How B2B Marketing is Changing

By T/F/D Founder and CEO Stephanie Forrest

Big or small, disruption is everywhere.

Industries can and are being transformed, created or displaced overnight – and billions in shareholder value can be wiped out with a single tweet. The threat of Amazon entering your space looms larger than ever.

One-time business giants are busy re-inventing themselves or risk being confined to the corporate history books. The business-to-business (B2B) sector is just as, if not more so, at risk from large predators and internal sabotage thanks to new technologies leading the consumerisation of the once hallowed professions of accounting, banking, insurance and law, industries which once required huge overheads and customer scale to become a success.

How B2B companies market and engage with customers is changing drastically. Channels will continue to fragment and blur, people’s attention spans are hitting rock bottom and what works one week cannot be relied on the next. The morning commute is now extra work time and when people are at home they pay to drown out ads.

People’s personal lives in general are blurring with their professional lives in a way that they never did before posing a massive challenge but also a great opportunity for B2B marketers.

Before we get to what you should do, understanding the core elements that have changed is key:

How we access content changed

Just over ten years ago Apple launched the iPhone sparking a revolution in the smartphone market and subsequently a slew of other industries. Initially the iPhone was derided by the likes of Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, who scoffed that the $500 “most expensive phone in the world” wouldn’t appeal to business customers as it didn’t have a keyboard.

A decade later and two-thirds of the world’s population is connected to the internet through their mobile devices, with smartphone users now accounting for 73% of internet consumption. Not only does this mean more customers in new locations that are open to doing business but also new ways of doing business.

It’s not just Uber or Deliveroo that have profited from this trend, hundreds of B2B Apps from Xero accounting software, Goonder for share trading, to Google Docs have sprung up in this business market, taking advantage of business people being glued to their smartphones and hungry to consume content.

Where we access content has changed

Smartphones mean people can access the internet, buy and consume at any time of the day and anywhere. In the UK, people now spend one day a week online (24 Hours), more than twice as much as they spent at the start of the decade. This is only going to increase as more business tasks move into the cloud or are automised.

In many Asian markets the trend is even stronger with villages and towns bypassing laptops and fixed-line broadband in favour of the geographic coverage 4G and wireless technologies offer. This is before 5G arrives to change everything again.

How we consume content changed

The creation of an always connected society has had other affects, shortening people’s attention spans, as they are bombarded with communications via email, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and a plethora of other digital and social platforms. Grabbing someone’s attention and maintaining it, is harder than ever before and isn’t going to get easier if Ofcom’s ‘Communications Market Report 2018’ is anything to go by. People, young adults in particular, are more likely to multi task on their smartphones, with 27% of 18-34-year-olds engaging in at least five online activities while commuting.

People’s trust in content and businesses changed

The proliferation of the time people spend on the internet is breaking down trust in traditional pillars of authority, such as the media, politicians and businesses as employees and consumers can much more easily check marketing claims and compare claims of companies against that of their rivals. Over half of Britons (53%) worry about being exposed to fake news on social media, and 64% cannot distinguish between proper journalism and fake news, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the world’s largest and longest-running global study of trust. Corporate dishonesty, a lack of transparency in business dealings, tax issues and executives getting overpaid are the key reasons that trust has dropped.

What this means for business-business industries and B2B marketing is already apparent. Businesses need to accelerate adapting to new surroundings on and offline to survive. B2B needs impact marketing – a solid understanding of business objectives, target markets and customers and how to reach them via key influencers and the new channels. Treating a sales prospect just as a job title and prescribing a set of characteristics to them is just as stupid a move as saying a stereotyped group of your people are all unambitious, less educated than generations past and only wear Nike.

Start focusing down on the few and let the many come to you through good word of mouth.

B2B marketers have more ways than before to directly reach their audiences and be more impactful. Find the right mix with a good testing strategy.

The key is not to lose sight of the basic human desire to hear stories and be educated, B2B content needs to be more entertaining, insightful and educating than ever. Using analytics to provide the tools for those stories to be more relevant and to reach those who want to hear.

You need disruptive B2B marketing and a mindset to match. Challenging the status quo in how you engage with prospects and customers is a good strategy for short and long-term success. While Facebook is huge, it wasn’t always that way and certainly they can quash innovation but never forget that the very technologies that make companies successful, can equally elevate new hero brands.

Within business and within marketing the key to staying relevant remains making an impact, staying sharp and always looking to disrupt, before others have a chance to do it to you.

Article published in the TBD Knowledge Annual, December 2018.

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