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Why Your B2B Marketing Sucks

The most common and persistent problem in B2B marketing is... the marketing group. There are exceptions, but most B2B marketing professionals think that the world works like it does on the TV show Mad Men.

Unfortunately, that method of marketing is getting less effective in marketing consumer goods, and it was never very good for B2B products and services anyway.

Every time I post about strategic marketing and branding in B2B companies, I get the same comments: "What about Coke?" or "What about Nike?" Well, I hate to point out the obvious, but:

  1. Those are consumer products not B2B products.
  2. Those are among the 25 or so brands that are universally recognized.
  3. Over the years those companies have paid billions of dollars to create brand awareness.
Thinking that your B2B firm should imitate Coke's branding strategy is like saying that Lichtenstein should imitate China's economic policy. Your B2B firm does not have the monetary muscle to establish a brand in that manner. Nor would it necessarily be useful to do so, if it actually were possible.

The reason B2B marketing mostly sucks is that most B2B marketeers were trained to think of marketing in terms of "broadcast messaging." This textbook marketing strategy consists of three basic steps:

  • STEP #1: Create a product that has a broad appeal so intense that demand "pulls" the product through the sales channel.
  • STEP #2: Reach as large an audience as possible with a message that appeals to as many potential buyers as possible.
  • STEP #3: Replace desire for the product with desire for the brand, so that the brand can be extended into additional product categories.
HOWEVER, when it comes to B2B, there are two problems with this traditional "broadcast messaging" approach.

First, broadcast messaging is getting less effective due to the fragmentation of media. The explosion of media outlets and the proliferation of advertising venues has created a state of "brand overload." There are so many brand messages flying around everywhere that consumers tune out 99.44 percent of them. And broadcast messaging was never all that effective, even back in the 20th century.

Probably less than 1 out of 100 branding efforts was actually successful, if measured in terms of increasing revenue or profit, and today that ratio is probably more like 1 out of 1000. In any case, there are only a handful of really successful consumer brands. Most marketing groups, even with a big budget, have about as much chance of creating a "Coke-like" brand as they have of winning the lottery, three times running.

Second, B2B products need to be narrowly targeted, which requires entirely different tools. Contrary to popular belief, most B2B firms do not sell products. They sell change. More specifically, they are selling the change that will occur in the customer's business as the result of buying the product or service.

While it's true that consumer products also sell "change," it's usually just an emotional change, as is "you'll feel great with these sneakers on." With B2B, the change that being sold completely different.

It's quantitative change, not qualitative change. Businesses are all about money, not "lookin' good" or "feelin' great." B2B offerings must therefore be able to have some kind of integral effect on a company's financials (business model, supply chain, cost structure, etc.).

Because the financials of every company and industry are different, the change that's sold through B2B is necessarily different for every customer. Therefore, B2B marketing requires "narrowcast messaging" that appeals to a small, highly targeted audience. Such messages, to be effective, must:

  • Address a limited set of customer problems, rather than have a broad swath of appeal.
  • Emphasize a limited number of relevant capabilities, rather than a broad set features.
  • Target a specific industry, industry sector, or better yet a specific customer.
  • Aim at firms of a certain size, because startups, SMBs and enterprises are completely different.
In other words, the messaging requirements for marketing B2B are the EXACT OPPOSITE of the requirements for a consumer product.

If you're reading carefully, you probably see where I'm going with this. In B2B firms, it's always the sales force that understands the narrowcasting concept, because that's what they do every day. Therefore, unless the B2B marketing group is willing to "sit at the feet" of the sales team, they'll never be able to help the sales team to sell.

Unfortunately, many B2B marketers would rather pretend that they're Don Draper rather than listen to the people who know what's going on with the customer base. Sad, but true.

When B2B marketing groups emulate the behavior of consumer marketing groups, it creates a company that's "bi-lingual." The marketing group talks one language (broadcast messaging about a product) while the sales group talks another language (narrowcast messaging about a solution).

This is expensive because two marketing campaigns (the official marketing-driven one and the unofficial sales-driven one) cost more than one. It's also a recipe for internal conflict because the marketeers (who are convinced they are right) will continually try to force the broadcast messaging down the throat of the sales team, even though the sales team knows, from experience, that those messages don't work.

It's also confusing for the customer, who may be exposed to both messages simultaneously. I've seen examples where what the broadcast message was almost the exact opposite of the narrowcast message coming from the sales group.

For example, I've seen at least a dozen high tech vendors with marketing groups broadcasting a "one-stop-shop" message, but with sales engagements that require industry-specific partnerships. The broadcast message forces the partners to see the vendor as competition, thereby making it MORE difficult for the sales team to recruit partners to develop individual sales opportunities.

It's important to emphasize that we're not talking about two equally valid messages. The broadcast message is stupid and doesn't work, while the narrowcast message is smart and does work. In other words, the marketing group is almost always wrong and the sales group is almost always right.

Tomorrow I'll explain what you need to do in order to fix your B2B marketing group so that it functions correctly.

BTW, the observation about broadcast versus narrowcast comes from a presentation by Bob Schmonsees, a noted authority on marketing and sales alignment.

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