Published in Jan-Feb 2022
Marketing to businesses is not the same as marketing to individuals – this is a common misperception. This is because marketers tend to view decision makers in businesses as hardcore functional folk who will only show interest in a brand if they see a clear ROI in terms of the benefits the service or product offers. On the other hand, when marketing to individuals, brands look for tension points and culturally embedded insights they can leverage to elicit emotional responses. This approach begs the question of: If decision makers in businesses are individuals too, then why would they not be subject to the same emotional cues? And if everyone wants to make efficient buying decisions, why do marketers turn towards emotional appeals to capture the interest of individual consumers?
Logic Leads the Way
When you think B2B, you appeal to reason. By building logical, reason-driven messages, brands rely on the benefits of the product or service and spend less time building equity through awareness efforts. These high-stake purchases require marketers to build relationships with prospects and even upsell their existing clients to maintain steady growth (attracting B2B prospects is a tougher task). In contrast, B2C marketing almost always involves an emotional angle. By building narratives with the potential to win hearts, B2C marketers focus on striking the right chord and building meaningful customer experiences. Yet, the truth is that whether it is B2B or B2C, prospects go through the same purchase funnel – requiring brands to first build awareness, evoke interest and finally consideration… you get the point. In creating awareness about a brand, marketers must focus on building brand equity exactly as it is positioned – on both the emotional and functional spectrums – whether it is for a business or an individual. This means that the first interaction with a brand, especially in an age where digital comes first, must strike a deeper connection with the humans who decide whether or not to conduct business with you.
Traditionally, B2B marketers have focused on building and maintaining long-term relationships with their clients, while B2C marketers end up establishing transactional relationships with their consumers. B2C is aimed at pushing the product and driving sales or building equity, and to achieve this marketers have to provide their potential consumers with a near-perfect experience with the brand. However, because marketers value efficiency, the amount of time spent on getting to know the customer is minimised and this ultimately causes the relationship to become transactional. B2B marketing, on the other hand, allows marketers to prove what kind of business practices and ethics are embedded at the core of the brand. This requires them to differentiate their business from their competitors as well as build the brand. Sadly, most of the time, these long-term relationships are motivated by a desire to upsell existing clients and garner referrals, rather than reinforce the brand experience by building meaningful emotional associations.
Building the Brand for Everyone
When it comes to brand building, advertising plays a huge role in establishing positioning. Most B2C marketers don’t mind going into mass media, especially if they are targeting a wider audience, even if they may sometimes end up communicating messages to people who may never buy what they are selling. In B2B marketing, going mass media is unnecessary as the audience base is usually niche. However, this notion overlooks the fact that brands are a social construct and contain shared associations that facilitate decision-making and enable companies to charge a premium compared to their competitors – and this requires mass advertising to create those shared associations which in turn necessitates that the messages are heard even by people who may not be the intended recipients. A good example is when IBM promoted its ‘Good Night’s Sleep’ positioning. The message was simple – “At IBM, we sell a good night’s sleep.” This helped create shared associations regarding the reliability IBM offered. As a result, there was a widespread belief that IBM was the safe choice for computer professionals to select for their companies – if they chose a superior competitor product, they would get little credit but would be blamed if anything went wrong. No one in the company would create an issue if they encountered problems with IBM because they all knew IBM by its reputation built through advertising. Thus came the line: “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”.
Evolving With Digital
Think with Google reported that B2B researchers conduct an average of 12 online searches before engaging with a company, while 70% of B2B researchers and purchasers watch videos in their journey to find the right provider. Most of the time, brands are vetted by potential B2B buyers before they make contact. In such a scenario, it is important to develop an engaging content plan that can be executed with a strong digital presence.
Although businesses need to know the bottom line regarding the efficiency of their decisions on a functional level, decision makers are still human beings whose interests can be evoked with emotional advertising and then get the ball rolling from there.
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Media Sciences department at SZABIST Karachi.