Is Brand 3.0 better suited to B2B marketers?
Business to Business (B2B) and Service Brands have long needed brand thinking that is different to the Mad Men inspired thinking that broadcast messages to consumers and relentlessly defended the positioning against competition. Customers and Users have moved on. Services and products cannot be based on a transactional basis alone because customers demand more understanding of their own “unique” needs.
Customers are complex and demanding of experiences that are rewarding – not just for themselves and their own company and customers, but for the communities they exist in. The bigger companies exist in communities that can be better named as society and the Multinational’s community impacts on the environment, mankind and future generations – think of Paul Polman’s Unilever Sustainable Living program or Bono’s Product (Red) or the Microsoft’s legacy work of the Gates Foundation. Sustainability is now a core tenet of 21st Century growth and companies on both sides of the B2B equation know this. Soon Procurement will look not simply for lowest cost tenders but how future offsetting on sustainability policies are incorporated. Carbon trading is becoming regulated by the governments and will soon be a mandatory prerequisite in many big tenders.
Great B2B marketers know the value of Partnerships and that by innovating new products and services via partnership can mean that Enterprises can shape and test new business models – but also that they will see new revenue streams to lift their old models.
Understanding the wider benefits for the customers’ communities and using new partners & business models to grow will add value to the company’s offer by adding an enhanced benefit to the customers (& their own customers & staff). Another tenet for the 21st Century is speed. Expectation for improvements, for new, for understanding or for better…all to be delivered at faster speed. For some more traditional companies this is harder to achieve than for some newer tech enabled successes. Companies that may suffer from “Silo Slowness” will need help in change & marketers can help bring this need for speed to fruition by bringing more business creativity initiatives into the organisation’s processes.
Marketing in a B2B environment has never really been a pure communications role – the organisation has traditionally been geared up for service – so an understanding of the customer journey (or their customer’s customer journeys) is already part of successful B2B companies. Marketing must be relentless in understanding customer’s needs – not what they were but what they are & importantly will be – not just insight but foresight.
As marketers, their roles are complex and can be a mix of investigator, integrator, innovator and instigator. B2B marketers have to help bring a company’s focus to customers future needs – and today that can mean being useful & optimistic.
In order to connect to their customers they must be useful – consumer marketing is many ways are still learning this. Engaging customers is not simply a good story well told. Mad Men thinking is fast being left behind. Indeed B2B never needed Brand to mean advertising campaigns or corporate logo – they needed brand to rally the staff and the service around a customer’s needs. Cisco and Oracle are fundamentally benefit driven. Brand as communication was termed tactics not strategic – strategic brand thinking centred on R&D for their customers. Today’s economic woes mean the inertia many companies are struggling with needs marketers to look positively into the near future and identify some quick opportunities and highlight possible actions that can lead to grab them.
Where B2B marketers can struggle is when the organisation is geared in delivering products or services that are complex – in the building of the product, in the testing, in describing or in their delivery/installation. Such companies can consider they’re a specialist and will be run by engineers or technical experts who have grown up with the company or the category. These leaders will understand the complexities of the offer/service and develop it incrementally year after year. Innovation may well be inherent inside the culture (as they are always seeking improvements) but this innovation will be familiar rather than surprising. Incremental sales and efficiency are valued and expected. In such companies, Sales and Marketing often work as a service to the engineers and developers. Country & category operations run the same way. Customer service will be ensuring products/services work as promised and lessons learned are shared back to organisations sporadically. These leaders believe marketing as a support function should deliver 20th Century branding.
Marketing can still be useful – but needs to be heard. This can mean being challenging and even disruptive – but from a need for change perspective, engaging cross discipline teams on new initiatives, on creating a few, small actions that are future facing, the results of marketing’s voice may rise.
Without an effective voice from marketers, B2B companies can over focus on their product features and then attack with pricing tactics vs. competition, and not the benefit experiences their products and services deliver to their customers. Benefit driven pricing can be higher if they are clearly valued. Cost optimisation comes to the fore, everything is shaved & discounting can become a primary sales strategy, and they have to price their products like a commodity.
B2B marketers can succeed & own the new brand thinking by
- Great insights and foresight on the customer’s needs
- Innovating partnerships for new business models (& new revenue)
- Drive value via the benefits for customers vs. simply delivering best competitive pricing
- Seeding the internal story around the brand so building the value to customers communities