B2B companies have had to change their sales strategy this year due to corona. But the brand does not have to suffer on account of the unavoidable halt in trade fairs and other physical events, according to two marketing experts.
Dennis Güth (DG) and Gunnar Schnarchendorff (GS) from the B2B agency wob AG reveal in an interview what B2B brands need today to stand out from the competition and generate unique experiences.
Mr Güth and Mr Schnarchendorff, a first very general question for you: what makes a B2B brand different from a B2C brand in terms of how the brand is built up?
GS: B2B brands are not found in store shelves and can therefore not speak for themselves. And in the business customer area, just one product or service is generally not on offer, but a comprehensive relationship to a company. This is what the building-up of the brand has to focus on. At the same time, in the area of B2B, the brand is often identical with the company, which is usually different for B2C.
Is it just as important for a strong B2B brand to boost sales as for a B2C brand? Or are other things like customer service more important?
GS: The question arises as to how much these can even be separated from one another nowadays. Of course, brand affinity continues to not play such a significant role in the B2B segment compared B2C, but the business customer field has massively caught up in the past few years. Here, too, brands will be connected with values, action and a purpose to an ever-higher degree.
In a recent survey, B2B decision-makers listed an average of nearly eleven different topics which their brand should especially stand for. Wouldn’t a focus on just a few, yet relevant, points of differentiation make more sense?
GS: Definitely. B2B brands require a clear positioning, which then serves as the basis for what they want to stand for. Eleven different topics clearly miss the mark when it comes to having a USP.
How has digitalisation changed brand leadership in the B2B segment?
GS: Digitalisation has broadly expanded the communication channels more than anything else. In the past, companies had much more control on a whole over their own brand. But today, due to social media for instance, where a brand is talked about, this isn’t the case much anymore. In turn, brand awareness has grown overall, which plays an important role when building up a brand.
B2B brands require a clear positioning, which then serves as the basis for what they want to stand for.
The buzzword “emotions” is being heard more and more when it comes to modern B2B marketing. For many years in the past, purely product-centric marketing seemed to be the measure of all things. So, what do B2B brands really need now?
GS: Emotions are becoming more important, as the leaps of innovation in the B2B segment are becoming smaller and smaller, and services or products are becoming replaceable at an ever-faster speed. And a customer’s decision for or against a company is based on emotional factors after all. This was often contested in the past, but a purchasing decision in B2B is always a decision for a relationship with a company, as the customer normally will have contact with the people there for many years. And of course emotions play a role in this respect.
Emotions are one point – but what else do B2B brands need to generate unique experiences in times like these?
GS: In the end, I as a B2B brand must be able to cultivate a relationship with the customer, to give him a chance to create ties with the company. To achieve this, credible, genuine and consistent communication is just as important as a clear stance with respect to certain topics. After all, a relationship between people and companies can best be fostered today via the brand.
In a talk at the B2B Marketing Days, you also spoke about virtual brand experiences as a means of corporate communication. Can you explain this in more detail?
DG: Virtual spaces are perfectly suitable for making a brand an experience and staging it, especially in such times as today with limitations due to corona. And even if in-person events shall be possible once again next year, I don’t know if all the companies and event organisers will be carrying on with business as usual. Many will be asking themselves if it even makes sense to invest hundreds of thousands of euros in a live trade fair. Exhibitors can save travel expenses, transfer fees, electricity costs and many other positions by putting their bets on the digital format. This is because real life has shown: such digital meeting points save time and money, the results can be measured and the target group is larger, as distances don’t play a role anymore. The best thing is that marketing, event, sales and IT can use this occasion to sit down at a table to develop a more digital company strategy together.
Dennis Güth (left) and Gunnar Schnarchendorff from the B2B agency wob AG
Do you have an example of this for us?
DG: Due to the cancellation of drupe, the leading trade fair for the printing industry, we developed a digital concept for Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG with which the company was able to even gain international influence: the Heidelberg Innovation Week 2020. Because the target group doesn’t know any geographical borders in the virtual space, we had participants from over 100 nations, including from the Fiji Islands. The user was able select from more than 300 sales employees before and during the event and make online appointments via an electronic booking tool. Thanks to seamless tracking, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG was able to determine afterwards which leads and business deals were as a direct result of the event. The customer’s conclusion: a digital event in this form is at least just as efficient as an offline event, if not even more effective when it comes to lead generation.
And to what extent are virtual events a means of in-house communication?
DG: There are big corporations who closed down their offices completely in the days of corona lockdown and put all their employees in home office. And they have now been working there for months in isolation, and the threat that they lose any sort of identification with the company is real. Here, too, digital formats can help – to make the employer brand an experience. A really recent example: a virtual Christmas party. This naturally can’t replace a physical party completely, but it is still a much better option for fostering team spirit among the staff and their connection to the company than just sending a Christmas card or a small gift.