By Elizabeth Searcy
At the recent Georgia Marketing Summit, I spoke on a panel about B2B (business-to-business) marketing and how organizations must remain agile to succeed in today’s business ecosystem. Along with representatives from UPS, NCR and Centerline Digital, I discussed themes around how B2B companies can rapidly improve customer communication infrastructure, get up to date with marketing technology and execute on campaigns in sophisticated ways. Here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation:
- Elements of B2C (business-to-consumer) marketing are now firmly rooted in the B2B realm. Traditionally, B2B purchasing decisions were based on price and profit potential, which led to marketing messaging that focused on highlighting competitive but often commoditized factors. Now, B2B buyers are overlapping with B2C buyers and taking into account other principles including popularity, status and other emotional triggers. A favorite quote of mine comes from Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit. He said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” This also rings true in the B2B landscape.
- Mobile and social communication has created multiple peer-to-peer and word of mouth touchpoints that help businesses connect within the B2B ecosystem. In essence, they have made the interaction between two businesses more human and personal. And thanks to the wonders of modern technology, behind the curtain are social analytics and vast quantities of data that allow marketing arms to understand their targets’ demands and sources of influence. In turn, this information provides a level of predictability that helps determine what customer needs may be before they know themselves.
- Every company needs to differentiate itself from the competition. Often these distinguishing points are communicated through costs of services, case studies of prior clients and other standardized company metrics. However, these marketing messages don’t incorporate a company’s culture, value and talent. That is why a robust differentiator in B2B marketing is experience. Experiences are innately personal and can drive meaningful connections, even within B2B audiences. At the end of the day, we’re all human. We should tap into the purpose, reason and motivations of our audiences to drive more emotionally-rich experiences.
- Innovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot today. Often, business leaders think that innovation requires a heavy lift and comes at a steep price. But innovation can be inexpensive and easy, especially in marketing. One of my fellow panelists wore a pair of Snapchat Spectacles during the discussion and occasionally recorded video snippets or took photos that were automatically uploaded to his Snapchat Memories stream. This meant that he could easily, unobtrusively and immediately share his experience from the stage to create new pathways that market his subject matter expertise to the world. Simple technology applications like this allowed this panelist to become a one-person producer, marketer and social media driver in the span of a few minutes.
- B2B channels often have multiple stakeholders and decision makers for each new initiative, which can make everything more complex and create obstacles that keep innovation from occurring. Practical reasons such as limited budget provide the first row of hurdles. But it’s actually the next set that are the most challenging to overcome. These often include nuanced work cultures where leadership is inflexible to the adoption of new processes, technologies or experiences. The time tested adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still rings true across many organizations and can stifle innovation. Concerns may arise from new technology that threatens current platforms in use and aims to disrupt ways of conducting business. But those organizations who want to stick to tried and tested marketing strategies may be missing out. In this instance, a bit of internal marketing may be needed to help educate any skeptics, close generational divides and create a level playing field for understanding of technology.
During the panel, whichever direction the conversation shifted, I kept finding myself coming back to the close relationship between innovation and experience. B2B marketing is changing every day and it’s vital for organizations to take cues from both consumer and enterprise practices that lean heavily on the quality of the user experience to create a mix of the best of both worlds. At the heart of every interaction, be it marketing, product design, service fulfillment, etc. are people. Those who activate from a position of prioritizing experience design will find a truer human connection and, from this panel’s perspective, more successful marketing results.
Elizabeth serves as Global Head of Sparks Grove leading the strategic responsibilities while also continuing to serve as a client executive. She has more than 20 years of marketing experience and a consistent track-record of driving positive and profitable results for clients through creative and strategic thinking. She has deep experience across the broad spectrum of marketing, including digital, experience design, marketing and brand strategy, and product development. She is known for her success in developing brands and strategies in global, challenging and complex business environments and venture-backed growth companies. Prior to joining Sparks Grove in 2013, Searcy worked with several growth stage companies, as well as notable Fortune 500 companies, leading a number of global and industry-recognized branding and marketing activities.
Searcy is a graduate of Florida State University and holds an MBA in Marketing from Goizueta Business School at Emory University.