B2B marketers must take the lead in personalisation

With recent advances in technology, the ability to deliver genuinely personalised experiences to each and every customer is a reality. And this is an opportunity that B2B marketers need to embrace right now, says Matt Simpson, international business director at digital agency Zone  

When social media truly began to take off in the second half of the noughties, it was B2C marketers who grasped the nettle. While they did so, their B2B counterparts – with some notable exceptions – were mostly staring uncomfortably at their shoes muttering things about complex buying cycles and their customers not being on Facebook.

Nearly a decade later and, frankly speaking, B2B marketers are still trying to catch up – and that’s becoming increasingly difficult as they find that the expectations of their customers are shaped by the social experiences they have with B2C brands. 

I say all this because we’re at the beginning of a similarly seismic shift in the way businesses communicate with their customers and this time B2B cannot afford to be left behind. And that rumbling you feel beneath your feet is the personalisation earthquake.

Building personalised experiences
The concept of a single customer view and the ambition to deliver personalised communications off the back of it has been around for longer than social media. What’s changed is that there are now many more channels through which customers can interact with businesses, and there are increasingly advanced technologies available to help capture, organise and act upon those interactions.

Take this from Adobe, for example, which describes its Marketing Cloud suite of products as follows: 'We can help you bring together all of your data and content into a single place, so you can deliver the ideal experience to every customer, every time.' Its competitor Salesforce is banging the same drum: 'Turn your marketing campaigns into meaningful conversations with the 1:1 customer platform.'

The opportunity, then, is to employ technologies to combine transactional data (what customers have bought) with search data (what they’ve looked for), profile data (what they’ve told you about themselves), social data (what they care about) and contextual data (what current situation they’re in) and use it to drive actionable insights and deliver personalised experiences.

The challenge is this stuff doesn’t work on its own and the best personalised experiences are ones that combine technology with the subtlety and nuance that only a human hand can deliver. And, while in the B2C world there are a handful of brands having a good crack at this – the new the new McDonald’s app, for example, or TopShop at London Fashion Week – few can claim to be delivering genuinely personalised experiences on any scale. 

Take the lead
And there lies the opportunity for B2B marketers to take the lead. For B2B marketers are typically targeting smaller, tightly defined groups of decision-makers (and those who influence them) within organisations. It’s going to be easier to deliver personalised experiences to each of them than it is for Coca-Cola to do so for its billions of customers.

Moreover, those longer, complex buying cycles typical of the B2B world present an even greater opportunity for marketers to hone their understanding of their customers and use technology and data to deliver relevant personalised experiences throughout the journey.

To take advantage of these opportunities, B2B marketers need to firstly ensure that they are taking ‘big picture’ decisions when it comes to technology. What may be a quick win when it comes to launching a promotional microsite in advance of a new product launch will become a white elephant if you can’t then integrate the content and data captured into personalised landing pages, email, SMS or LinkedIn as part of your ongoing CRM strategy six months down the line.

Secondly, B2B marketers need to have an even greater focus on the quality of content. There’s no point in finding out everything about your customers if the personalised experiences you then deliver to them don’t resonate. And besides, personalised content that hits the wrong note – over-familiarity, mistimed sentiments – is likely to be viewed less sympathetically than the broader brush strokes of a TV ad or billboard.

So with a rigorous focus on integrated technology and the quality of content, B2B marketers could – and should – take the lead in personalisation. And this time they can do it before their B2C counterparts set the bar even higher.