B2B: exaggerating the differences?

Many of us have heard stories of blue chips recruiting for candidates who’ll “challenge the status quo” – but refuse to countenance taking anyone who lacks experience in their specific sector. These ironic talent scouts characterise our often-exaggerated belief in business that “what we do” is so very different from others.

The age-old debate about B2B vs B2C (business-to-business vs business-to-consumer) marketing is one example of a discussion where differences are often over-exaggerated.
At a strategic level, there are few elements where radically different approaches are required. The context, customers and data may be different, but the process of establishing what to do and how to do it is largely the same. When it comes to execution – like which media channels to deploy or the role of salespeople – then different choices do become necessary.
WPP’s (Milward-Brown) annual BrandZ report values global brands and also breaks down its results by sector and geography. The 2019 edition shows technology dominating the list of the largest B2B brands – with Microsoft, IBM and SAP taking the top spots with a collective brand value of over $394bn.
The report also highlights growth in the value of businesses that are engaged in both B2B and B2C marketing – describing the movement of talent between the two as increasingly “porous”.
Les Binet & Peter Field, who are well-known for their work on marketing effectiveness, recently shared results of research they undertook for LinkedIn.
Using several years worth of case studies about winners of IPA Effectiveness Awards, they isolated B2B examples to establish whether the same marketing principles applied as for consumer brands.
They concluded that many of the ‘rules’ which successful consumer marketers apply, are also effective when marketing to professional buyers. Here’s a summary of their key findings –

Advertising works in B2B. The correlation between advertising and share is similar to B2C. Brands that invest ahead of their share of market, tend to grow market share; whereas consistent under investment tends to lead to share decline. However, the ‘right’ level of advertising investment varies by sector.

SAP actively builds its brand in airports and other places where its potential business customers hang out – the underlying creative idea is simple “all the best companies run SAP”

Budget should be split between brand building & sales activation. Often B2B marketers spend most money on ‘activation’, whereas the researchers suggest best practice allocation would be around 46% to brand building and 54% to activation (compared with 60% brand and 40% activation for consumer markets).

In sectors like banking, firms often target both businesses and consumers. Brands like HSBC benefit from halo effect of all its advertising on its B2B banking offer

Broad targeting is best. All examples of B2B growth came from attracting more buyers, rather than trying to drive frequency or weight of purchase. Of course, the qualification is that your universe is buyers who may have a need for your product – so mass media like TV could be highly wasteful for most B2B brands.

Volvo trucks’ famous “Epic Splits” advert released in 2013, has accumulated around 100m views on YouTube

Mental availability is key. Driving brand awareness is important, but when a brand is actively talked about (often referred to as achieving brand “fame”) it is 2.2x more likely to deliver very significant growth.

The highly-rated “Longest Night” campaign by Philips healthcare, is a highly emotional story highlighting sleep disorders

Emotion is important. B2B is often stereotyped as men in grey suits sat behind desks making rational decisions. However, data suggests that for B2B brand building, emotional messages are around 2.5x more effective than rational ones. When it comes to sales activation then – unsurprisingly – that relationship is reversed and factual content is likely to seal the deal.

Technical comparisons can be helpful close to the point of specification, but data shows adverts focused on product differentiation are less successful

Differentiation is unimportant. B2B products can be highly technical and this often leads to detailed messages about technical superiority. The research shows that campaigns aimed at driving “fame” where far more effective than those that attempted to differentiate on features.

At Brand Ambition we help both B2C and B2B clients to grow by helping them develop robust strategy and capability. Every client and their business context is different – but our desire to help you make fewer, better, quicker decisions is consistent. If you’d like to chat, please get in touch.

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