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Why I love B2B Marketing (and why it’s not a poor relation to B2C)

I just came across this article on Marketing Profs: How the Best B2B Marketers Think Like B2C Marketers: Five Strategies to Emulate

Normally I’d just accept that I’d lost 10 minutes of my life and move on, but it touched a raw nerve because it’s so far off representing the reasons why I love B2B marketing.

Where I disagree (and why I love B2B marketing!)

The whole premise of B2B learning from B2C is a bit of a contentious one. I heard somewhere that as many graduates now are going into B2B marketing as into B2C. We’re not a poor relation any more.

The mission of B2B marketers is to “create memorable brands out of some downright ‘unsexy’ products”. I don’t think that’s the mission any more (was it ever?). In fact, thinking like that is why Marketing doesn’t make it into the boardroom in B2B.

I think the general consensus about our mission now is that it’s to measurably support the successful growth of our businesses (brand may be one necessary factor, but it comes a long way behind ‘revenue generation’ for example). So as marketers we need to understand all the aspects of our businesses that affect revenue growth (propositions, markets, audience, sales processes…) and should be responsible for creating insights and strategies that no other part of the business can. You could argue that no-one gets a better all-round exposure to business than a B2B marketer.

And I’d argue with the claim that these are “‘unsexy’ products”. The products and services that B2B organisations provide are what make the world tick. They’re how supermarkets get the right products on shelves, the government collects taxes, mobile phone companies decide whether or not to give you a free upgrade. Maybe it’s a mindset thing, but if you see them as the hidden mysteries of the modern world rather than “unsexy products” then it suddenly seems a bit simplistic to tie everything back to the assumption that if we ‘create a brand’  then everything will be well.

I may be coming across as a bit anti-brand here, but that’s just because I believe that brand is the sum of every way that you interact with an audience, and that it’s just one factor that a buyer takes into account after you’ve done a lot of other hard work to get them to the decision-making stage.

The example that the article gives (a buyer choosing a soft drink for the office party) is too obviously one where brand can be a major answer. It’s an example where the buyer already knows their specific need and where the assumed reality is that all products are pretty much equal.

But we work in a world where (often) buyers may not know they have a specific-shaped challenge (let alone have a supplier in mind already), so there’s a lot of work to do upfront to create or shape their need. This is some of the most interesting and strategic work B2B marketers can do, and it’s a more complex challenge than many B2C marketers face. Of course, this upfront work does play a role in building a brand – or perhaps 'reputation' is a better way to put it – but brand building isn’t the end goal. 

Then there's the whole comment about B2B buyers being human too. Hard to disagree of course, but saying it doesn’t really add much anymore. In fact, so many people are saying it these days that we run the risk of going too far in that direction and forgetting how powerful/complex an influence the culture, objectives and results of a specific business can be. The best marketing is a blend of the “Person to Person” approach with some solid insight into the target business/sector and how people fit within it.

Yes, we’re not perfect in B2B

For the sake of balance, I think there are some things we can learn from B2C marketing that would only make B2B even stronger. But they’re not about ‘brand’ (although some of them contribute to building stronger brands). They tend to be about professionalism and discipline.

For example, Coke doesn’t stop marketing for 2 months each year while the next year’s budgets are agreed!

The one big advantage that B2C marketers have is they tend to be the ultimate owners of the audience relationship/insight. B2B marketers need to get closer to their markets if they want the same level of influence.

Then there's a point about consistency of campaigns (and not ignoring a segment for 6 months because “we’ve already done that campaign”). In fairness, this isn’t too far off one of the recommendations in the Marketing Profs article. I’d also add that in B2B we seem oddly driven by budgeting cycles to come up with new programmes every year or half year – whereas the most successful campaigns I’ve seen have been rolling for 2 or more years. Increasingly with content marketing and automation, you can create a campaign once and have it active for years at the right time for your audience.

And the final thing we could learn from B2C might be to be more proud of what we do. B2B marketers can get pretty defensive about their role/value (this article itself is probably a good example of that!). For all that B2C marketers are sometimes portrayed as near-satanic manipulators, at least there’s a respect and pride in their ability to influence consumers. I was at an event in Helsinki last week where 400-odd B2B marketers got together for an after summer party. Not something we can easily imagine in the UK (not such a sense of community), but at least there’s the B2B Awards to look forward to!