B2B Marketing Strategy For Small Business
How to get started with your B2B marketing strategy
Finding it difficult to get started with defining a B2B marketing strategy for your small business? Just start with a simple starting point: ‘do what you say, say what you do’. When it comes to B2B content marketing, the urge can be to present things better and more beautiful than they in fact are. But when you tell tall tales, you will not be taken too seriously. Then why would we assume this works in B2B marketing?
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Building real relationships should be at the center of your B2B marketing strategy
For building sustained B2B relationships, communication between businesses does not differ from communication between individuals. It’s therefore of huge importance that communication is the extension of the vision and the mission of an organization and aligned with the company strategy. When a small business has a clear vision on the market and society and acts according to their mission, the communication not only becomes more straightforward, the messages will be in line with the collective zeitgeist and the activities of the organization. Much like the individual who ‘does what he says’, the small business that ‘says what she does’ is more credible and will be viewed as more authentic.
The time when organizations could shape reality completely is definitely over. The enormous availability of information and the easy access for searching and sharing this information, means that business decision makers have pretty much all the information at their fingertips. Your audience is a mouse click away from knowing the ins and outs of your product, your organization, your employees, your customer satisfaction, and the views of influencers and experts.
Two thirds of the commercial buying process now takes place online, from user- to executive level. This doesn’t imply that personal contact has become less important, however, the majority of potential customers do go online to search for information. This presents an organization with the opportunity to put themselves forward and under the attention of potential customers, early on in the buyer journey. There’s a virtual treasure trove of information available online to potential customers. It therefore becomes crucial to be the ‘go-to’ destination for searching target audiences to consume information from.
Your B2B content is a strategic asset to attract and engage customers
It’s naive to think that sharing relevant content with B2B audiences will lead to leaked information or ‘company secrets’ being revealed to the public. It’s a common fear, but often unfounded. By far the most B2B content is already available and potential customers consume this information, only not in connection to your small business brand, not linked to you as experts, and not linked to you as the best source to provide potential customers with information to ideate thoughts surrounding investment in your products or services.
So you should not be afraid of including unique knowledge in your content strategy. Because the information in itself, is usually not the service customers pay you for. It’s much more about combining context and knowledge, understanding the problems and the experience of your company and team that creates the true value. And you can build the confidence needed in your company by sharing your knowledge and experience in their buyer journey as a core part of your B2B marketing strategy.
Let’s clarify this with an example. This afternoon you can read extensive instructions on carrying out open heart surgery. When you’re done, a patient won’t be knocking at the door to be treated by you (assuming you’re not a heart surgeon). Most likely, you’re a little insecure about the process yourself. What’s lacking is the knowledge, understanding and experience of a medical team that can put it into practice. Admittedly a slightly graphic example, but it illustrates the difference between theory and practice, or, in other words, the difference between information and the implementation, or application, thereof.
The wide availability of information and the self-sufficient, fully informed, commercial decision maker, require the supplier to be transparent. Jay Baer, in his bestseller book, ‘Youtility. Why Smart Marketing is about Help not Hype‘, argues that information must meet three criteria: Self Service, Transparency and Real Time Relevance.
Trust and authenticity, 2 basic ingredients to build a B2B relationship
Do you also have relatives, family members, colleagues and friends who have decided to become coach at the halfway stage of their career? In recent years, the recognition of the importance to be ‘authentic’ and ‘follow your heart’, seem to be gaining in popularity. Authenticity is the extent to which someone is loyal to themselves and their personality, spirit, despite all external impulses. Authenticity comes across through communication, verbal as well as non-verbal. Because authenticity plays an important role in building up confidence and trust, it is an essential starting point in marketing communications. Confidence in commercial decision making processes is, after all, crucial. And because content created by suppliers, by its very nature, is not entirely independent, for marketers it presents a huge challenge to work on credibility.
‘By being authentic, you resonate better with others. Therein lies your magnetism, the reason that someone opts for your product or service.’
Those loyal to themselves, after all, carry more credibility. Authenticity of small businesses is associated with the loyalty they have to their own core values, mission and vision statements. Thus, the communication of the employees, as well as that of the organization itself, is relevant. The identity of your small business must be shared with the employees to achieve one-on-one communication by the company.
Traditionally B2B marketing strategies are aimed at reaching as many audiences as possible. However, when marketing communications objectives are aimed at supporting and influencing decisions, the question is whether this is the right strategy. Reach is interesting for increasing brand awareness, but it doesn’t thereby influence commercial decisions in the right way. Confidence is more important than reach. Particularly small, specific communities are hugely influential. Translated to, for example, maintaining a company blog, a popular blogger needn’t be effective. Involving recognized niche experts can be far more interesting to influence decisions.
Your B2B Strategy should start with ‘Why’
Your B2B marketing strategy should always be an extension of the strategy of your small business as a whole. In the business strategy choices are made in the main, with regard to the possible directions the small business can take. Strategic decisions involve the long-term and therefore form the central starting point for (sub) decisions that need to be made in the short-term. The general scope for strategic decisions in the business world is somewhere from five to ten years.
To be able to make choices in the long-term, businesses must have a vision on the environment and the market in which they operate. A vision illustrates what the company aims to be. In order to achieve this, it’s important to examine the world as it is now, and the opportunities that exist for the organization in the future. In order to formulate a vision for the company, the following strategic questions can be posed:
- How is the external environment developing?
- How will the market in which we operate develop?
- What position do we want to take up?
- What are the conditions for this?
Subsequently, the mission defines the raison d’étre and the identity of the bsuiness. This explains the existence of the small business, who they are and what they believe in.
In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek captivatingly explains the importance of a mission statement as part of your strategy. He comes to the conclusion that the most successful organizations adopt a reverse control model, with regard to what is the norm. That model is brilliantly straightforward and works as follows. Decision making, taking action and communicating in successful organizations is all based on the right of existence (raison d’étre), in other words why they exist, and then defines how they fulfill this position.
This how subsequently determines what the activities will be, as indicated in the figure below.
Most entrepreneurs, managers and employees however argues otherwise. Every small business, business unit, or department can explain what they do. Some can even say how they do this. But only a few will be able to perfectly explain why. We aren’t referring of course to making profit, products or services. At best this defines the how.
Simon Sinek uses Apple as an example. Apple computers are more expensive that PCs, there has long been less software available for it, but a very large audience want to buy into it. Why? Sinek argues that the motivation can be traced back to the identification with Apple and the reason for being (raison d’étre). The Apple consumer will gladly pay a little more, because the brand is more in line with his own values.
In order to demonstrate the difference between communicating about what and communicating about why, it’s useful to compare the following messages:
- ‘We make great computers. They are beautifully designed and easy to use. Would you like to discover more?’
- ‘We think differently. We challenge the status quo, in everything that we do. This is reflected in our products, the design and the user friendliness. We make, among other things, computers. Are you interested in discovering more?’
Possibly the second statement appeals more to you than the first. The difference in perspective is the following:
- WHAT -> HOW
- WHY -> HOW -> WHAT
Because the why constitutes the starting point of the strategy, the organization is actually capable of changing the ‘status quo’. For example with the rise of the user-friendly user interface, the effect they’ve had on the music industry, their innovations in terms of the use of smartphones and the rise of the tablet, to name but a few. Remarkable is, among other things, the role that Apple has played in the music industry with iTunes. In doing so Apple is no longer just a computer company, remaining loyal to its conviction to genuinely challenge the status quo. The recent, and subtle, removal of the word ‘computers’ in the name coincides with this.
And Apple with Steve Jobs as leader is not alone in this. Other examples of successful organizations that, through solid leadership, place at the forefront the why in everything they do and how they communicate, were:
- Sam Walton (Walmart) wanted to provide quality products at an affordable price to country-wide America.
- Herb Kellerman (SouthWest Airlines) wanted to make traveling by airplane less boring and bring it to the common man.
- Bill Gates (Microsoft) at the end of the 1970s already believed the computer would be a valuable addition to offices and households and proceeded with the production of software.
When leadership falls away, as was the case a few years ago with Apple and Microsoft, it’s a huge challenge for the organization to keep operating in terms of the why-strategy. The power of communications on the why-level can be compared to friendships. Friends don’t love you for what you do, but for who you are. The same applies to customers and employees. Many companies have lost this perspective, they know what they do but not the reason why. This is why they are unable to communicate at the right level with their customers and employees.
The part of our brain that takes care of our emotions knows no languages. This is putting into words the reason why, which is so difficult. This is why it’s difficult to explain the actual reasons for why we love someone, so we tend to rationalize these reasons. But we do know it ‘feels good’. The power this has can therefore, according to Simon Sinek, be traced back to the fact that the limbic system in our brain deals with the why-level: a group of structures in the brain that concerns itself with emotion, motivation, enjoyment and the emotional memory.
Do B2B buyers make rationale or emotional decisions?
For a long time, the starting point in B2B marketing was that decisions were made, in large, rationally. Anticipating emotion was exclusive territory for the B2C marketers. However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that emotion plays an important role in B2B. Emotion and rationale are two power fields that, together – sometimes in agreement but sometimes conflicting – come to a decision. It’s not one or the other, black or white, but more of a gray area.
It’s interesting, here, to gain insight into the development of the human brain. The oldest part of the brain is also known as the ‘reptilian brain’, which determines our instinct. It’s the automatic pilot that keeps you out of harm’s way. Subsequently in our evolution, the limbic brain developed itself, responsible for our emotions. It determines what we like, who we love, but also our dislikes or the things that make us aggressive. What separates human beings from other creatures, is the neocortex. This is the most modern part of the brain, home to the intellect. This is what enables us to consider rational decisions.
Related to the model of Simon Sinek, there is a logical co-relation between the ‘why’ and the limbic brain.
Brand identity as marketing pillar of your small business
Via the brand identity, the small business subsequently communicates its identity. Brand identity is broader and farther reaching than a number of house style elements. It’s a combination of:
- behavior: shaped by company culture, based on the norms and values within the organization;
- design: the consistent use of certain visual trademarks, such as company logo, use of color and style elements;
- communication: the communicative output towards different stakeholders, such as investor relations, PR and marketing campaigns.
The brand identity provides valuable guidelines for the content of the B2B marketing message, as well as the tone of voice and visual appearance. Particular value for B2B content marketing can include the development of editorial guidelines and an editorial board. This terms, commonly used in the publishing business, offer a reference point, and direction, for the editorial elbow space of the content marketing initiatives. The editorial guidelines set out the goals, the principles and the starting points for communicating.
For B2B content marketers, aside from the existence of a living ‘company story’, it can provide grip for initiatives and campaigns. The company story is a tale (or a series of stories) that connects the vision and the mission to the positioning of the small business in the market and the society. It’s used as a strategic compass and aimed at all stakeholders, including employees, customers and shareholders.
Defining your B2B marketing strategy
So the message and the stories contained within the marketing activities of the company must be consistent with the mission, vision and strategy of the company. By sharing relevant knowledge, expertise and experience, in an authentic way, confidence and trust is created. Authentic communication is thereby guaranteed, and this is reinforced by communicating from the why-level. Not only should the content be in line with the strategy, defining the B2B marketing strategy must be compatible. Strategic choices in B2B marketing include the following:
- The measure to which content marketing is to be implemented relative to other marketing methods, such as sales promotion, brand advertising, cold calling, sponsorship and direct marketing.
- The objectives of content marketing in terms of lead generation, conversion, thought leadership, brand experience, brand recognition and loyalty.
- The product-market combinations your marketing will be geared towards.
- The people and the tools to strategically design the marketing activities.
- The commitment and acceptance of the B2B marketing strategy within the management of the organization.
This is how the company strategy forms the starting point for the B2B marketing strategy and therefor content marketing tactics. And to visualize this relationship, the layering of the strategy model of Simon Sinek can be linked to B2B content marketing in the following way.