But there are signs that B2B marketing is stepping up its game in applying lessons learned from its B2C counterparts. The following are three important marketing trends we see emerging along these blurred B2B-B2C lines.
1. The age of "frictionless customer experience" is upon us.
Amazon, Zappos, and Target, among many others, provide functional, accessible websites that engage customers with highly personalized experiences based on preference recognition, reward programs, and painless payments. In other words, they provide a comprehensive digital experience that makes a trip to the store almost unnecessary. The 24/7/365 on-demand service sector is also growing in popularity as more and more websites offer live chat support. This is what we call "frictionless customer experience." It's the easy and intuitive browsing or online shopping experience that you walk away from without having the "I just sucked on a lemon" face for the rest of the day. And it's increasingly becoming the expectation instead of the pleasant exception.
But don't think this is limited to holiday shopping on Amazon. Individuals experiencing this in consumer-land desire and require the same level of service and effortless experience in the B2B marketing world. Essentially, it boils down to this: any customer interaction should be provided without frustration. That's a simple concept to carry over into our B2B world, and Staples-owned, purpose-built, B2B e-commerce engine Quill.com is leading the charge. For more on how to achieve this yourself, see Forbes' 5 Essential Tools for Providing Frictionless Customer Experiences.
2. Turns out, emotional connections are key in B2B.
Where Amazon and Zappos are focused on making it 'easy,' brands like Unilever's Dove, GE Imagination, GoPro, and Google have elevated their brand value through stories that touch our hearts. When these stories feel timely and/or relevant to our own lives, we get reeled in even more so and are compelled to share the content in an almost 'pledge of allegiance' fashion.
Compelling and relevant content plus social media magic equals brand engagement and loyalty. Whether it's a global campaign to celebrate women's beauty from the inside out (Dove) or an inspirational story of a firefighter who brings a kitten back to life (GoPro), it works. This type of content marketing isn't about selling products, it's about demonstrating brand value. Google isn't a search engine. Google is a digital toolset that breaks down time, space, and knowledge barriers to enable meaningful connections and personal growth. It's the customers who now own the conversation conch shell, and brands just need to give them something to toot that horn about.
More and more, we see business decision makers having a bigger personal and professional stake in the decision to purchase. Over recent years as financial resources have gotten more constrained, the stakes have been raised to assure senior management that investment in a new technology or implementing a new campaign is worth the time and resources it demands. This means emotional stakes are higher and in turn, emotional connections with B2B brands are in fact greater than B2C brands. The risks of decision making are not simply finding out that a certain antiperspirant deodorant does not actually stop you from perspiring. It may be your job on the line.
3. Conversations are better when you stop waiting for your turn to speak and start listening.
As we mentioned before—the customer owns the conversation. It's out there and it's happening. Likely, you're brand is being talked about. Social media listening solutions are becoming more prevalent. Armed with the tools to become excellent listeners, we can finally hear what our customers candidly think and feel about our brand. We can stop white-knuckling the wheel and gain some flexibility in our marketing channel as we learn to interpret and react to social data. There's no question this will be difficult in regulated markets—in healthcare and financial services, especially; however, if we can tap into the social and digital space, provide relevant and timely content to catalyze conversation, and provide service and product excellence, we will find our B2B brands gaining the credibility and market share they deserve.
It's the funny thing about progress. As an imagined luxury or convenience becomes available, you are immediately judged on your inability to provide this service. Ever heard Louis CK's bit about WiFi on a plane? B2C marketing trends have done the same thing and set expectations. And once a standard is set, all must follow, and follow flawlessly.