity, and to keep its professional consumers engaged, it needs to integrate B2C concepts.
Billy Mitchell, president and senior creative director for B2B marketing agency MLT Creative, believes B2B marketers can gain a lot by utilizing B2C marketing tools, including design standards, production values, storytelling techniques, creativity, and smart examples of social media marketing. So should B2B marketers transform into B2C marketers? Mitchell says no: “I don’t think a company should do that. In fact, they should embrace an enthusiasm and passion for B2B marketing. B2B can be just as creative and engaging as B2C.”
A recent example of engaging B2B with B2C flair was General Electric’s 2012 Super Bowl Ad. GE boasts, “We make the power that makes the beer.” The commercial speaks to both consumers (the beer lovers) and businesses (the beer brewers), as both benefit from GE’s services. By saying we’re all in this together, GE shows the human relevance to their business.
“B2B marketers can certainly learn from and be inspired by B2C, but they must deeply understand B2B,” Mitchell says. “If you don’t enjoy meeting with your inside and field sales teams, understanding your customers’ businesses and your customers’ customers, etc., you may not belong in B2B marketing.”
B2B + B2C = H2H
The key element in both B2B and B2C marketing is connecting and building relationships with both current and prospective customers. Again, it comes down to selling to a person with a unique face rather than just a company name.
At many social media conferences, Mitchells says the current word is that it’s not about B2B or B2C, it’s about H2H, human-to-human.
“It seems that world-class marketers everywhere have awakened to the fact that, today, we are communicating with living, breathing human beings with aspirations, spirits and emotions,” Segal, president of gyro, says. “We’ve always known that business-to-business, at the end of the day, was person-to-person.”
This is where marketing tools such as direct mail, email, and variable data printing come into play, personalizing messages that will speak on a professional level but include the needs of the individual business buyer. Or perhaps creating PURLs or QR codes designed specifically for the B2B customers, using elements of the ones created for B2C audience but with different elements, which customize the interaction to be specifically B2B.
Or tell a story, like GE’s commercial, showing how our company helps your company helps the customer. By showing how each business positively affects the other, how each contributes to a bigger picture to help the consumer, the focus is on the human aspect, not just making a sale. Combine both B2B and B2C perspectives in your social media content, and your marketing will be more effective.
Segal agrees, “…what the world’s savviest marketers seem to have appreciated quickly is that personalization was the last best practice. No longer is it enough to understand the requirements of a person in a job title to be successful in influencing him to make a purchase consideration. No longer is it enough for an advertising planner to get into the head of a business decision-maker. With the amplified voices and the new organizational empowerment of these humans at work, successful marketers must get into their hearts.”
Whether or not you agree B2B is dead, it’s critical to note that the industry and its consumers are changing – and so are their needs.
“Change brings unexpected opportunities. With so many tools now available from B2B marketers, I can’t imagine why any business wouldn’t always be looking for opportunities to improve their marketing,” advises Mitchell. B2B marketers must adapt a “never quit learning, always be testing” mindset to keep up with an industry that never sleeps.