1. B2B advertising is a new fad
2. There is no difference in B2B and B2C advertising
3. The world is round
B2B’s ‘overnight’ success story
Many of you will be conversant with Dr Jagdish Sheth’s ‘An Integrative Model of Industrial Buying Behaviour’ (published in the Journal of Marketing October 1973). No? Perhaps not entirely surprising, in that the majority of people in the marketing communications industry were not even born when he was articulating the complex nature of business buying decisions.
Dr Sheth has been writing prolifically on this subject for over forty years, yet you could easily be forgiven for thinking that integrated business-to-business (B2B) marketing has only come about because of the dramatic advances in digital communications over the last few years (which incidentally Sheth was flagging up almost ten years ago).
Thirty-five years ago, Tim Hazelhurst started the first dedicated B2B agency in the UK, Industrial Art Services (IAS), and for over twenty years Fifth Ring has been focused on highly sophisticated B2B communication solutions, particularly in the field of oil & gas. So although many are only now becoming conscious of the genre, there are those of us who have been in practice for way longer than we are comfortable to acknowledge.
That takes us to the difference
Be very suspicious of anyone who claims that B2B is just an extension of the techniques employed in the business-to-consumer (B2C) sector. It’s not a question of one being right and the other wrong. Without doubt, some of the greatest creative brains in the world have produced stunning and highly effective campaigns aimed at consumers since the turn of the twentieth century. But, for the majority of that time, these have taken the form of a monologue, brands directing their message at the ultimate purchaser with the expectation of a relatively immediate result. Conversely, B2B is about creating an ongoing dialogue with numerous and varied stakeholders over many months and even years. This involves the application of a series of robust, bespoke processes connecting planning, contact strategy and a creative approach that satisfies the multidimensional demands of the audiences.
In the late 1970s, published under the title ‘A framework for inter-organisational distribution channel management’, the good Dr Sheth, in conjunction with Gary Frazier, elegantly summarised the proposition as follows:
Why on earth no-one managed to articulate this before then is one of life’s enduring mysteries!
Seriously, B2B does require a whole different mindset. It also requires continuous and significant investment in processes and systems development that reflect, and occasionally actually anticipate, the changes in markets, financial paradigm and technologies that impact on business. Amongst these, the advances in technology above all have had the most profound effect.
Which is why the world is no longer round
The ever-increasing speed, reduction in costs and sophistication of communications technology have allowed companies to not only decentralise their operations but also radically reduce their hierarchies and flatten their decision-making processes.
Geography and borders have been removed as barriers to doing business. Functions no longer have to be located in one ‘head office’. So the world is now effectively flat. This makes the whole process of creating dialogue with the relevant stakeholders more challenging than ever before. Web 2.0 has made this more achievable and manageable whilst paradoxically creating far greater complexity and demands on marketers to approach their contact strategies in a considerably more forensic manner. And if you are going to capture and retain the attention of each and every key stakeholder, you had better have your messaging clearly targeted and backed up with all the necessary data and support materials.
So content is king. In addition to the conventional medium, there is now an incessant demand for information through web channels and an unremitting requirement to feed your social media groups (if you don’t others surely will). In addition, your customers don’t just want quantity they want it appropriately purposed as they journey through Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA) before they sign an order. This is another ‘new’ concept (E St Elmo Lewis – Financial Advertising 1907).
B2B – it’s not new. It is different, and getting more so by the day. And the world is now flat. Quite a lot to take in, in just 700 words. Fortunately greater insight is provided in the following pages.