B2B marketers can relate to customers who’ve rapidly shifted into all-out digital mode in their daily professional lives. That’s because so many of us have done the same, with numerous departments and agencies transitioning to remote or hybrid work in the wake of COVID.
At TopRank Marketing, we’ve been fully remote since March of 2020. And while that setup brings with it plenty of welcome perks and advantages, there are undeniably things that go amiss from a distance. We were reminded of some during our first in-person TopRank Summit in Minneapolis earlier this month.
Having an opportunity to see coworkers face-to-face drove home for me the relative challenges of engaging people, developing rapport, and creating emotional connections through a screen.
This dilemma is one that the B2B marketing industry is grappling with at large. Just as the day-to-day rhythm of Zoom meetings and Slack conversations can become monotonous, so too does the daily drumbeat of digital ads and content that buyers and decision makers are exposed to.
How can marketers deliver customer experiences that differentiate, drive growth, and delight in today’s digital-first brand landscape?
A session during the aforementioned TopRank Summit inspired me to put the first of those terms at the forefront.
Dare to (B2)Be Different
During our agency get-together, we had the privilege of being joined by world-class speaker and author of Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist, Sally Hogshead. She gave a talk centered on this idea: different is better than better.
Yes, we should always aspire to be the best, and that mandate has been ingrained in many of us throughout our careers. But simply aiming to be better means we’re trying to improve upon an existing model or archetype. Is that the path to standing out in an increasingly crowded digital space, amid changing customer expectations?“Simply aiming to be *better* means we’re trying to improve upon an existing model. Is that the path to standing out in a crowded digital space? Brands need to be DIFFERENT.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN #B2BMarketing Click To Tweet
Drawing from the perspectives of Sally and other visionaries, let’s explore the elements of a customer experience that differentiates in a digital-first world.
1 — Button up the basics
Before you can start breaking new ground, you’ve got to make sure you have your bases covered. I recently wrote here about three essential components of impactful B2B marketing content:
While there is tremendous flexibility within these parameters, you want to be sure that any brand experience conveys this trio of qualities. Every time a customer or prospect interacts with your brand you want them to perceive it as leading industry conversations, staying true to itself, and demonstrating expertise.
2 — Figure out what your audience likes about you, and wants from you
One exercise we did with Sally was a Fascinate Test, designed to help us understand our skills and strengths through the eyes of others. The idea is to move past our own assumptions (and perhaps self doubts) to more objectively recognize the value we bring to the team.
Brands can benefit from a similar exercise. You might have an idea of how your company is viewed by customers, or how you want it to be viewed. But what do people actually see as unique and fascinating about your brand, compared to others in the same space?
There are many ways to go about investigating this. You might review past content to look for high performers with notable creative characteristics. Or, you might dive into your search performance data to find any distinct or unexpected keywords that are bringing people to your website. You might even simply ask customers what they mentally associate with your brand!
In the complex, competitive, and interconnected world of B2B, identifying your actual points of differentiation is not always straightforward. But doing so holds the key to capitalizing on them.“In B2B, identifying your brand’s actual points of differentiation is not always straightforward. But doing so holds the key to capitalizing on them.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN #B2BMarketing Click To Tweet
3 — Build creativity into the heart of your processes
Ty Heath recently wrote for the LinkedIn Collective* about the science of creativity in B2B marketing, illustrating the urgent need for a greater industry focus on creatively effective advertising.
Research from leading authorities like the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute and WARC underscores the immense long-term value of creating emotional and memorable experiences that build mental brand associations. There’s clear evidence that these investments are more, not less, important during a recession.
(Source: LinkedIn Collective)
Creativity doesn’t happen on its own. It needs to be fueled, nurtured, and incentivized. It needs to be sought out as a specialization – a focal point of agency selection and talent acquisition.
LinkedIn points out that the growth of technical skills has vastly outpaced creative skills over the past five years on their Economic Graph. Is your team fully equipped to devise, develop and deliver experiences that differentiate?
4 — Invest in strategic experimentation
Creativity is about experimentation at its core. You can’t be different by endlessly sticking to the same fundamental playbook. This is why Harvard Business Review, in a recent article on Closing the Gap Between Digital Marketing Spending and Performance, makes a case that marketers should “double down on strategic experimentation.”
“We recommend companies increase these investments with an eye toward more strategic-level experimentation that can offer opportunities for breakthrough growth,” they wrote. “Too often marketers get bogged down in tactical experiments, such as whether customers like green or yellow, instead of testing the relevance of new offerings, innovations, or customer segments.”
These times call for bold and audacious thinking, not a timid allegiance to the status quo. To truly elevate your customer experiences, lean hard into those points of brand differentiation you’ve identified, even if it takes you in new directions.“These times in #B2Bmarketing call for bold and audacious thinking, not a timid allegiance to the status quo.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet
These types of experiments could be perceived as risks, but I’d argue (and so would Sally, I bet) that the biggest risk lies in stagnating. So long as you’re tethering your experimentation to broader customer-driven movements like these, you can be confident your brand won’t be left behind:
- Use emerging technologies and platforms to deliver dynamic interactive experiences that engage users.
- Incorporate inclusive messaging and creative to reflect increasingly diverse audiences.
- Tap into the community-building power of social and influencers. (According to a recent report, B2B marketers cite social media as the most effective digital channel.)
- Optimize your experiences for mobile and remove accessibility barriers.
- Put your brand’s purpose and values forward.
The bar is raised for breaking through with customer experiences in this densely populated digital brand landscape. Ready to meet the challenge?
* Disclosure: LinkedIn Marketing Services is a TopRank Marketing client