Katy Halewood, head of Maxus for Business, goes in depth to discuss how to identify and reach the new B2B audience. First published on Mediatel.
B2B and consumer marketing are on a collision course. For all the things that set these two disciplines apart, we’re now seeing the beginnings of a convergence. Consumer tactics are increasingly being used for B2B, while B2B has provided valuable insights for consumer marketing.
The B2B audience has now drastically shifted and significantly expanded. Gone are the days of marketing jollies with the CEO. Now the B2B audience is larger, covers a wider range of functions and reflects more closely the diversity of the consumer sector.
The mantra of any effective marketing plan has always been to start with your audience, placing them front and centre. And that means you need to change your tactics as your audience changes.
How B2B audiences have changed
The decision making process varies considerably from business to business and department to department, but there is a distinct shift that most of these have experienced.
Business has become much more collaborative. Top-down hierarchical structures and decision making processes have been displaced by flatter structures which more closely resemble a network.
Anywhere from 7 to 20 people, covering a wide range of different functions, are involved in any B2B purchase. Teams are put together to test and scrutinise the products and services they want to procure, incorporating people with different levels of seniority and a wide range of life experiences.
There’s no single point of contact anymore and no single demographic that you can focus your efforts on marketing to. The field is much more diverse and unpredictable.
With an increase in stakeholders comes a longer purchase cycle, with greater scrutiny and higher expectations as you go in to pitch. Your product has to survive months, potentially years, of evaluation – and your pitch has to stay relevant at every stage.
Meanwhile the startup sector is growing hugely, bringing a completely different mindset, spirit and set of priorities to the traditional C-Suite.
Here, the marketing process is much more personal. Startups are frequently the story of a handful of entrepreneurs seeking to transform their industry. For them, their business is part of their own personal story. And the products and services they use reflect the type of business they want to run – its values, its tone, even its design sense – in the same way that consumers buy products that reflect their identities.
From a marketing perspective, these add a whole new set of challenges. You can’t just communicate blindly. You have to adapt according to who the person is and where they’re at in the purchase cycle.
How to reach this new audience
Through all this change, marketing needs to be relevant and speak meaningfully to each individual. Agencies and their approaches need to be just as nimble and diverse as the new clients they serve.
We can leverage programmatic to personalise messages around a specific user in a particular environment, to drive engagement through context – something we have seen positively impact performance of current client campaigns quite dramatically. In B2B, it provides us the opportunity to move away from the more traditional environments and closer towards a single user view, cross-device, which is a really exciting emerging opportunity.
Identifying the right touchpoints is key. While B2B audiences are increasingly in an always-on mindset, there are times, locations, search queries and channels that indicate when they are more open to engagement. Pinning these down and understanding your audience’s consumption habits will allow you to target more effectively.
We’ll often see people checking the news on their phone first thing in the morning; viewing personal and lifestyle content over their lunchbreak; and then in the evenings, relaxing with their family but keeping an eye on their social media accounts. Each provides different opportunities for engagement, so long as you know the mindset they are in and the devices they are using.
Content marketing tactics have also been shifting as the B2B audience continues to evolve. Traditionally, B2B content is very technical and very product-focused. It is long-form, information heavy and makes a hard sell. But as the decision making is expanded and diversified, alongside the need to appeal to people for whom procurement is a minor part of their job, this isn’t always the best approach.
Videos, webinars and short-form content can be more engaging and accessible, especially at the earlier stages of the purchase cycle. You can provide insights to a broader range of people by focusing on more general trends, instead of the nitty-gritty technical details. And by being less salesy and more personal, you can cut through to people in a world where seemingly everyone is trying to sell you something.
Most importantly of all, you need to offer a fair value exchange. B2B audiences are still people, with passion points, emotions and individual needs – nobody wants to just be sold products and services. You have to respect their humanity, the pressures they are under, their expectations and desires, and offer something genuinely useful and meant specifically for them.