05 Dec Should You Drop B2B & B2C?
We are often guilty of putting things in boxes. Marketers love to segment and compartmentalise website visitors, customers, pretty much anyone, really. This can be incredibly useful and productive to help you build buyer personas for behavioural cohort analysis and to make your marketing more personalised and targeted.
However, we still make some big assumptions on a scarily macro level. I’m talking about business-to-business marketing (b2b) and business-to-consumer marketing (b2c). There is a danger that when marketing departments hear b2b, they see that as a mandate to take creativity, narrative and personality out of their communications. When you think b2b, it can be tempting to see the second ‘b’ as a faceless corporate entity. You’re not marketing to a business, rather the people in the key positions e.g. Dave the office manager or Jane the chief buyer.
When marketing to a company, it can be tempting to adopt the ‘let’s get down to business’ mentality and create a dry campaign that focuses on facts, figures and stats. ‘Our product now only costs £13.99’ etc. We assume that when our targets go to work, they leave their personality at the door and become emotionless machines with one eye constantly on the P&L account and the bottom line. Think about you at work. Does that accurately describe you, or do you put a bit of your heart and soul into what you do?
It’s a well-worn cliché that ‘people buy people,’ but it’s also pretty accurate. I may not buy from Angus in Aberdeen purely because he supports the same football team. But if his business offers a friendlier service that’s easier to get on with, and has made an effort to understand my business’ concerns and offers deals and insights. I’m more likely to take my business to Scotland in comparison to Phil from Essex, who is slightly cheaper.
There is a growing philosophy in marketing, calling for you to abandon the notion of b2b and b2c. Instead, you should be embracing the human-to-human (h2h) marketing approach. On the face of it, you may be thinking:
- What about when machines take over?
- Isn’t that a bit bloody generic? Didn’t you just say we should stop making big, macro assumptions
To which I say:
- When the robot apocalypse occurs, I’m sure I’ll be writing a blog extolling the virtues of business-to-machine (b2m) or business-to-glorious-robot-overlord marketing (b2gro).
- We’re not advocating that there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach or a vaguely hippy-esque ‘we’re all one’ philosophy. What h2h means is talking to clients or targets as people, understanding that they have pain points and things they want to improve their job or business. Everyone wants to make their job easier and to look good. How can you help me do that?
An h2h marketing approach isn’t just for gushy feelings or sappy stories. It can also deliver the following benefits to your company’s bottom line:
- Communicate trust and safety to your prospects.
- Develop long-term customer relationships.
- Spread via word of mouth (both online and offline).
- Listen (and respond) to changes in customer demand.
- Connects you to your prospects through multimedia storytelling, which is far more effective than mere facts, figures and product descriptions.
A majestic example
Majestic wine seems to understand h2h marketing. They’ve changed what should be a simple transaction of going to the wine aisle of a supermarket or the off-license and buying 6 bottles of wine.
With Majestic, the process is an experience. Of course, you can still walk in, pick up your wine and walk straight to the counter. However most customers (myself included) are greeted by the staff who normally remember what you ordered last time, are asked how the wine went down and are invited over to taste new wines.
This personal experience and the relationship that is built means that you’re happy to spend a couple of pounds more as you are talked through the wine, and you trust that Brian knows his stuff and what you like. ‘I know you like Malbec, try this.’ It’s like a friend recommending music or a recipe. This relationship and being treated as a human with individual preferences is what separates this from buying a bottle of plonk from a supermarket.
It all sounds too good to be true
Before you abandon your marketing plan and start to refer to clients as ‘penpals’, h2h isn’t perfect, or easy. It’s more than treating every new prospect or customer as a new friend, writing long emails about your holiday and inviting them to your birthday. This is likely to win you more restraining orders than business orders. You need to pique that initial interest before you can start treating them as friends. That means your introduction needs to be professional.
Your targets and customers aren’t idiots. They know that initially, you’re not getting in touch to find out about their weekend. You want to sell them something. Crafting this into a message that isn’t standard b2b is a challenge, but it’s what makes h2h stand out.
h2h requires you to know your customer or target, their (business) desires, needs, the pain points and their industry (could you help them spot trends earlier?). In the Majestic example, I desire to find out more about the wine I’m drinking and to discover different ones that share characteristics that I like. I also want to be able to show off at bars and restaurants, so it’s the knowledge that I desire. Something that is addressed with tasting notes being printed out and regular invites to tastings of my preferred types.
This level of understanding is easier said than done. However, there are a number of methods of collecting this important data:
- Pick up the phone. Old school, but effective if your client/prospect has the time.
- Arrange a meeting. This could be over lunch (if you pay, they will come).
- Email. Less personal, also less reliable. It is seen as spam if it’s early in the business/sales relationship. You also need to think about the structure of your email or questionnaire carefully.
- Inbound marketing. Getting more data from your website visitors helps you to understand needs and requirements.
- Social listening. If there are enough potential subjects that are sufficiently active on social media, this is great as these are organic, original opinions.
Depending on the size of your business and the industry you’re in, it’s probably going to be impossible to treat literally everyone as an individual. Especially with targets and prospects that you don’t know. But understanding pain points in industries and the key job roles within those industries is a solid base, to begin with.
At its heart, h2h marketing is acknowledging that your clients are self-centred (because they’re human). Whilst you may be the best in your industry, how is that going to benefit your clients? How will it address Office Manager Jane’s unreliable-cleaner issue? It’s not what your brand can do, it’s what it can do for ME.
Ian Rhodes summarises h2h limitations when he concludes ‘My marketing mantra is Context. Conversation. Conversion. Don’t jump into the conversation if you’re not aware of the context. Don’t loosen your tie and kick off your shoes until I’m happy to sit down and chat. h2h is the conversation. Listen before you begin talking. That’s old-fashioned marketing.’
So should you adopt h2h? The short answer is if you’re sure you know your industry, clients and targets enough, yes.
If this all sounds exhausting, you could employ a marketing agency to do it. As luck would have it, we know a good one.