Two Drivers to Centre B2B Messaging
As the scope and reach of business-to-business (B2B) commerce continues to expand, we see a continued focus on building out B2B-specific marketing practices. Marketing fundamentals, the core concepts that harness multidisciplinary research, creativity, and critical thinking to add business value, still hold water across B2B and B2C markets alike. But in the B2B space, we observe relatively little attention paid to principles of human behaviour in favour of accelerating short-term results, often characterised by an obsession with increasing top of funnel leads. There’s a separate conversation to be had about checking our work so Marketing meets short-term and long-term business objectives, but in this piece we’ll focus on centring the way we communicate with B2B audiences.
Our communications espouse the narratives we convey to the marketplace -- they contain the specific words, promises, and value propositions we want people to associate with our brand. In assessing the performance of communications assets such as ads, emails, web experiences, and sales decks I’ve put into the market myself, and watching the work of leading B2B brands, I’ve noticed that winning communications hook the reader with compelling messages that don’t just grab attention, but hold attention. In trying to understand why this works, I figured the messages cater to logical and emotional needs, usually at the same time, in the same asset. But we also shouldn’t discount sequential and simultaneous work that balances emotion and logic, short and long, brand and demand, across different touchpoints throughout the buyer journey—something Mark Ritson summarises excellently in a MarketingWeek piece on ‘funnel juggling.’
My recommendation here is simple by design—it’s macro-level guidance to centre our thinking, not to prescribe specific tactics. I arrived here by observing the messiness of the contemporary B2B buying process—it’s not linear, requires attention from multiple people, desk research, de-conflicting of internal and external information, manager approvals, webinars, legal reviews, proposals, and so on. I also investigated the drivers behind the B2B buyer’s rationalisation process—they’re making decisions that impact their career, reputation, and livelihood. Therefore the best thing a brand can do is to deliver information that has been deliberately crafted to help the buyer make a sound decision. This means we’re eliminating fluff that gets in the way of clearly articulating and quantifying product value. So if you’re marketing an inferior product, tough luck, you’ve fallen behind before you’ve even started.
Begin with two macro-level drivers when building out B2B communications:
- Convey Empathy for the Buyer. Cater to the buyer’s emotional needs, telling stories that build trust, confidence, and credibility for the brand. Relate that we understand the buyer’s challenges and opportunities. And personalise their experience with our brand by being at the right place, with the right message, at the right time in the customer journey. This is where we can put data to work in a meaningful way to deliver context-aware communications that are customised to signals such as industry classification, previous engagements with the prospect’s company, and perceived levels of purchase intent.
- Convey Irrefutable Value. Cater to the buyer’s logical needs, showing value that de-risks the decision-making process. Really show value, don’t just talk about it, by demonstrating how the product or service fits into the customer’s ecosystem to reduce friction and create quantifiable performance. Use terminology that goes beyond simple ROI and dives right into audience-resonating objectives such as reducing the number of security breaches, increasing customer retention, improving product adoption, and reducing costly errors. This is where we can gain significant benefit from descriptive imagery that bring numbers and expected benefits to life, such as screenshots that help the prospect visualise how a software product solves problems in critical moments.
As the B2B Marketing space heats up we can expect a red ocean market flooded with sameness as competing marketers, emboldened by volumes of data and hefty tech stacks, vie for the same customers in the same channels by hitting them over the head with right place-right time promotional offers and funnel squeeze nurture sequences. This isn’t new or unique to our modern age—this is how trends work: once they’re hyped up, the masses follow. The marketers that find blue oceans and build distinctive brand experiences will come out on top with high performing brand and demand programs—simplifying communications to give the buyer what they’re looking for, and nothing more, is an honest start.