Brands waste 95% of their B2B marketing: business marketing in a personal world


2020 has taught us to familiarize ourselves with dizzyingly fuzzy lines.

With no commute to work, wardrobe changes, or illusions of personality perfection at work, we’ve all learned a key lesson. That even when we are paid to do something, we are still people. People with real lives. True dreams, fears, insecurities. And we don’t magically lose these human qualities – we never have – just because we walked through the doors of an office.

It is for this very reason that I really hope that we can stop marketing to commercial buyers differently from the way we market to consumers.

Good marketing – consumer or B2B – is at the heart of storytelling. And every great story begins the same, with the protagonist wanting something.

Cinderella wanted freedom. Ulysses wanted to go home. Romeo wanted to marry Juliet.

In great marketing, it’s the same thing. It’s about what the customer – not the brand – wants. And more importantly, what the customer wants to feel.

People want to feel creative. Thus, they pay more for Apple, even if it is to perform the most mundane digital tasks.

People want to feel like good parents. So they pay more for Pampers, even when P&G sells Luvs as a buy-to-buy brand once you’ve overcome the urge to overspend to feel like the perfect parent.

People want to feel free. So, they pay a premium for a Harley Davidson motorcycle, even though most of them don’t ride it regularly.

And yes. As hard as it sounds to believe, even B2B buyers want to feel something.

Indeed, according to Professor at Harvard, Gerald Zaltman95% of buying decisions – or any decision – are based primarily on emotion. Because it turns out that decision making happens in the part of the human brain that is almost absolutely unaffected by rational reasons for believing.

So why do most (or virtually all) brands write briefs that start out the same way? Here is our business challenge. Here is our new product. Here is our differentiator?

And why does most B2B marketing rely on unimpressive product photographs and endless chunks of technical text that no one will ever be able to read or understand?

Because 95% of us are still convinced that people buy with their heads.

But luckily, some B2B brands use theirs.

Eaton Company is a great example. They know that it is not enough to sell technical specifications to IT professionals. Because what these buyers really need is to feel understood – for their whims and everything. Feeling powerful and included – although almost every one of them is, by the nature of their work, a stranger to their organization.

Lenovo’s data center group got it too. They realize that server rooms and promises full of hot air literally and figuratively don’t work. The data is also not visualized like everyone else – with the same photo bank. Rather, it is about making people understand that if the numbers add up, it is the people who make them count. And these people are ready to be at the heart of the story.

And then there is Vistaprint. For them, it wasn’t enough to offer small businesses owned by veterans and LGBTQ + people the best deal on business cards. Because what they really wanted was for their businesses to look as legitimate and real as they did in their heads. This prompted Vistaprint to step up its efforts and create the very first physical storefronts for entrepreneurs, helping them make their dreams come true.

So even if client briefs don’t change, agencies need to change the way they treat them. And it’s clear where to start:

Start with the customer, not the brand.

Learn what they are afraid of, what their aspirations are and what they would like more people to know about them. Real truths, often unexpected. An understanding of what they want to feel.

Make sure your understanding extends beyond their personal work.

Star Wars or Star Trek? Billions or inheritance? Crafts or homebrew? Not so that you can develop a character with a wacky name to say you did. But in this way you can move forward with empathy. So you never lose sight of where the protagonist is on their journey.

Talk about technical specifications if, and only if, it can be done in a useful way.

And in a way that’s helpful and empathetic to get that protagonist where they want to go. So that they feel like they want to feel. Customers don’t want new features from your brands. They want their own personal success.

Because the truth is now clear. We are all real people.

Under the desk, we all wear sweatpants. And, it turns out, in our minds, we always have been. Because all business is personal. And those who get there first will walk past.

Jeb Blatt, SVP, Director of Client Services at Jack Morton.

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