This month, we are delighted to share a guest post from Tim Williams, Planning Director at FourForty: The Expectation Agency™. Thank you, Tim!
Business to business (B2B) marketing is often considered to be fundamentally different to its consumer (B2C) cousin. Rather than seeking to persuade an individual (who is often both consumer and decision-maker) of the merits of a proposition, the B2B marketer is faced not only with the need to communicate to a frequently complex matrix of client stakeholders but also longer lead times; “nudging customers over the line” demands careful management.
Why B2B marketing is not such a different animal to consumer marketing
To anyone working in the health and science sector, consumer marketing can look like something from a different planet. Big budget product launches, mass market advertising, digital and social media campaigns, celebrity endorsements – all aimed at driving awareness amongst consumers. Such inherently high profile tactics can seem far removed from the more prosaic business of communicating with an often small, highly specialist audience about products and services that are equally niche.
Few can deny the significant differences between the marketing of, for example, a low-cost video streaming service to many consumers and a specialist instrument developed to serve a much smaller body of professionals. And that makes it all too easy to overlook how some lessons learned – or being learned – in the world of consumer marketing can help in B2B endeavors.
Never forget you are dealing with people first and organizations second
Perhaps the most important point to remember as a B2B marketer is that, though your target customer is an organization, the people you need to convince are just that – people with their own needs, biases, and personal objectives. For the consumer marketer, the first question to ask is, “Who is this message for?” For the B2B marketer, the answer rarely takes the form of a single persona but might involve a multi-headed mix of individuals – from procurement to finance and operations. In short, the end user will rarely have sole ownership of the buying process.
How then, as a marketer, should you approach this Hydra?!
The myth of the (entirely) rational customer; how people really make buying decisions
Arguably, the biggest advance made in consumer marketing in recent memory is an improved understanding of how customer behavior really works. Despite people justifying their purchase decisions using reason, research in neuroscience and behavioural economics is increasingly showing us that – to a significant extent – they make those decisions based on emotion. We should remember that a potential B2B stakeholder is using the same part of their brain when exposed to both B2B and B2C marketing.
This emotional response to a brand and its marketing holds the key to customer behavior. As customers, we first need to feel we can trust before we can act. Such initial trust does not need to relate to anything especially profound; it can be created very simply by meeting the expectations of the customer – often at a very mundane level. Such trust means not having to think twice about choosing a brand again. Conversely, not meeting expectations – or behaving in unexpected ways – damages confidence. (Just imagine your own response to a lemon-flavored cake that came in purple packaging.)
The key to creating trust is to know your audience’s core expectations of you. When B2B marketing is viewed as part of the wider customer experience, it is important to consider how prospective customers would (consciously or not) expect to be marketed to. For example, a celebrity posting on Instagram about your product would likely raise a few eyebrows, whereas a video link to a talk by a respected and impartial expert would both feel more appropriate and enhance your brand’s credibility.
B2B marketing is typically a long game requiring the right cadence and volume of communications to maintain awareness and build your reputation and credibility. And you should consider which content channels (not just digital ones) are most congruent with expectations and whether there are discrete segments within your target audience. For some, a weekly, short-form email newsletter might be enough, whereas others might prefer a more in-depth article in print.
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If marketing is about selling a story, make sure your reader can recognize their role
Marketers make a big mistake when they start out by talking about their product or service. It doesn’t matter how great your product is; what really grabs your audience’s attention is when they start to visualize themselves using it and benefiting from the experience – an art consumer marketing has honed over at least the last century.
Getting inside the head of your prospective customer is key. Are you speaking their language? Do they recognize the problem you are solving? What would they expect the ideal solution to look like?
Highlights from our own research into customer trust
At FourForty, we believe that trust is a prerequisite of all buying behavior. Trust is created when customer expectations are both understood and acted upon. And by focusing on trust and its drivers, you can provide a powerful and sustainable point of difference. And we’ve spent a good deal of time digging into the topic.
Indeed, our research into the dynamics of customer trust – and how it affects behavior – has identified two key aspects regardless of industry:
Typically, trust is built through the former and lost through failings in the latter; however, interestingly, building up a “bank” of competence-related trust simply by consistently delivering against expectations acts to mitigate the damage caused by ethical lapses…
It’s hard to find any business that would disagree with the view that customer trust is vital and that its loss should be avoided. But surprisingly few grasp the significance of a stark reality: brands are not naturally endowed with trust; it first must be earned.
The key roles of marketing here are to both meet the expectations of the prospect audience and help set them.
So how do we close the expectation gap?
Customer trust lives in the space between expectation and experience. B2B marketers must not only understand the world view, roles, and objectives of the many and varied individuals who comprise your stakeholders, but also be absolutely clear about what to say, how, and where.
I’m sorry to say there is no magic formula. And though it is tempting to seek out “best practice” in the actions of your competitors, the truth is that the only benchmark you really need to worry about is the one set by the expectations of your current (and future) customers.
If you’d like my shortlist of reading material on trust – or if you’d like to discuss customer expectations, please feel free to send me an email.