Business customers are consumers too

Posted in Digital on 9 December 2013 By Simon Harper, Head of Digital and Strategic Consultancy

Why understanding trends in B2C digital marketing is important for B2B marketers. It goes without saying that business people are also consumers.

It's also quite evident that they buy products and services for themselves and their families online; but to what extent does an individual's 'consumer' experience and behaviour determine their expectations and behaviours when they are at work and what impact does this have on business to business marketing?

Whereas over a decade ago business people left work when they left the office or factory it is no longer the case that those two worlds are ring fenced. Convergence between people's personal and professional lives is being driven by a number of factors, of which the massive growth in mobile internet devices is the most significant. Add to this the growth of e-commerce aggregators, online communities, LinkedIn and Twitter, to mention just a few, and it's clear that there is a big overlap between previously separate circles of activity.

It's certainly the case that IT buyers are in the vanguard here, and this group has always been connected as a community; supporting and advising about the latest products and services. The IT buyer or influencer was the first to use their own 'consumer' smart phones as work tools giving them freedom to connect, to access information and to share their opinions wherever and whenever they want to.

In 2012 IDG (International Data Group) researched IT and business users who said they were more likely to access technology information after business hours (57%) than during the workday and a majority said they read technology product reviews (56%) via their smart phone. That means those individuals are mixing up work and play, business and leisure; a juxtaposition that cannot be ignored by firms wanting to engage them.

B2C digital marketers have for some time understood the importance of looking for a correlation between consumers' activities across different websites and have used behavioural targeting to deliver effective display advertising, paid search and, over the last five years, relevant social media advertising. Reaching audiences with a product or service offer that is relevant to them at the right moment has always been crucial. Business to business marketing online has also learnt how to apply many of the same techniques, and optimisation of the message, with the right presentation and in the most appropriate channel is now a key part of the B2B digital mix.

The growth of social media as a dominant trend in the consumer arena has seen the increased importance of developing and leveraging sentiment to promote brand, products and services. It is no longer sufficient to create content that is packed with popular and topical key words and key word phrases, there now has to be engagement with an audience so that those individuals start to create a buzz around the brand or the product or service within their social communities. The buzz, or 'groundswell', is what attracts potential customers and encourages enquiry, consideration and preference for a company's offering.

This has become particularly true in business to business marketing where long lead times in decision making favour those suppliers who keep their prospects engaged and interested over extended periods. Businesses who 'recruit' their business customers to talk about, and to advocate their products and services, are finding that they are gaining a cost effective edge over their competitors.

These successful B2B digital marketers think not only about creating useful content they also consider creating value from the participation of their own audiences to do so. That means not only more creative, unique, useful and insightful content but also an engagement with customers and prospects in a way that is open and transparent.

The essence of all this is the realisation that the power-shift in B2C marketing, where the consumer is now in a position of power over the business, is shaking up how business customers think of their relationships with their business suppliers. It may seem unlikely but even a choice of the most strategic of mission critical business procurement decisions may be tipped over the edge by a simple C. 

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