We must raise the bar. The era of B2B companies communicating about drab product features, technical functionality and expertise is gone. Long gone. While you are contemplating your latest proposition, your competitor has already overtaken you, perhaps even ran you over. That matters, because if the competitor’s offering is basically the same as yours, you’re not competing. You snooze, you lose.
So how do you stand out from the pack? You must step out of your mindset, seek and break the boundaries, color outside of the lines… Your message must involve people, not bits and bytes. You must appeal to the hearts and mind of your target audience and you do this by making your communications more personal, creative and sexy.
SaaS providers, consultants and business service providers; they all need to be willing to adopt a new way of thinking:
- Inside-out to Outside-in. The difference between these approaches in marketing communication is ‘we tell our customers what they need’ (inside-out) and ‘we ask our customers what they need’ (outside-in). For too long, B2B companies have taken the inside-out approach: they first think of the problem and the solution for customers internally, without any prior market research. It’s a little arrogant not to assess if your proposition is the right fit for your customer. Are your propositions based on conviction in your own expertise or service delivery, and not on the needs of your customers? Then it’s high time you adopt an outside-in approach.
- Distinctive brand positioning. B2B companies often consider themselves to be ‘innovative’ or ‘professional’. They throw around slogans such as ‘we contribute to your digital transformation’. However, that’s like the police saying they ‘serve’ and ‘protect’: ‘we are here to keep you safe’. Well, of course; that’s the reason they exist. Your raison d’etre is not what sets you apart, it’s the obvious assumption customers have of your business. To truly differentiate yourself, you should move from a product-based mindset to a brand-based way of thinking.
- Preaching to the choir. B2B companies tend to assume that their audience is as well versed in their product and service offering as they are themselves. Marketing content is often created by internal experts or consultants. That results in incredibly technical content, filled with professional jargon. That’s fine, if you talking to yourself, but it most likely will not resonate with your target audience. They want a story with a happy end, not an extensive technical manual. Therefore, you should get into storytelling.
- Ad-hoc marketing. When considering marketing efforts, the management of B2B companies often wants a direct and clear return on investment. Whatever we do right now has to deliver something right now, preferably more revenue. That’s not how marketing works, however. Marketing is not equal to Sales. Because the return is not immediately obvious, leadership pulls the plug and tries something new. This leads to a constantly varying mix of marketing activities (events, newsletters, online, etc.) that spin on and off all the time. If you keep running short distances in every which direction, you’ll never reach the finish line. As any marathon runner will tell you: it’s all in the preparation and in running the distance. You should plan, and stick to, a long-term brand and marketing strategy (where are we growing to?).
- Thought leadership. Let’s be honest about it: your target audience probably doesn’t want to buy anything from you at all. At least not right now. The moment they need to investment in a new platform, cloud solution, or even furniture rearrangement, comes around only once in each five or six years. Just imagine that you have been talking about your technologies that entire the time. Annoying, right? Marketing is not about showing your solutions all the time, it’s about people thinking of your solutions when they are needed. That’s why thought leadership is so important.
Creating thought-leadership means communicating about the themes and trends that move the markets your buyer persona operates in. B2B companies should show that you understand their challenges, whether this persona is the HR, Marcom or IT manager. You can capitalize on that by continuously sharing appealing and emphatic stories that showcase your knowledge on trends and market developments. As your target audience increasingly engages with you, you can make your content more specific or even offer a free demo, albeit only occasionally.
Of course, your stories must be in line with your brand values. By moving from product-based to brand-based thinking, B2B companies are building a community and compelling and committing their target audience.
Be a true game changer
A trend is the general direction in which the market is developing or changing. That never stops and new trends are always emerging. For a long time, it was all about ‘the cloud’, then the buzzwords were bots, machine learning, AI and virtual assistants. Today, blockchain, low-code and Devops are all the rage. With every new trend, it seems B2B companies, especially (IT) consultancy firms, want to be the first to jump on the bandwagon. A trend, however, is something that may, or may not, happen in the near future. How do you make these trends relevant for your customer today? Is your customer even mildly interested to ‘do something with blockchain’, while it has not proved its value yet, and there are very few use cases? B2B companies profess to be game changers, but often they are not. They are game supporters, cheering about results that may be achieved. They are great fans, dreaming of the success of their own product or service offering, while they should wake up to the actual market needs.
What does make you a game changer, then?
Is there nothing out there that appeals to everyone (including professionals)?
Yes, there most certainly is. Everyone likes a rebel. Whoever puts everything upside-down, wins. That is true for both B2C and B2B companies. Disruptors create a buzz, there are many examples of that, from EasyJet to Uber. If you’re a likable rebel, people will talk about you. Your brand becomes the trend and people will want to follow.
Storytelling: authentic and empathic stories
Again: B2B companies must raise the bar. For centuries, stories captivate people, from myths and books to movies, and television series. Your content strategy must consider that you are not just competing with parties in your market space. You are also competing with Netflix, YouTube, podcasts, and social media. Is imperative that your content is as personal, sexy, exciting, and relevant as the content on these platforms.
“That’s all good and well, but we operate in the business segment. We sell machines, cables, cloud solutions, what’s sexy about that?”, I can hear you say. Well, even B2B companies can consider the story behind the story. What happens after you have delivered your implementation or advise? Why did customer X want to transform to a data driven organization? There must be a compelling reason and a higher goal behind that, and therefore, a great story.
Storytelling does require some effort on the part of marketeers of B2B companies. A story can be told in many ways, from text to videos and tantalizing photography. They must be exceptional, true and told with emotion. They need a bit of drama: something to cry or laugh about. Al this sounds like an open door, but that doesn’t make it less true. Still, many B2B companies lack the manpower to fulfill the needs of a content-based marketing plan. That’s where content creation and management partners can help.
Of course, B2B companies cannot just blindly step into brand-based thinking, storytelling and a thought-leadership approach. It should not be yet another impulsive, ill-fated adventure. The decision to do so must contribute to your overall marketing and sales strategies. It must impact the bottom line, so it seeds and feeds the growth of your business.