By Richard Jebb, Head of Content at davies tanner
I read with interest a recent article about the new approach to brand marketing – targeting the user, rather than the buyer – which is being taken by newcomer brands. The article ‘A new approach to Business to Consumer brand marketing’ was published Harvard Business Review and is an enlightening piece that pinpoints the factors at the heart of the success of disruptor brands and I recommend reading it. However, it strikes me that the principles explained take a lot from what most B2B business models have always been based on. So, is there anything for meeting and events businesses to learn from this?
The article explains how established consumer brands, such as Gillette are trusted by consumers, but are losing out to newcomer brands such as Dollar Shave Club, because, rather than push for sales, the new brands help customers use their products and in doing so engender an emotional connection. In summary, the HBR article explains it as such, “traditional brands focus on positioning their brands in the minds of their customers, digital brands focus on positioning their brands in the lives of their customers. Furthermore, they engage customers more as users than as buyers, shifting their investments from pre-purchase promotion and sales to post-purchase renewal and advocacy.”
To me, this is the equivalent of a good supplier or agency and client relationship – the goal of the supplier/agent is to take care of the long term needs of their clients and help them derive the most benefit from the products and services supplied – we add value and make their lives easier or businesses better for the long-term.
In many ways, this apparently new form of marketing is just a return to the old-style warm and caring service a customer could expect from good bricks and mortar salespeople and retail staff. When buying products from local shops and showrooms was the norm, these establishments employed people that helped you use and derive the most value from the products they sold. They provided advice, information and guidance and by doing so, built relationships with their customers.
This is where the business to business sector can take some lessons. And it’s about online engagement.
Moments of truth
To quote the HBR article, “Purchase brands worry about what they say to customers; usage brands worry about what customers say to each other. For example, where traditional hotels put more emphasis on the content in their advertising, Airbnb puts a greater emphasis on the content generated and shared by hosts and guests about their experiences.”
I’d argue that B2B brands put their emphasis on both ‘moments of truth’ in the customer experience – we care about what we say to customers and we care about what they say to each other. As stated earlier, it’s the way it’s always been. However, there is an important factor we should take into account, the internet and social media are game-changers, they make it far easier for our customers to talk about our products and services and they raise expectations of the way we communicate.
Remember, in the business events industry, we serve our customers’ customers, in the form of delegates and hospitality guests. These groups now have the means to sing your business’s praises, or damn it to hell, through social media and online review sites, so we need to consider them in our communications strategy.
Whether you are B2C or B2B, digital technologies significantly increase the engagement potential of communications, improving brand building capabilities. As well as pre-purchase communication, there’s an opportunity, no, an expectation, to produce content that enhances usage and encourages advocacy in online communities. By publishing relevant online content that is of genuine use to our target audience, you can effectively deliver warm and caring aftersales experiences, before the customer has bought from you, and start building a meaningful relationship with them. The message is ‘look how we’re helping you now, imagine what we’ll do for you if you become a client’. But it’s difficult to get right, producing relevant and engaging content is not easy, it may require a rethink of your current communications strategy.
As always, customer service is paramount – even if it requires an alteration to your product, you must ensure the brand promise and experience are authentically one and the same.
When you have customers talking positively about their experience with you online, that’s when you know you’re on the right tracks.