It’s a debate that has raged for decades and while B2C companies like P&G and Lever Bros may hold the distinction of having invented modern brand marketing, I’d argue the differences between B2C and B2B marketers are blurring every day.
With the near-universal adoption of internet-based communication channels marketers in every organisation now have the opportunity to connect directly with their customers, to build and nurture relationships and to co-develop their brand’s future direction.
Today, marketers and sales teams armed with unrestricted internet access and the creativity to provoke online engagement from potential buyers can generate leads without even leaving the office (or the sofa, if you’re lucky enough to work from home every once in a while).
In our super-connected digital age it’s easy to forget, that it wasn’t always this simple. A few years ago, the only way to locate the key influencers in prospect organisations was to hire a crack team of sales people to get inside the company and sniff out any revenue opportunities. Of course, those well-tested techniques still have a role to play, but the digital marketer is also armed with an arsenal of online targeting tools and a multitude of exciting channels through which to build relationships directly with customers and prospects.
And that’s one reason why being a B2B marketer in an online world is so much fun. Even the biggest B2B companies make the majority of their sales through a small number of key decision makers. From extensive research we now know 100 per cent of B2B decision makers are human beings, which means almost all of them regularly access the internet and carry connected devices as they go about their busy lives. So, if you’ve got something interesting to share with these few highly influential people and can deliver it through the communication channel of their choice, why wouldn’t they want to connect with you in some way? It’s a win-win, a no-brainer, a slam dunk!
But here’s why B2B marketers are the biggest winners in our digital age. If you’re working efficiently, your customer base is small and distinct enough that you really can build meaningful online relationships with most buyers. You’re selling specialist products to specialist buyers; being in a niche affords you invaluable distinctiveness in an online world dominated by generic content. Try doing that if you have to sell more than a billion chocolate bars every year; it’s simply impossible for most B2C marketers to operate with the same efficiency.
And there’s one other crucial reason why the digital world has helped B2B marketers: the opportunities to be creative are the same for everyone using online platforms. For example, every Facebook page looks exactly the same when you create it. It doesn’t matter if you’re General Electric or John the electrician, how you present yourself through online platforms is entirely up to you. And, before you shoot me down, I accept that those who have the biggest marketing budgets are likely to have a better chance of being noticed, but the starting point is exactly the same. If you’ve got some great ideas and creative vision, you really can compete with the big boys within your chosen niche.
But what’s the role of branding in a digital age? If we can now reach out across cyberspace and connect directly with the right people with such ease, do we still need a brand? Could the brand soon be obsolete in a world dominated by Google searches and one-to-one digital connections?
I wouldn’t be doing my job as a chartered marketer if I argued brands have no place in the world. Of course, brands remain essential signposts in a frenetic world. Brands help buyers cut through the clutter, they can evoke appropriate emotional responses and speed buying and repeat purchase decisions. Their importance today is greater than ever before.
In my new training course
‘Brand Building in the Digital Age’
I’ll be exploring the role of branding in B2B organisations, examining the differences between demand generation and brand development campaign approaches, and exploring how we can protect and strengthen our brands through digital channels.
The first session will be in London on 17th November and you can find out more and book your place here.
It’s time to ditch the debate about whether B2B or B2C marketing is more important. With so much opportunity to connect directly with business buyers there’s never been a better time to be a B2B marketer. So, what are you waiting for? Dive in, the water’s lovely!