This post originally ran on MarketingLand, November 3, 2015.
My days recently have been full of conversations involving smart marketers—so much so that I had another I had to share.
Stephanie Meyer is the global head of Marketing Operations at GE Healthcare, a Marketo client and an $18.3-billion global business that sells advanced health care solutions to provider facilities in more than 100 countries.
I think most people—perhaps even the folks at GE Healthcare—would have historically categorized this as a “B2B” business. But during our conversation, Meyer offered incredible insight—that spoke to something that has been very much on my mind over the last year—as we talked about the rise of engagement marketing.
“It’s not about B2B, or B2C—it’s about B2 Human,” she said. “It’s about how we engage with our customers in deep, relevant and varied ways.”
I hear this a lot in my conversations with CMOs. Old distinctions are going away.
It’s not about how we see ourselves (e.g., “We sell to consumers” or “We sell to businesses”), but rather, it’s about how our customers see us.
Customers aren’t obsessing about definitions. They don’t put themselves into one bucket or another. But they all expect a certain type of engagement with organizations, whether they are buying jewelry, basketball tickets or health care systems.
As a result, marketers are “crossing the aisle,” learning from each other’s best practices.
So, here’s a bold statement: The marketers who don’t embrace this new, more holistic vision of engagement will lose, and the vendors who try to force this artificial distinction on marketers will lose, as well.
Tomorrow’s marketers are going to be skilled in a set of best practices that spans both universes and brings them together in a new unified art and science.
The Holy Grail for marketers is to deliver the right message to the right people at the right time. That’s the way to drive real engagement, and B2B marketers have been working at this for years with technologies like marketing automation that allow them to communicate with known people on a very personal level.
Ultimately, it’s people—regular human beings—who determine business purchases for their organizations and companies. And that means getting messages tailored to their specific concerns.
GE Healthcare learned that lesson the hard way. Before Meyer’s arrival, doctors living in India and physicians living in the United States received the same undifferentiated messages from marketing.
GE Healthcare was like a lot of traditional “B2C” marketers who thought that their audience was so large that they couldn’t possibly talk to individuals on a personal level. In this mode, companies kept blasting out generic messages at everyone, convinced there was no other way.
Folks like Amazon and Netflix have certainly destroyed that notion and shown us all that consumer companies can indeed have their cake and eat it, too. B2C companies have been working with new technologies that allow them to get to a more tailored audience, even when they don’t know the names of the people they are targeting.
Now, traditional B2B marketers want in on that game, too.
And what about the lingering question of whether GE’s interactions with doctors constitute a B2B or a B2C exercise? Hard to say, right?
But that’s not what’s important here. The lines and techniques are blurring. It’s the relationship with the customer—with the human being—that’s key.
More B2C marketers are paying attention to what their B2B brethren are doing and trying to connect more directly with customers in relevant, ongoing conversations.
Building a relationship requires marketers to pay close attention—what does she like? What doesn’t she like? Talk to her about the former, not the latter.
We all lived through a time when marketers thought about the idea of targeting a steady stream of communication at someone based on which white paper they downloaded as a “B2B thing.”
Consumer companies realize that they need to do the same thing. They need communications to be part of a continuous conversation, not just a single campaign that results in a certain number of brand impressions.
For a long time, in both consumer and business marketing, it has been more about “random acts of marketing” than it’s been about a conversation. Now, an ad or an email or a text message should all be part of a cohesive “nurturing” process that develops a relationship over time.
This concept of nurturing is one that is now becoming central to all marketing processes—regardless of the type of business. This applies whether I’m buying a pair of headphones sold by 15 different retailers or if I’m choosing which company will provide the health care equipment for my hospital.
Never lose track of the fact that humans behave the same way regardless of what we are buying; I’m more inclined to choose you when I know you and when I feel like you know me.
Storytelling And Emotion Matter For Everyone
People have traditionally ascribed artful storytelling and the emotional connections they forge—everything from Budweiser puppies to sexy automobiles—with consumer goods and consumer marketers.
Well, if real, live human beings drive purchase decisions for goods of every kind, shouldn’t every marketer try to make that kind of a connection, regardless of what they are marketing?
This hit me hard as Meyer talked about GE Healthcare’s business—not in terms of how impressive the technology was in their systems, per se—but rather, the way she talked about the company as “one with heart; here is a company that saves 3,000 lives a day.” That grabbed me emotionally.
This point is about great content — and great content knows no segmentation. It’s not about whether it’s supposedly a B2B or B2C thing. People just respond to great content on intellectual and visceral levels.
In a world where I am trying to build a relationship continuously over time—at a very relevant and personal level—I need this content even more. And I need even more of it.
Even the channels for all this content are converging.
It used to be that people thought of a place like Facebook as a “consumer channel” and LinkedIn as a “business channel.” Now, I see ads from traditional B2B companies in my Facebook feed and ads from traditional consumer companies on my LinkedIn page.
I’ve been a “business” buyer for almost 20 years, but I’d be lying if I told you I made every one of those decisions based on a clinical spreadsheet — or stopped thinking about those needs and purchases when I was in a “consumer” setting. Last I checked, I am a human being, and therefore the decisions I make have an emotional element to them — regardless of where I am.
It’s Not About Interest… It’s About Outcomes
For years, both B2C and B2B marketers have been stuck when it came to describing the value they were creating in exchange for the substantial amounts of money they were investing. As a result, B2C marketers talked about “clicks and impressions,” while B2B marketers talked about “leads” — all the while spending vast sums of money.
But the real question that the CEO or CFO is—or should be—asking after a lead or a click is, “Now what?”
We live in a different world now in which marketers of all kinds have the ability to nurture a click or a lead along a relationship arc towards advocacy, a sale, a repeat purchase, an opportunity or revenue—whatever the business goal.
What’s more, marketers have the ability to do it in deeply personal ways. They can tell stories in a continuous fashion with content over time and measure the impact of their engagement with those customers in real business terms.
And not only can marketers from both sides of the aisle direct customers toward a mutual outcome, they are also converging on a common science of measurement and analytics that allows them to finally answer the questions of impact that have been vexing them for so long.
B2B and B2C labels have always been more about our companies and the products we sell than they’ve been about our customers. So as we navigate this new world, keep in mind that our customers have always been people. They’ve always been human.
And now more than ever, we live in a customer-driven world.
While there may be some differences—“high-consideration” buying versus “low-consideration” buying, or “direct sales” models versus “indirect channel” models—the truth is that “consumer” marketers and “business” marketers are far more similar than they are different. We have a lot to learn from each other.
Isn’t it about time we marketers abandoned labels that just get in the way of serving our customers—as well as serving ourselves?