When it comes to digital B2B marketing, all that’s really required is the internet and a creative mind. And, while there’s a lot of commonalities between B2B and B2C marketing, those operating in each space will tell you, the tactics between the two are very different. Or are they? Monique McKenzie investigates.
In today’s technology-driven world, the boundaries between B2B and B2C – which have traditionally been separated – are disappearing. We’re entering a Business to Everyone (B2E) world where the two models are merging.
We know that B2B marketing is all about logic. B2B marketers want to deliver their message in a way that decision makers understand. But the problem is that there is often little emotion involved. Telling original, captivating stories is one of the best ways brands make people care, win customer loyalty and inspire a purchase. Given what the world has collectively been through in 2020, and as we continue to live through a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever for brands to empathise with businesses in a way that is authentic and believable. After all, people crave human stories.
The New Zealand B-to-B Marketing Report 2020 from TRA and Badger Communications sought to understand the New Zealand context of B2B purchase decision making, and how advertising and communications can play a more effective role. The report discovered that most B2B communications were called out as meaningless by their respondents. The research also showed that if brands want to get noticed, they need to get comfortable standing out.
TRA and Badger spoke with business decision-makers across six different industries from manufacturing to professional services, retail, construction, food service and supermarket buyers. This was augmented with further research into global best practices for B2B advertising effectiveness, and into changes that have occurred due to Covid-19.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, about 73 percent of B2B buying decisions are made by executives aged 20 to 35. Today, about two-thirds of the entire B2B buying process takes place online. And according to 2020 benchmarks from the Content Marketing Institute, B2B marketers are planning year-on-year increases of five to 10 percentage points in their use of content for functions such as brand awareness, lead nurturing and building loyalty.
In 2020, global B2B firms have also been announcing their entry into B2C markets. Leading B2B ecommerce firm Udaan planned to foray into B2C e-commerce through its new app Pickily, which offers FMCG products across different locations in India. ABB India recently announced its entry into e-commerce marketplace eMart, which will focus on serving both B2B and B2C segments. Tata Power has been looking to morph a pure-play utility into a customer-focused company that includes home automation and EV charging. Slack, one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies, has been using B2C strategies such as digital marketing and brand marketing campaigns to acquire B2B customers. The service-orientated leadership of Slack’s CEO Stewart Butterfield drove the firm to establish a dedicated customer experience team that listens to its customers and fine-tunes the service accordingly.
Firms that are transitioning into a B2E world are modifying their existing sales approaches and focusing on a multi-channel sales approach that includes digital channels, websites, and mobile apps.
The investigation into B2B communications has been growing internationally over recent years. The Google-CEB surveys (2015 and 2013) found that most B2C brands have emotional connections with somewhere between 10 and 40 percent of customers. On the B2B side? Seven out of nine of the B2B brands had emotional connections with more than 50 percent of customers. From a buyer’s perspective, B2B buyers are nearly 50 percent more apt to make a purchase where they see personal value, such as whether it poses an opportunity for career advancement. B2B buyers are eight times more likely to pay a premium where they feel this personal value is present. Only 14 percent of B2B businesses answered that they could “see a real difference between suppliers and value the difference enough to pay for it”. In 2018, the Gyro Business Feeling Index found that for 70 percent of respondents, a clear understanding of their needs contributed most to selecting a partner, and a lack of expertise was most likely to derail a burgeoning deal (64 percent).
A sense of humanity
Federation Managing Partner Elizabeth Beatty says that in New Zealand, there’s a real opportunity for B2B advertisers to entertain, engage and empathise with people, and not bore them with factual details. Beatty notes that a lot of work has recently come out of The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) in London which has helped to provide evidence in terms of the importance of emotionally driven advertising, and its effect on the bottom line.
“What I’m seeing here in New Zealand by the same token is a lot of organisations buy into that thinking intellectually, but when things start to get tough from a financial point of view, it’s almost like good intentions get put to the side and things end up in a space where there’s a fight to the bottom from a price point of view. So there’s a desire for emotional connections throughout media organisations and marketing activity, but it is periodic.”
She says one key difference between B2B and B2C is the buying journey. From a B2B point of view, it’s much longer than B2C.
“Often there are up to 10 different stakeholders involved at every stage in the buying journey, so the journey in its entirety is not only long, it’s very complicated as well. From a business point of view, once a decision is made to purchase, there probably is a need to have more rational back up to justify the purchase decision to bosses. Business people are very time poor, both in their personal lives and also their business lives. There’s a real need to capture their attention as well as really empathising with people in what can often be a very complicated buying process.”
Today, modern consumers expect fast, personalised responses through chat. It’s been more than 10 years since Alaska Airlines introduced the world to its virtual assistant, Ask Jenn. Queries were met with “I would love to help you, but I am not sure I understand your question. Could you please rephrase that for me?” Support chatbots have come a long way since then, and research from Intercom’s Chatbot Trends Report showed that in 2019, business leaders saved an average of $300,000 from chatbots. Chatbots increased sales by an average of 67 percent, with 26 percent of all sales starting through a chatbot interaction. Thirty-five percent of business leaders said chatbots helped them close sales deals. Business leaders said chatbots have increased their customer support satisfaction scores by 24 percent.
But for consumers, there’s room for improvement. Eighty-seven percent of consumers still prefer humans to chatbots for quick interactions. That said, 25 percent wouldn’t care if they’re talking to a human or a chatbot, as long as they get to their desired outcome. Satisfaction with chatbots varied by sector. B2C companies were twice as likely as B2B companies to be satisfied with their chatbot investments, perhaps due to the fact that B2C queries are generally more repetitive and less complex than B2B ones. The most satisfied industries were tech (73 percent), retail (67 percent), manufacturing (57 percent), and healthcare (56 percent). With 73 percent of consumers expecting to interact with a chatbot on websites, they’re absolutely the future of scaling business growth.
Beatty says that wherever possible, brands should be ensuring every touchpoint is used in a way that there is a sense of humanity.
“When it comes to BOTs, making sure that the conversation, tone and personality of the BOT has humanity in it is really important, but also understanding at what points in the customer journey face-to-face needs to be dialled up and other communications used to augment automation. We need to think about how we use other channels to really amplify what happens where people do have direct conversations, and that’s not just from a selling point of view, that’s also from an ongoing servicing view.”
In April, Spotify’s B2B arm looked to deliver a series of always-on digital campaigns to maintain market presence in ANZ, all under the B2B positioning of ‘Be Heard in the Moment’. The aim was to inspire brands, creative agencies and media agencies on the power of audio storytelling, and implement sponsored content targeted at senior professionals in the ‘marketing, media and communication’ function and ‘marketing and advertising’ industry. Spotify’s understanding of contextual moments through streaming intelligence allows brands to connect in relevant, real-time moments and deliver outcomes. Be Heard also reminded brands that even for video ads, Spotify remains a sound-on platform, setting their suite of multimedia solutions apart from the sound-off behaviour of others.
Squarespace’s 2018 Super Bowl campaign also stands out from a B2B point of view as it was not only entertaining and fronted by a celebrity, but also tapped into how the user would feel emotionally when developing a website. In it, Keanu Reeves stars in a series of three different ads, such as ‘Make It With Keanu Reeves’ and ‘Should You Make A Website? Here’s Why Keanu Reeves Did’. Squarespace teamed up with the actor in part because he had been an active Squarespace customer for some time. In one spot, Reeves rides a motorcycle down a dusty western highway, asking himself if he should make a Squarespace website for his motorcycle company. In another, he sits in front of a campfire and says that most people think making a website is difficult, “but they’re wrong.” The campaign effectively took cues from B2C advertising by pulling people in and connecting with them emotionally.
When it comes to cues B2B can take from B2C, Beatty says it’s important for brands to think of business people as exactly that – people. Although New Zealand brands should be thinking seriously about B2E marketing, she says there’s still a place for brands operating exclusively in the B2B and B2C spaces – depending on the size of the organisation.
“If you’re a small business owner, it’s not necessarily going to be a consideration. But when there’s a team in place, [B2E] absolutely dials up in its importance. Especially now in a post-Covid-19 environment where people are feeling vulnerable and uncertain about their futures, their experience and how they are made to feel can only pay dividends in terms of what they do for an organisation. It’s a key differentiator for organisations moving forward.
“Companies often talk about employing people who share the same values. Staff are a human manifestation of that brand thought. The opportunity from an external point of view is that team members really manifest what the brand is about in terms of driving business, so B2E is absolutely critical and absolutely something we should be focused on. It’s the glue between B2B and B2C.”
This article was originally published in the December/January 2020 issue of NZ Marketing. Click here to subscribe.