Two big myths about B2B branding and marketing

If you Google, “Why is B2B marketing different?” you’ll get tons of results, all listing out in minute detail why branding a B2B product or service – or marketing to B2B audiences – is a million miles away from B2C.

The arguments sound convincing. I just don’t think they’re true.

These are the things people will tell you about B2B branding and marketing…

B2B products and services are more complex

This argument says that because an electrical generator is “more complex” than a bottle of shampoo then the normal rules of branding or marketing can’t apply.

I think it’s a cop-out. There are plenty of complex consumer goods and services. It’s just that when they’re branded and marketed well, they’re positioned in a way that makes their benefits obvious to a potential customer.

Cars, computers, legal services, ovulation tests… these are all complex things. Yet we’re able to buy them and make our lives easier and happier because we have them – precisely because we understand what they do, and why they’re relevant to us.

Good marketers sell benefits, not features.

That’s because features aren’t always the most differentiating thing about a product or service. In and of themselves, features don’t always give customers a good enough reason to choose one company over another.

The mistake that many B2B organisations make is assuming that they’re marketing to their peers. They believe that because they’re scientists manufacturing lab equipment, the people they’re selling to will care about the exact properties of the materials they’re using – or their methodologies for testing.

They think that because they’re scientists and their customers are scientists, that it’s ok to concentrate on the functional and to disregard the questions people might be asking themselves when they’re buying lab equipment:

  • Does it last?
  • Does it allow me to conform to regulations?
  • Is your customer service good?
  • Will this company share ideas and insight with me, as well as selling me beakers and test tubes?

If you concentrate on the functional, you end up with websites and promotional materials that look like this:

Which is OK to a point. But if I’m a potential customer, how do I choose between this and the exact same services that this company’s competitors offer?

Are B2B products and services more complex? Sometimes, yes – but so what? If we ditch the marketing and branding approaches that work so well in B2C, then we’re just letting our clients down.

B2B purchasing is rational

There’s an unspoken narrative out there that end consumers are silly, flighty people who buy on whims – or to “boost their status”. And that people who work in businesses make their decisions with Vulcan-like logic and detachment.

Which, of course, is just nonsense.

Senior managers take advice and know rationally what to do. But they follow their gut. They work with companies they like. They do what feels right to them.

Which often isn’t logical. In fact the way human beings make decisions – regardless of where they’re making them – is rarely, if ever, logical. If you don’t believe me, read some Daniel Kahneman (actually, even if you do believe me, read some Daniel Kahneman).

Consumers are not stupid. They’re not herd-like beasts who can only make decisions on whims – or who only buy things because they like wearing clothes with logos on. We’re all consumers – and our reasons for buying things are very, very complex. Human behaviour is complex. It’s complex out of work – and it’s complex in work. It’s a big mistake to think that people have a “rational” work self and an “emotional” not-at-work self.

I’m not suggesting that the marketing materials for a new petrochemical technology shouldn’t contain some detail. But I don’t think the detail should be the headline. Instead, tell potential customers that the technology:

  • Uses less space
  • Uses less water
  • Comes with training and on-going maintenance

Benefit, benefit, benefit. Then go into the detail.

Remember too that decision-makers often don’t want or need to know everything. They need enough to get interested. They’ll thank you for saving the minute detail for the people who implement the project.

So why is features-focused marketing the norm in B2B?

B2B businesses are often run by specialists – people who have deep technical understanding of the kind of work they do. They’re chemists, lawyers, language specialists, bakers, lighting experts, engineers, farmers, oil rig designers, cheese makers, boat builders… you name it, they know all about it. And that’s why they started their business, or joined the business they work for.

As well as being subject matter experts, they can be very wary of marketing. They might believe it’s a waste of money. Or that it’s fluff – OK for silly people who buy shampoo, but not appropriate for serious people with serious business to attend to.

And these can be very deep-seated beliefs.

But our job is to show that there are alternatives – that there doesn’t need to be such a divide between B2B and B2C worlds. And that to really succeed, a B2B brand needs to differentiate in exactly the same way that a consumer brand does.

When we’re marketing to other businesses, we’re not marketing to buildings or faceless organisations. We’re marketing to other people – and they’re people who have emotions, and who make decisions in complicated ways.

The content of this post came from a talk Liz gave at Cardiff Business School. If you’d like Wordtree to talk at your organisation, please get in touch.