Vice President of Brand Marketing & Communications at AvidXchange, one of the fastest growing technology companies in the U.S.
When was the last time you were inspired by a B2B marketing campaign? When have you looked at a piece of B2B creative and thought, “They really get me”? Chances are, not recently. On the other hand, you can probably easily remember a piece of creative from a consumer brand that just gave you the goose bumps or made you tear up.
Business-to-business (B2B) marketers are no less creative than consumer marketers, but I find that they often get lost in the data, bits and bytes of their offering and lose sight of the fact that while a company might be paying the bill for their products, there is ultimately a person behind the buying process. I call it the “B2B sea of sameness.”
You’ve seen it before — the same style of infographics, the same explainer videos. If you can remove a logo from a piece of creative and not tell that it belongs to a specific company, chances are you’re experiencing it.
Just like in their personal life, a B2B buyer is better influenced by standout creative that draws a line from their problems to the ability of your company to solve them.
How do you do this?
Here are three tips: Know your audience and behaviors. Differentiate yourself with an ownable brand story. And deliver a cohesive message across multiple channels.
Let’s dive deeper into the steps required.
Know your audience and their behaviors.
It’s crucial to learn about your customers’ problems and aspirations, and the role your business plays in them.
Is this buyer most worried about technology advances, cutting costs or reskilling their employees? Do they have an outdated process that slows them down that you can fix? What does this person do during the workday? Is this individual an account manager, director or CEO?
Truly understanding the people you want to reach, and developing creative content that speaks to their problems and needs, will determine if your narrative hits home.
Research and prepare thoroughly.
While basic, this step is crucial: Do thorough research. Hold strategy workshops with your executive team. Set up calls with customers to understand their brand’s voice. Do competitive positioning analysis and customer employee interviews. Create detailed buyer personas. Conduct extensive audits of existing content and materials. And test campaigns with customers and prospects.
Next, ask your customers if they want you to educate them about the market or provide comparisons of various competitive products. Are they ready for a webinar about your company? Figure out where they are in their buyer’s journey: the awareness, consideration or decision stage.
Then probe deeper. Delve into the lives of these specific people. Find out their names, genders and ages. Discover what company they work for and the age and demographics of that workforce. Know that company’s name, size and industry focus.
If the person works as an account manager, read job descriptions for people in those roles. Find out how this person’s performance gets evaluated. If this person reads an accounting trade publication every day, read it yourself. It’s a window into their wants.
Focus on feelings.
If you can show you understand your buyer’s problems and how they feel, you will have a better chance of crafting a story that helps them understand the value of your product.
Suppose your buyer works as an accounts payable manager and tells you they feel covered in paper because they haven’t automated their payment systems. Run an ad that shows a person covered in paper to capture how your buyer feels.
The ad shows you understand your customer’s specific gripe. If your company can solve that paper problem, you have something they value. There’s nothing vague or indirect about that.
Differentiate yourself with an ownable brand story and campaign.
You also don’t want to be vague about your brand’s distinctiveness. Identify a specific place you can own in your buyer’s mind. This way, they will think something specific and different about your brand. In their minds, you will stand out.
Don’t just communicate how you’re better; reveal how you’re different. Ditch your pitch on product capabilities; unveil how you satisfy unmet customer needs.
Use your buyer’s words to tell the story so they feel you understand them.
Take this a step further and make sure the brand story you own communicates what’s wrong with the old paradigm and how the emotions of your buyers have been negatively affected. Show them you feel their pain, and then tell them how the new paradigm will make them feel better.
I find that marketing teams that tell compelling stories — with memorable messages and emotionally charged creative — are more likely to outperform those who don’t.
While revealing these stories, have personality. Push boundaries beyond the predictable. Unleash your creativity, and be different. Remember, you are also a human being communicating directly to another one. Express yourself.
Deliver a cohesive message across the full B2B marketing mix.
Building on these marketing moves, repeat the story your customer actually wants to hear. Create the same vibe for your customer wherever they see your name. Synchronizing your campaign through the full B2B marketing mix takes discipline, vigilance and persistence.
It should be integrated and consistent to reach your customers wherever they are.
From sales enablement tools to content to digital to social to customer communications, the entire campaign needs to play like a fine-tuned symphony orchestra, with all the instruments producing a harmonious and singular tune — everything must fit.
I have a call to action for B2B marketers: Push the boundaries. Be creative. Be different. Avoid the B2B sea of sameness. Talk to your buyers like they’re real people — because they are — and show how you can help them overcome their obstacles and achieve their aspirations.
That’s what they really care about.
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