Generally speaking, B2B tech marketers are a relatively unsophisticated lot. I can say this because I am a tech marketer. I’ve been at it for nearly twenty years in companies of various sizes and shapes.
Let me explain myself. Compared with our cousins in B2C and in other industries, tech marketers tend to rely on blunt instruments not precision tools. Our marketing efforts are less science than we’d like pretend. They are — unsophisticated.
I’m not saying that we don’t add value — in many cases our efforts are deeply strategic. And I’m not saying we’re unsophisticated thinkers — tech marketing can be incredibly complex.
I am saying that we have a lot to learn from our B2C cousins. And I’m saying the time to learn is now. The current generation of teens and 20-somethings has grown up with expectations about the products they use the companies with whom they will interact. These expectations are born of elegant consumer user experiences, plain spoken communications, and pervasive social networks. These cohorts (The ‘Z’ Generation, Digital Natives, as Gartner calls them) expect to interact with B2B companies as they do with B2C companies. We better adapt.
So what can we learn? Here are some thoughts:
Brand — With the possible exception of the largest tech players, we’re relentlessly product focused. We focus too little on our brand. In the end, purchasing decisions are emotional decisions and brand drives emotion. B2B tech marketers focus their efforts on why their products are actually superior and too little time on how customers should feel about our company and our offerings. Our B2C cousins often live in a world where product differentiation is scant (the extreme example is bleach), and brand is their most strategic lever. In tech, product differentiation is often real but that does not obviate the need to brand strategically.
We must think more strategically about our brands. Branding concepts should play a role in everything from the products we choose to develop to the user experience to our style of communications. And, as an added benefit, a strong, cohesive brand simplifies product positioning and paves the way for new product introductions.
Quantitative Analysis — In B2C, marketers are often charged with moving millions of units through complex distribution networks. Large numbers drive their businesses, so naturally their efforts are very quantitatively oriented. In B2B tech, we deal with much smaller numbers of customers and prospects. Perhaps, as a result, we don’t always have the systems and processes to truly analyze our businesses quantitatively. I’ve seen very large tech companies where key customer data resided in so many systems that meaningful analysis was nearly impossible. Without quantitative sophistication, it will be hard for us to move up the maturity curve.
Segmentation — In tech, we talk a lot about segmentation. We huddle up in a conference room and try to explain what we think we’re seeing in the market. Sometimes our efforts are fruitful and inform our plans and actions. Often they devolve into guesswork or analysis based on insufficiently small samples. Generally, we could benefit from a deeper understanding of our prospective customers and their problems and needs. This would lead to much more accurate and actionable segmentation, targeting, and positioning. In B2C, accurate segmentation is a must-have unless your product is truly mass-market.
Elegance and Ease of Use — Tech companies have generally failed to make user experience a priority (Apple being the most notable exception). Our products are overly complicated, unintuitive, and designed for the expert user. Too often our beautiful and elegant websites are used to promote our ugly and unusable products. In B2C, this would fail miserably, which is why we don’t see it. Our up-and-coming buyers, the Digital Natives, won’t put up with this. They’ll gravitate towards beautiful, consumer-ish user experiences. We need to get there now, before this generation comes into positions of buying authority (note: they’re already influencers).
Speaking Clearly — Admittedly, we’re getting better at explaining what our products do, how they do it, and why you should care. But we’re a long way from the sort of simplicity demanded for B2C. We’re still too feature obsessed, and we still use way too many buzzwords. Read most of our websites — they don’t speak clearly to the human beings we hope to reach. I know. Our products are complex. But just because the thing is complex does not mean that communications about the thing can’t be simple and clear. And we all know that simple and clear messages stick.
The facts are pretty simple. Tech has become pervasive in our personal and professional lives. A new cohort of buyers is coming of age right now and bringing with them a far more consumer style view of tech. The lines are blurring.
Smart marketers will get ahead of the curve and look to the consumer world for inspiration. It’s time to get a bit more sophisticated.