In the world of marketing and communications, Business-to-Business and Industrial has always been the ugly stepsister of Consumer Package Goods marketing. Madman Donald Draper would never waste his creative energy to try and sell a pressure vessel to a petrochemical plant. And engineering-driven manufacturers have always been suspicious of marketing’s return on investment, and more focused on sales. But that was then and this is now. The new darling of marketing is B2B. Many marketing communications agencies on top today weren’t around ten years ago, and many legacy firms are falling behind. Because marketing communications is no longer just about creative design; it is about effective marketing that leverages the best of breed of the evolving digital tools. And B2B is at the forefront of this evolution. In case you need further evidence, just note the plethora of B2C agencies talking about how there is no longer a distinction between B2B and B2C; there is only H2H (human-to-human). They would like to blur the lines because they are no longer on the sexy side of the line.
They think your factory is sexy
So, why is B2B suddenly sexy? B2B is sexy because new digital tools along with the connectivity of the internet make marketing effective at driving sales. There has always been a divide between marketing and sales largely because of the inability of marketing to make the cause and effect connection between a campaign and an order. Now, marketing automation tools allow the tracking of a buyer all along the journey from information gathering to purchase. You can personalize your messages very efficiently to a very specific audience. With the abundance of instantly available content on the internet to support product research, 67% of the purchase decision is made before there is any interaction with a sales person. This makes it imperative that you get your marketing right: the right content to inform the buyer and establish you as a differentiated thought leader, the right tools to track and interact with the buyer, and a killer website that stakes out your definitive positioning on the competitive landscape.
Leave the donuts at home
It is particularly important that B2B and industrial marketers take this to heart because it reflects the new paradigm of how B2B/industrial products and services are sold. Geo Strategy Partners has completed research across a number of industries that has expressly demonstrated that buyers do not want to interact with salespeople unless they bring technical or application knowledge and specific value-add. You want to connect and engage with your customers, provide them value-added content online, keep up with their concerns on social media, track and react to them as they progress along the buying journey and be prepared to solve their problems rather than tout your product or service attributes. Sales calls that bring no value do more harm than good.
Content is king but the customer rules
Never before in the history of marketing has the customer wielded so much power. The internet has brought transparency into the purchasing process. Buyers can compare features and price instantly between suppliers. Content is ubiquitous and free. The challenge of comparing and selecting products and services has been removed. Buyers educate themselves and perform their own diligence. Social media reveals all sins. What’s the best strategy in this environment? Be transparent with your approach. Put it all out there to inform and educate your customers. Differentiate yourself by the usefulness of the content you provide to your customers. Good content is king. Bad content is just bad content.
The digital tool box
Our research at Geo Strategy Partners reveals that the most effective B2B marketers employ an integrated approach. Marketing cannot and should not be performed in silos. The strategic positioning and related brand positioning should provide the over-arching guidance for the marketing effort. Data is the common denominator among the initiatives and should be integrated and analyzed and used to drive forward the mix of marketing initiatives. High value and relevant content is the key marketing tool. Social media’s value in B2B is growing. LinkedIn is a clear leader, providing a credible platform for thought leadership and allowing use of personal connections as a means of introduction. Marketing automation now provides insight into the buyer’s journey so that campaigns can be personalized efficiently. The center of gravity for the entire effort is the website. It must clearly claim your company’s position on the competitive landscape and support all the interactive inbound and outbound initiatives.
Marketing is still marketing
The new tools for marketing do not diminish the value of the marketer, rather they make marketing increasingly important. The more transparent and competitive the marketplace, the more important it is to be clear and distinctive in your positioning and accurate and aligned in your marketing and sales initiatives. It has never been more important to get the fundamentals of marketing right. It is important to own a strategic positioning on the competitive landscape and to build a brand that reflects that positioning. This positioning can be based around one of three things but only one: 1) what you do that is unique; 2) the specific customer groups you serve; or 3) how you deliver value. Make your choice and stick with it. Develop a killer website. Tell your story. Give away valuable content; and track and respond to a potential buyer’s needs before he knows he has a need.
Mark Towery is Managing Director of Geo Strategy Partners, a B2B/Industrial focused market research and strategy consulting firm.