5 steps, questions and actions for thinking different in B2B marketing
In my last post, I wrote about three fallacies that are currently dominating our thinking in B2B marketing. In fact, last year Adobe did a study where they found that an astonishing 76% of marketers feel that marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the previous 50.
But wait a minute, change always happens. We may be working in a commercial landscape that seems to have shaken B2B marketing to its core, but what has actually changed?
Let’s put this into perspective.
Before the vast changes in technology that led to the ubiquity of ‘digital’, marketing was all about our organisations and what we sell, pushing out our messages to a largely passive audience through what were primarily broadcast and print channels. This built awareness of our brands - which were represented by a single corporate spokesperson who was the voice of that brand - and enabled our organisations to control both the medium and the message for our brands.
Today, it’s our customers who are in control. Our B2B customers have brought their consumer buying behaviours into the business world. The sheer amount of information that they’re able to access across such a wide variety of channels combined with the rise of social media within B2B means that our customers are not simply passive receivers of our messages anymore and they are certainly no longer silent.
We know all this. But how are we responding? There is a fundamental shift in how we need to think about marketing – but not a fundamental change in marketing itself.
Digital is now such a pervasive part of our lives that we’ve got to stop worrying about where digital ends and so-called ‘traditional’ marketing begins. Our customers don’t care, they seamlessly move from online to offline and back again. Digital has, in effect, become invisible, like electricity, powering our world, taken for granted.
Sure, we have a lot of new channels, and a whole host of new tools, all of which makes marketing a lot more complicated and interesting. But we’re concentrating on the wrong things. We’re concentrating on the tasks and the technology in and of themselves, instead of their relevance to marketing; in other words, how these new tools enable us to better communicate with and engage our customers.
Thinking different about B2B marketing
Before we can do or be different as B2B marketers, we must first think different. And yes, I am appropriating the headline from Apple’s iconic campaign of 1997. For two important reasons:
- As B2B marketers, we can and must continue to learn from the B2C world. although Apple’s 'Think Different' campaign is, incredibly, now 20 years old, it remains a masterclass for marketers in the fundamentals: strategy, brand and customers.
- Tactics are for the moment, ideas are forever; this campaign has become iconic precisely because it powerfully illustrates how the best marketing is about ideas that are lasting and compelling.
But thinking different is not easy, it involves both time and effort, and it can be exhausting as well as very uncomfortable for many of us. It means questioning the accepted norms for marketing within our organisations and that ultimately means questioning our own expertise, even admitting that there may be many things we don’t know. Importantly, it means not simply accepting the obvious and easiest, but working hard to ensure we are exposed to multiple perspectives instead of merely those which validate our existing thinking.
So where do we even start?
The first step is to take a conscious decision to think different about B2B marketing. We can start with these five steps:
- Schedule thinking time – for ourselves and together with our teams, on a consistent and regular basis.
- Think big - outside of our marketing silos, about the big issues we’re facing as B2B marketers.
- Listen well – we need to take people along with us and give everyone a chance to contribute.
- Take responsibility – don’t make excuses, we must find and implement practical, workable solutions to overcome the challenges that are stopping us.
- Be accountable – as individuals and as teams for making specific change happen.
Then we need to ask ourselves five very tough questions and take five actions off the back of them:
- How well do I know my customers? Don’t make assumptions about your customers; don’t assume that you know who they are or what their needs and issues are. Talk to your salespeople and find ways to talk directly to your prospects and customers.
- Do I understand how my customers buy? Again, don’t make assumptions. Talk to your salespeople; consider everyone involved in the purchase decision as well as their influencers.
- Am I marketing at my business or with my business? Marketing should not happen in a vacuum – talk to the wider business; engage and proactively partner with sales and others to align objectives and agree marketing activity and plans.
- Am I focusing on the right things? Don’t obsess about the latest marketing fads; focus on what’s of value to your business and your customers, and hold every marketing activity to the same measurement standard.
- Does this matter? Ask your business, ask your customers, and clearly articulate the outcome you want to achieve. Agree this with your leadership.
Hmm, looks like there might be a theme emerging here.
I delve further into these issues and more in my new book – B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement – now available to pre-order from Kogan Page publishers and Amazon everywhere.