The B2B Marketer: Doing better work

So you know now how B2B marketing is different in nature than B2C— they’re trickier products, sold for more money, over longer periods of time to multiple decision makers... yawn. Looks less glamorous right? Here’s why I prefer to do it:

You should own less crap

Your shelves are covered with shit you don’t use, your kitchen draws don’t fit all the stuff that you have bought, you have a garage filled with boxes titled ‘miscellany’ and your closet is filled with clothes you haven’t worn in years.

You were always defenceless though— consumer marketing budgets are massive, their messages are compelling and increasingly targeted at you. Don’t be part of making this any worse than it’s going to be. Companies are much better at not buying stuff they don’t need than people are.

B2C can be fucking evil

I once did some work (development, not marketing) for a brand whose marketing strategy could be summarised as follows:

  1. Make women feel insecure about their self image
  2. Convince them they can plug that insecurity with the product.
  3. Profit

Unfortunately, that’s a pretty universal B2C marketing strategy. Even B2C marketing that doesn’t prey on physical insecurity is still perpetuating the belief that you are far from your ideal self, and buying this thing is the answer. There are obviously B2C products that do good in the world and hopefully you’ll go work for one of those companies. The odds are though, that you won’t, or worse, you’ll be at an agency helping a plethora of companies achieve these ends. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of evil B2B jobs as well; weapons manufacturing and fracking componentry come to mind. But by the numbers, you’re rarely destroying the planet and you certainly aren’t making people feel bad about who they are.

This doesn’t mean we don’t push buttons when we’re marketing business products. We go for the fears and aspirations of our decision makers as well, it’s part of the fun, but it’s about business outcomes and work performance. We don’t need to go after the identity and self worth of the people we’re communicating too.

You Can Help make New Zealand Awesome

Icebreaker is perhaps the only New Zealand consumer brand that I really admire, but the future of New Zealand isn’t in creating a dozen more clothing brands, it’s in building a dozen more Fisher & Paykel Healthcares. If you do one thing today, watch this video, it’s 18 month old now but more relevant than ever:

Paul Calaghan gives a great heuristic in the talk:

If you go to a hi-tech company in New Zealand and ask them what they’re doing, and your response is “hey that sounds pretty cool”, don’t invest in that company, it’s going to fail. If on the other hand you say “what the hell is that?”, that company might stand a chance.

That’s the sort of product that we need great marketers to help talk about. It’s why I think this is such an exciting and challenging area to play. As a marketer who cares about New Zealand, you should be thinking about how you can help companies sell more ‘weird stuff’, it’s hard, rewarding and worthwhile work.

The (sort of) Exception: The Web

I need to add TradeMe as another consumer brand I respesct. I’d love to see a dozen new TradeMe stories, maybe even some that address an international market. In saying that though, I think the ones most likely to be real breakouts are going to be B2B plays anyway. Xero being the obvious breakout and Vend the awesome up and comer; both of whom are targeted at the international B2B market place - more of the same please.

The B2B Marketer

When people think of marketing, they usually think of the advertising they see day to day that target them: ads on the TV, billboards in the bus shelter and 30% of your average magazine. The campaigns are funny, sexy and emotional, but based primarily on annoying people about things they don’t need. I decided being a marketing professional wasn’t for me.

When I left university and joined a design studio, I found out about the world of business to business, or B2B marketing, my tune changed. The process was more complicated and the products were more useful. No longer would was scantily clad women a solution to moving more product. I did, however, have to learn how to deal with some interesting new challenges that every company that sells to other businesses, needs to face.

Multiple Decision Makers

When you sell a product built for businesses, there are almost always multiple decision makers involved in the buying process. These people have very different personalities and priorities. As a result you need to devise effective methods for communicating to everyone involved.

To sell your product, you might need to address the needs of a CEO, CTO and CFO–you’ve met these guys, they’re all really different people that you need to convince in different ways. Doing this could mean finding ways to split your online audience from the homepage, staging your communication through different channels, or providing your first contact in the company with materials they can use to convince the others. There are lots of cool tricks, but the most interesting part is figuring out how different personalities approach problems and products.

Complex Products, Complex Benefits

Usually a B2B marketer has to convey a more complex product proposition. For example, in the consumer marketing space you might want to say:

  • Perfumes: Makes you smell sexy
  • Bags: Look good while carrying things
  • Airplane Tickets: You can fly to a different city

All of these are cased in the complexities of building a brand of course, but the product propositions themselves are simple.

When you’re selling business products though, things get a little more complicated:

  • Bio-fuel: Harvest, conversion and refinement of wild algae and multi-biomass waste streams into drop-in bio-fuels.
  • ERP: Financial, supply chain, inventory and production management/analysis for a pharmaceutical distributers.
  • Biometric analysis algorithm: Transform raw biometric and environmental data into usable information that can dynamically adjust individual or team training plans.

It doesn’t stop at concisely describing the product offering, all this must still be done within the same constraints of attention and interest that consumer products must work through. The buyers still have fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams that we need to use to get cut through. We still need to make the stories sticky so a customer will remember the product when they have a need for it. We just do all this around propositions that are much more interesting, and in most cases, more difficult to convey.

Long Sales-Cycle

Since B2B typically revolves around big ticket items, the customers procurement process is generally much longer, often spanning 6–18 months. As well as having obvious financial implications, it requires more complex marketing strategies as well to succeed at during each phase.

Discoverability during a research phase is accomplished through different materials than what get you through an RFP process. Likewise, materials that help an organisation with problem identification are not going to be the ones that get a CEO to sign $100k cheque. Pacing and distributing the right materials at the right time with the right messages ties in tightly with dealing with multiple decision makers. A B2B marketer needs to influence this as best he can as each potential customer moves through their respective buying process. It’s a long game.

There is lots of crossover as well, and many exceptions in the the B2C world. I imagine a lot of car manufacturers know that getting the spouse across the line helps get the car off the lot with the main buyers. But overall, the differences require a different mindset and it can help to have a specialist internally or at the agency you use, who gets these and other key differences and builds a strategy around meeting them.

There is great and satisfying work to be done in the B2C sector with plenty of interesting and complex challenges, but most people don’t realise that that’s only half the story. There is marketing to be done by all organisations, and a whole world of industries that don’t sell to you and me. But they sure could use our help.