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June, 2019

Why B2B brands need to invest in brand marketing

Revolutionising the trend, B2B marketers are waking up to the effectiveness opportunity investment can bring by means of creativity and storytelling which was previously regarded as a luxury that B2C brands could afford, writes Steve Hemsley, Marketing Week.

Professionals do not park their emotions and personality in a cardboard box while they make a purchase decision. There are in fact, a lot of similarities in the way people interact with B2B brands and how they engage with B2C brands. This means creativity, storytelling and brand equity are equally important as a product’s features and price.

Peter Field, marketing consultant and Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB were commissioned by LinkedIn to assess the importance of brand building in the B2B sector. Binet and Field are also known for their work in the B2C space and their 2013 book ‘The Long and The Short of It’.

“There are huge similarities between B2B and B2C when it comes to brand but many B2B marketers need to revise their approach,” says Field. “Brand advertising really does work in B2B to drive buyer choices and revenues.”

“Brands need a creative storytelling element because it is not enough to rely solely on rational product messaging. There has to be clear differentiation and a narrative that taps into business buyers’ emotions. Humanity must not be lost in a tech-obsessed world.”

B2B should on average account for 46% of marketing spend and 54% of lead generation

The hybrid advantage

Case studies from the IPA’s awards database such as BT display a clear story around serving business customers in an emotional way by getting people together. Whereas VW Commercial Vehicles is about being there for small business holders who may find running the business a lonely experience.

“Quite a few businesses have B2B and B2C divisions,” says Field. “These ‘hybrid’ companies seem to have applied their B2C learning to B2B with good effect.”

Direct Line, an insurance company is another one to tick the hybrid box. Head of transformation Claire Sadler says the Binet and Field research confirms what she has always felt, that reach and tapping into emotion through creativity and storytelling are as important to B2B brands as they have always been in the B2C arena.

“B2B advertising is often rational rather than emotional but in insurance, the risk to a business owner can be greater than to someone personally,” says Sadler. “We are all human beings and we do not become a different person when we go to work.”

Technology has made business transactions easier but it has also meant in several cases human interaction has been lost. Earlier the salesman used to be the face of the insurance brand but today, insurers tell their brand stories through websites, B2B advertising, and other touchpoints, adds Sadler.

Outperforming B2B brands were twice as likely to allocate more than 60% of their budget to accomplishing long-term marketing goals. 

Short-term pressures

Long term brand thinking can be quite challenging for purely B2B companies because of the pressure to deliver short-term sales. However, Field believes there is no better tool than brand building for driving growth, and every marketers’ acquisition strategy must target a wide audience to generate long-term support. He says too much B2B marketing is quite a narrow approach and focuses on targeting existing customers.

The findings of the research have been well received by B2B marketers, who agree that storytelling and brand building are crucial if a business is to grow and remain competitive.

The chair of The DMA’s B2B Council, Richard Robinson, believes B2B customers are often more emotionally engaged than B2C shoppers since the purchasing costs can be higher and there can be a serious monetary impact if the wrong buying decision is taken.

“If the B2B companies build brand awareness and trust they would be able to reach more customers and encourage customer loyalty”, says Robinson. He also adds that the B2B brands are starting to spend a huge proportion of their marketing budget and resources on building relationships. It is difficult to enter a B2B marketing event today that does not cover account-based marketing and/or storytelling.

Robinson says a continuing long-term approach is essential because the B2B buying process is counted in months or even years. 

“How many B2C marketers have to engage with a dozen or more decision makers, all with different needs and requirements, across multiple months, using different channels to consume information just to sell one product?” he questions.

Storytelling for differentiation

There is a scope for improvement and a change is needed on the part of B2B marketers as they need to become more confident about sharing their stories and differentiating themselves.

Tim Matthews is CMO at cybersecurity vendor Exabeam and author of the book ‘The Professional Marketer’. Matthews has built several B2B marketing teams over the years, including notable nine worldwide product launches at security products brand Symantec.

“People buy from people so it is crucial any B2B brand can find a narrative,” says Matthews. If there is an origin story around the founder then future buyers will connect with that and the brand. Stories will hook clients in because the marketing becomes more about the people behind the business rather than being too product focused, claims Matthews.

The lost opportunity

Colin Lewis, CMO at travel retailing platform OpenJaw Technologies, says that the internet has changed how B2B marketing is perceived because it is clearly visible how leads are being generated. “Big B2B brands such as IBM, Microsoft or Intel have always needed a proper and evolving brand story because they operate in such a dynamic market, but for other companies, the challenge can be getting the sales function to buy into the importance of the long-term brand building.”

Lewis is proud of OpenJaw Technologies’ own brand story: “We were set up by three entrepreneurs and are now a 400-strong company with high-profile clients such as British Airways and Cathay Pacific. Telling your story and not just talking about product boosts your credibility and can change the perception buyers might have of your business. It is also significant when we talk about improving the employer brand and attracting talent.

According to FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s research findings, 32% of people rank brand reputation as a key attribute they look for in a supplier while 57% of people look at the value for money. Buyers too want to work with the reputed brands that are experts in their industry and are storytelling thought leaders.

32% of people rank brand reputation as a key attribute they look for in a supplier while 57% of people look at the value for money

Head of technology at FleishmanHillard Fishburn, Claudia Bate adds that modern B2B marketing must appeal to both heart and mind since decision makers don’t leave their emotion and personality at home when they go to work. “Creative storytelling, quality content and distinctive brand identity are hugely important tools for breaking through the noise to drive real business value.”

The above contents are reproduced from an article published by Steve Hemsley Jun 2019.