Industry News

Live at #BMA15: How B2B marketers must adapt

Rapid changes are occurring in the business-to-business space, and one of the takeaways at this week’s BMA15 conference is how marketers can – rather, must – adapt.

The Chicago event by the Business Marketing Association, a division of the Association of National Advertisers, has brought together hundreds of companies from around the U.S. and countries from Japan to Saudi Arabia. The industries represented vary greatly, from transportation and publishing to health care and software solutions.

But there is one common thread for all attendees: Changes are afoot, thanks to two trends in the B2B space.

Technology, for one, is rapidly evolving and mobile is playing an increasingly important role in how B2B buyers make purchasing decisions. In fact, 42% of B2B searches on Google now happen through a mobile device, according to Google’s Jim Lecinski. And on LinkedIn – the primary B2B social network – half of unique visiting members are mobile visitors, added Russell Glass, head of products for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

Those trends go hand-in-hand with the changing makeup of B2B buyers themselves: Millennials are increasingly becoming the decision makers in this market. They expect B2B purchasing to be as simple as ordering an Uber or an item on Amazon, the execs agreed.

“Customers have come to expect these experiences and this relevance,” Glass said.

How can a B2B marketer adapt?

Speak the language of your customers, said Kristi Lundgren, marketing executive for GE Transportation. Lundgren had a background in consumer marketing before she became part of GE’s team focused on railway technology, so she was surprised when she discovered that GE was still presenting its cutting-edge technology to customers on old-fashioned paper. She helped drive the digitization of the division’s marketing.

“We put tomorrow’s technology in yesterday’s products, but really push to use today’s language,” she said.

Perhaps the most vivid example of how to implement such a shift came from Jesse Singh, senior vice president of marketing and sales for 3M. More than 80% of the tape and adhesive company’s customers are businesses. 3M technology helps build airplanes, combat helmets, respirators and, of course, the Post-it note.

Singh said three guiding principles helped 3M communicate its complex and diverse product set in a way that resonates with customers: communicating a vision, being authentic, and connecting with customers in a relevant way.

The resulting campaign, created with BBDO, focused on how 3M applies science to life. That vision drove the marketing effort. Incidentally, the most retweeted picture of the entire campaign was a selfie that Singh took with a colleague during the marketing roll-out, a fact he said speaks to how authenticity resonates.

One way Singh and his team connected with customers is to take the marketing effort to South by Southwest, so that they could put social at the heart of their campaign and connect with millennials. They built an immersive “Life Lab” that demonstrated the ways that 3M technology is relevant to everyday life, from a station to swipe and measure the dirt on visitors’ cell-phone screens to a sewing space for people to make their own tote bags using 3M products.

The effort goes to show how a 130-year-old company can resonate with tomorrow’s B2B buyers, Singh said, and it proves, “We’re anything but boring.”

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