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The changing face of B2B marketing

In B2B, age-old ways of doing business are changing

1. B2B organizations are moving to digital marketing, slowly but surely

Digital marketing has got many organizations seriously interested in marketing itself. These organizations have never earlier spent on mainline media such as press or TV.

A related facet is the interest shown by B2B organizations, both product manufacturers as well as those in services businesses, in digital marketing. We have had the privilege of working with close to a dozen B2B organizations. This post is based on our learning.

B2B organizations have traditionally relied on a couple of marketing channels. The first is exhibitions and events. Manufacturing companies showcase their products and new developments at the leading exhibitions in their own sector. In addition to attending exhibitions in their home country, visiting the leading international exhibition in Dusseldorf or Frankfurt or elsewhere in Europe and/or U.S.A. is de rigueur, a key part of the company’s annual marketing calendar. Similarly, services companies tend to participate in events related to their own sector – software, media, consulting or other.

The second channel traditionally used in B2B marketing is trade journals or industry magazines. I know personally of trade journals favoured by chemicals, pharma and equipment manufacturers. There are also separate magazines for HR, I.T., Finance and other corporate executives, who are all potential buyers of B2B services.

However, both the above non-digital channels have been under pressure of late. During the recent Covid-19 pandemic (Q2 2020 to Q2 2022), no exhibitions could be held. No guesses for what some of the exhibitor companies started evaluating: digital marketing. The need was felt most acutely for the international or exports business of these companies, as international travel was under a blanket ban during these two years. Not all B2B organizations considered this, of course. Some have.

The trade journals or magazines, on the other hand, have suffered declining readership for their print editions, not unlike the news and general interest publications. The online editions are getting viewership. (I don’t have readership and viewership data to support this, not yet – this is more of an observation). Yet, in my experience, B2B companies have been slow to advertise online. We have not investigated why but suspect it could be unfamiliarity with the online medium.

2. What does it take to succeed in digital marketing for B2B?

B2B businesses are often in mature, competitive industries (think manufacturing). Or, they are in industries where the product or service is new or unproven (think services). While B2C businesses have usually focused on building a brand and have been able to achieve brand recognition, many B2B businesses have not. Or, they have brand recognition, but their buyers are unsure about the differentiation this brand brings and whether it deserves any price advantage over lesser-known players.

How does one establish a B2B brand in digital marketing? Like offline brand marketing, one needs to know how the product or service is relevant and differentiated (from competition). Then one develops a brand identity, an exercise that’s largely about visual design.

A basic building block is the website. Is your website technically sound? Is it user-friendly?
Next to consider is social media. The common factor in both website and social media is content. Do you have things to talk about with regards to the product or the industry that are relevant and useful for prospective buyers and somewhat different from the run of the mill? Do you have people who can translate these thoughts into great web pages, blogs, social media posts and other content?

This is one way digital marketing for B2B unfolds. It sounds easy but isn’t. It needs the continuous creation of relevant ideas and great execution over time. Yes, we are talking in terms of 1 year+.

The parallel way is running ad campaigns on B2B ad platforms like LinkedIn. In addition to brand-building, ads help generate leads, faster than what non-paid digital marketing can. Here the points to ponder are: How do we maximize leads ? What are the proven tricks for B2B lead generation? What works best and when?

One other point. The digital marketer, whether an agency or in-house team, needs to have a deep understanding of your organization and brand. If you are a products manufacturer, the digital marketer needs to be comfortable with science and technology, to be able to market you better.

3. What are the key benefits that our B2B clients have seen with digital marketing?

Positive mentions in social media
Positive mentions are available permanently online. They provide ‘social proof‘ i.e. they work like a 3rd party endorsement.
Greater self-confidence among the sales team
We have found sales teams proudly showcasing a good website and well-made online ad campaigns to
prospective customers. Sales finally gets something interesting that helps them sell other than their standard pitch and brochure.
Larger number of steady enquiries
Great digital marketing helps establish an enquiries or leads pipeline, independent of the B2B sales efforts. The leads come in month on month, day after day.
More enquiries from remote markets
Enquiries are seen from locations where the company does not have a branch office and where salespeople do not call or visit
More enquiries from international markets
International business is an important benefit of digital marketing. Both a website and it’s SEO as well as paid campaigns help generate enquiries.
At least one large order occasionally
While most enquiries can be small, we have had clients who regularly if not frequently receive large value enquiries
Less seasonality
Digital marketing reduces the seasonal fluctuations in the business.

That’s it for now. I am trying to add useful posts more frequently than before. Your comments and/or – if you are not a subscriber – subscription to this blog will certainly motivate. You can find the subscription link on the blog home page on the top right. Ciao 🙂

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