A colleague told us of a consumer marketing specialist who summarized his years of qualitative consumer research like this: if you dig down far enough into consumers’ motivation, eventually you’ll reach Sex.
That may or may not be true, but it certainly provides an insight into the axiom that B2C companies are rarely successful in a business-to-business market (and vice versa). A large part of consumer marketing deals with non-rational factors - image, self-satisfaction, fashion, the need to be cool, and, of course, sex. Marketing your business products and services to business customers demands a different way of seeing the relationship between your product and the prospect, the hierarchy of benefits, and even the way you measure success. Granted that image, self-satisfaction and cool have their place in business, most of B2B marketing is rooted in the rational.
The greatest difference in B2B, and the one that frames all others, is that ever rational marketing, selling and buying decision can be traced to quantifiable economic factors. Dig down far enough into business motivation, and you reach money. Even non-rational motivations ( ego, fear of failure, the need for approval, ambition, being seen as a winner ) are inextricably linked to the financial performance.
Consumer marketing generally lives and dies by advertising. Very few products or services can survive without it. To a degree unheard of in B2B, consumer ads, promotions and other image-projections often establish the productâs value and create the demand for it.
We in B2B must rely on a more fundamental tool: compelling business value.
Business Value is Sexy
Business value is a turn-on for a fact-based business target market. That means business value supported by verifiable financial proof in the form of Return on Investment. Our task is to understand what constitutes value in this market and to create a truly compelling value proposition that a prospective customer will recognize and respond to. It must be relevant to their actual needs, and expressed in a way that speaks clearly and directly. And it must position your offering against your competitors’ in terms of business value, not features, flashy advertising or other factors subject to rapid oblivion. Go for substance. If you’ve got numbers, use them. We’ll leave subtlety and mystery to the perfume ads.
Once you have a compelling value proposition, stick with it. Continue to prove it and strengthen it. If it rings true, make it ring louder, make it ring for a wider audience. Even if you get tired of hearing it, a strong value proposition will continue to resonate with your target audience.
Another point of difference between consumer and business marketing is that B2B requires a thorough understanding of your customers’ functional needs and technology environment. In the consumer world, car ads boast about power and performance, but how many customers actually look under the hood; and how many know what they’re looking at? Good business people know. And a good marketer knows the technical and financial nuts and bolts that are the basis of a business’ performance.
In the consumer marketplace, countless brands have been launched and sustained by “a look, a line and a song.” In the world of business-to-business marketing, a different level of substance is demanded. Building a brand for your company and its product or services means continuing to deliver on the actual value behind your value proposition. Staying true to the promise is really what creates a brand and sustains it as momentary trends come and go. There’s no better way to increase return on your marketing investment.