B2B marketers, are we over the B2C envy yet?
We used to have a legitimate reason to be envious. B2C marketers got to be more creative, personal, emotional, and interactive. We were stuck with dry, logical appeals with no-frills presentation.
These days, though, B2B marketers can be just as dynamic and creative as our B2C counterparts. And we not only can, we should.
Yet we still hear that drumbeat: “B2B marketing needs to be more like B2C.”
Does it really?
I would argue yes, but only to a certain point. B2B is its own discipline with its own best practices. There are a few recent developments in B2C that we should borrow, but there are just as many strategies and tactics that don’t translate as well.
In the interest of continually evolving B2B marketing to be more sophisticated, more useful, and more effective: Here are five B2C trends to steal, and five to leave to our esteemed peers on the other side.
5 B2C Content Marketing Techniques to Steal — And 5 to Leave Alone
The central thesis for using B2C techniques in B2B is the realization that there’s no such thing as a “B2B buyer.” They’re not a distinct species. People are people, whether they’re at work or at home. As the lines between home life and work life continue to blur, that distinction gets even fuzzier. However, that doesn’t mean we need to take on B2C techniques that don’t work, or don’t work as well as what we’re already doing.
1 — Take a Stand
Historically, B2B brands have stayed out of broader societal discussions. This is a holdover from the idea that B2B marketing should be exclusively logical, dealing with facts rather than emotion, delivered in a neutral tone. After all, why should B2B buyers care if their cloud server provider supports Black Lives Matter? Why not focus on your solution’s speed, bandwidth and low latency?
Here’s why taking a stand matters: A recent study found that 77% of consumers buy from brands who share the same values as they do. Another global study found consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase, protect and advocate for brands who have a larger purpose. In this climate, a neutral stance is more risky than taking a principled stand.
We should point out that it’s not enough to talk about your brand’s values or put them in a mission statement. Consumers will be looking for consistent, meaningful action that expresses your values.
2 — Embrace Diversity
I’m old enough to remember the first TV ad with a gay couple, way back in 1994. The controversy was enormous. But Ikea weathered the storm and continued to push for diversity of representation in their advertising. Over time, the rest of media gradually caught up with them.
As a whole, B2B marketing hasn’t been as aware of diversity. How many old eBooks and white papers feature pictures that are overwhelmingly white and male? As the executive audience grows more diverse, we can’t afford the ongoing mental stereotype of a B2B buyer as a heterosexual, middle-aged white man.
As you select images for your marketing materials, look for the audiences you might be missing. We want people to see themselves in our content, recognize themselves as the target audience and be moved to action. If we fail at diverse representation, we’re locking out potential buyers.
3 — Be Visually Stunning
It says a lot to me that one common unit of B2B marketing is the “white paper.” What a bland and utilitarian thing — it brings to mind a list of features and benefits in black text on a plain white page.
There’s no reason B2B marketing shouldn’t be beautiful to look at. General Electric’s Instagram proves that you can find gorgeous imagery in the most industrial settings. Communication company (and client) Mitel draws you into their latest interactive guide with a fanciful futuristic home office.
In a quick-scrolling online world, brands need to have visually arresting content that grabs attention.
4 — Embrace Multimedia
Friends, Romans, B2B marketers, I come here not to praise the static PDF but to bury it. There may still be a place for old-school gated eBooks, but their role should be a lot less prominent in a modern marketing environment. We have the ability to create video cheaply and easily. We have live-streams and podcasts, countless platforms with a quick click-to-publish.
Our agency is seeing great success for clients with interactive assets like the Mitel one I linked above. Tools like Ceros make it easy for a designer to create something dynamic and engaging. What might have been just another PDF becomes an experience that unfolds, comes to life, and looks great on mobile and desktop alike.
At the very least, multimedia can serve to augment more traditional content. For example, our client Prophix turned a report into a long-scrolling, influencer-activated, bright and engaging power page. But they also provide a static download of the report in PDF form to cover all the bases.
5 — Get Personal
I can bring to mind a dozen B2C ads that have made me either laugh or cry. The same can’t be said for B2B. Tim Washer’s Fast Innovation and the Slow Waiter ads are funny, but I can’t think of many more examples of ads that moved me on a personal level.
We can’t afford to hold people at arm’s length anymore, focusing on just the intersection of our solution and their workplace. The thing is, work is personal. What we do for a living is tied up in our identity, our sense of self, our security, our families, and our future. B2B marketers should feel empowered to address all of those entanglements, a whole person rather than a “B2B buyer.”
Let B2C Keep These:
1 — Transactional Influence
Influencer marketing in B2C tends to be more of an endorsement model. Whether it’s Kim Kardashian hawking beauty cream, or a micro-influencer holding an energy drink, the focus is bringing an audience’s attention to a product.
For B2B, influence is more about providing value and building relationships. Influencer content shouldn’t be product-focused. It should be designed to highlight the influencer’s expertise, provide real utility, and strengthen the brand by association with credible and thoughtful content.
2 — Snarky Social Media
Look, I love the ferocious sarcasm of the Wendy’s Twitter account as much as the next guy. Ditto the absurd and frequently bleak Moon Pie account. But that type of attention-grabbing, potentially off-putting weirdness only makes sense when your product costs less than $10.
B2B content should be emotional, human, and even humorous, but it should always aim to provide value. Leave the roasts, call-outs and memes to our B2C counterparts.
3 — Vanity Virality
B2B marketing isn’t a numbers game anymore. It’s a relevance game. Would you rather have a million views on a video, but no conversions, or 500 views that lead to 100 closed sales? I don’t know many marketers who would pick the former.
Yet we still tend to measure effectiveness in terms of numbers rather than relevance. We know that hitting the right audience is better than hitting the biggest possible audience — it’s high time we quit chasing vanity metrics.
4 — Every Channel Advertising
Is your brand on TikTok? Instagram? Snapchat? LinkedIn? Facebook? Should you be?
Better question: Where is your audience? If you find that your most valuable decision makers are on TikTok, fire away. If you never get any engagement on Facebook, let it fade away. B2B marketers should feel free to focus their efforts where they’re getting the most results.
5 — Top of Funnel Focus
For many B2C brands, awareness is everything. Like the Moon Pie and Wendy’s examples above, it’s about keeping the brand top-of-mind for the next checkout-line impulse buy or fast-food lunch. You don’t see a lot of, say, 1500-word blog posts on why Wendy’s hamburgers are better than McDonald’s.
Even as B2B content gets more creative, emotional, and personal, we can’t let lower-funnel content slide. B2B solutions are rarely impulse purchases; we need conversion content as well as awareness-building content.
Let B2B Be
I’ll admit it: Every time I see an awesome B2C ad, I do feel a little twinge of envy. There’s a degree of creative freedom in B2C that will never fly with a big B2B brand. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate how B2B content can be deeper, more meaningful, and more useful than a lot of B2C can aspire to.
So the next time you hear, “B2B marketing needs to be more like B2C,” take it with a grain or two of salt. As much as B2C gets the glory, B2B is its own discipline, and we get to blaze our own trail.