B2B marketing is going through a transformation and facing various challenges in the process. As found by the bvik Trendbarometer Industriekommunikation 2022, the success of brand communication no longer solely depends on the marketing experts. Today, the entire workforce of a company plays the leading role.
Marketing professor Dr Seon-Su Kim from the Cooperative State University of Baden-Württemberg (DHWB) Mosbach analysed the survey. In this Visable interview, he explains why B2B communication in Germany is behind, what is missing and which factors in B2B marketing will be essential for success in future.
Mr Kim, according to the analysis of the latest survey, you’ve come to the conclusion that B2B communication in Germany has a huge gap. Why is this? What are other countries doing better?
Based on the answers provided by those questioned, and above all the open comments, it was determined that all aspects of digitalisation have become a decisive factor for coming out ahead of the competition on an international level within B2B communication. And it is precisely here is where specialist staff numbers are obviously declining, and the respective planning and strategy in companies are missing. In other countries, competencies in digitalisation are often identified and supported much sooner and on a deeper level, both during the apprenticeship as well as in further training courses. Companies in North America, above all, and in the Asian regions have better conditions and can profit from these.
A surprising result of this year’s trend barometer is that employees at a company are the most important marketing factor. And this not only includes marketing experts, but also all staff members, who may serve as brand ambassadors. What does this look like in real life?
In theory, the marketing potential of employees has been obvious for many years. However, what’s surprising is that the practitioners have now clearly expressed this relevance like never before. On the one hand, the digital specialist competence of the marketers is becoming more and more important, but on the other hand all the staff members are brand ambassadors in their respective function, especially in the social networks.
For instance, when an employee from the finance and accounting department posts on her private Facebook account how happy she is with her job, this serves as big brownie points for the company and brand, as it is much more genuine and credible than the message from a paid post or a paid influencer.
According to the survey, the further development of digital skills is a decisive factor for future marketing success. Which skills particularly come into question in this respect?
Many of the top trends and challenges which are seen as critical to success revolve around the digital topics of big data, data analytics, and artificial intelligence or automated processes. But it is precisely in these fields that know-how is obviously lacking in B2B companies – and lacking exactly where implementation has to take place: in the marketing departments. The procurement of the one or other IT tool is not enough. These solutions have to also be leveraged by the communication experts and, possibly, be able to be adapted to tap into potential as far as possible. Here it’s important to start during the apprenticeships at the universities and at the same time during further training in the companies.
Dr Seon-Su Kim, marketing professor at the Cooperative State University of Baden-Württemberg (DHWB)
Another survey result is that agile methods have become indispensable. Can you explain this for us?
Many believe that agile project management implies not having any concrete goals to achieve. But this isn’t correct. It’s about finding a way to be more flexible on your way to achieving a goal and to adapt the goal if need be. And this flexibility has become much more important, as thanks to digital advancement new insights are being gained in ever-shorter periods of time, forcing stakeholders to continually rethink. The basic conditions and the behaviour of target groups are quickly changing. Customers today are placing greater importance on a much more dynamic communication and purchasing behaviour than 10 years ago.
A completely different aspect of the trend barometer is the increased relevance of sustainability in B2B communication. It is seen as an essential driver of the brand positioning. It seems today like nearly all companies are showcasing themselves as sustainable in some way – can a company even stand out in this regard?
Especially among B2B small and medium-sized enterprises, nearly all are indeed boasting about their sustainable actions – and for good reason at times. But the danger of greenwashing lurks – and thus the risk for the brand positioning – and is high for those who simply want to jump on the bandwagon. However, those who see sustainability not just in a one-dimensional way in terms of environmental protection but also focus on one of the many aspects can continue to make their mark. The UN 2030 Agenda names a total of 17 global goals for sustainable development and this provides enormous potential for companies in terms of their marketing. But when it comes to competence in sustainability, many companies seem to still be struggling.
Another result from the survey seems to contradict itself at first glance. Automated leads generation makes a significant contribution to success in B2B marketing. But personal contact and product presentations continue to be the most important touchpoint.
Both go hand in hand. With the help of data analytics, for instance, automation can individually cater to the needs of the customer on a high level, such as when it comes to mail shipments, so that each customer can receive information that truly interests them. And in cases where it’s relevant, interested persons then have to naturally be reached personally.
Looking at the future, which value will the brand take in the coming years in the B2B segment?
The brand has always been important, and this will remain the case. When it comes to professional brand management, however, there is still lots of room for improvement in B2B. And this potential could be better tapped into by far.