Moving beyond being seen: Driving interaction and the new landscape of B2B experiential marketing

B2B has traditionally been a landscape dominated by SEO, data algorithms and cold-calling. Data from the B2B industry itself shows that the majority of a B2B buyer’s journey is complete before a prospect even speaks to an actual person. This is great if you are repeat-buying, but what if you aren’t quite sure of what you need? What if require a more tailored solution? What do you really know about the company that you are buying from? 

While the B2B landscape is becoming increasingly digitised, it is also mirroring the consumer sector, with people now demanding digital convenience when they want it, but a contradictory desire for ‘digital detox’ fuelling the need to engage in real interactions and experience-driven relationships. Now, more than ever, creating experiences and encouraging interactions both online and in the real world, is critical to the success of B2B businesses, and is driving some of the key trends in experiential B2B marketing.

Stop creating your event; start curating their event

The rise of personalisation and the need for interaction are changing traditional demonstrations. At the annual EventTech conference in Las Vegas, IBM refocused its demonstration strategy, creating a pod of tablets and screens where delegates could engage in meaningful, hands-on experiences. Encouraged to play freely with the latest products, IBM facilitated an experience significantly more personal, immersive and compelling than a company representative presenting new features on a slideshow.

But it’s also about much more than touching and playing with new products. From building your own playlist of conference talks that you’d like to attend, to identifying networking opportunities and even interacting with speakers through on-screen text programmes, tailored, personal digital interaction is expected. It’s no longer about creating your own event, but curating a personalised experience for every attendee.

The rise of B2B ‘don’t just take our word for it’ marketing

It’s not what you tell people; it’s what your customers say. Brands such as Airbnb, Uber and Tripadvisor have made consumer reviews a crucial and prominent element of their business model, tapping into the insight that users of a product, brand or service are more trustworthy promoters in the eyes of other consumers. And this digital democracy is now a vital component of B2B strategy: 84% of B2B buyers say that word of mouth is the most important influence on their purchasing decisions.

B2B businesses now need to use social listening tools to understand the conversations their customers are having, take insights on board and be part of the conversation. This can then be used to build advocacy and social programmes that encourage and celebrate customer feedback, which in turn can further amplify WOM, leading to more leads, sales and revenue opportunities.

The currency of trust

Trust has never been a more important decision-making factor for buyers: the importance of physically demonstrating your brand values and purpose for customers is key, and has led to a new approach for company events. JLL were early adopters of this trend some 10 years ago, creating the JLL property triathlon. Now the second largest one-day UK triathlon, it has raised over £1.7million for charity.

Events that allow companies to engage with representatives outside of the office are proven to foster deeper connections, foster a better understanding of a business and its people. B2B sponsorship spend is moving away from the traditional ‘badging exercise’ and evolving into experience-driven brand-building exercises, such as Deloitte’s Ride Across Britain, an organised bike ride from Land's End to John O'Groats over nine days with a push on corporate packages.

The B2B sector is also seeing an increasing influx of millennials as the new workforce grows, leading to a growth in more networking-focused events, such as hackathons, or events like Google Firestarters, allowing businesses to work collaboratively in ways that foster stronger relationships.

In a world ever-driven by advancing technology and the demand for immersive experiences, the need to ensure we cultivate meaningful human interaction has never been greater, or held more opportunity. B2B marketing has an exciting remit to drive a step-change away from the old ways, and lead with innovative new experiences in the quest to engage and win over its customers.