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Nordic Morning Talks: Where B2B goes so wrong and how to fix it

On December 7th, we hosted our second episode in a series of talks on LinkedIn Live where we cover the emerging business challenges in the field of digital.

To guide us through the world of B2B comms we welcomed the panel; Jasmine Cederblad (Art Director, Malmö), Penny Schröder-Smith (Content Director, Stockholm), and Anatoliy Hoff (Inbound Marketing Specialist, Stockholm).

This session included discussions around why brand building is important, how storytelling helps B2B brands connect better with audiences, and which channels are worth exploring for B2Bs moving forward.

You can read the full transcript or watch the recording here to catch the full conversation as we discuss the state of play in B2B comms and the future opportunities B2B brands can take advantage of.

Let’s dive in with Penny, Jasmine, and Anatoliy.

Nordic Morning Talks Where b2b goes so wrong and how to fix it

Penny Schröder-Smith (PS): Welcome, everyone! For those of your just joining, this is the second episode in a series of Nordic Morning Talks. We are here today to talk about all things B2B comms.

To give you a flavor of what's to come, we're gonna be covering the common mistakes of B2B comms, what's happening in the industry today, and then we're going to be looking ahead to the future at what B2B businesses should be looking out for and some key takeaways as well.

Joining us on our panel today is Anatoliy (Toliy) who is our B2B expert and our Inbound Specialist at Nordic Morning. He focuses on helping B2B brands understand and engage their audiences. He has previously worked in Education, SaaS, and is now working in the agency world.

Anatoliy Hoff (AH): Thank you for having me!

PS: Also joining us we have Jasmine who is bringing her B2C expertise to this conversation (and some B2B experience as well). Jasmine is Art Director at Nordic Morning and an expert in developing brand experiences on social media and digital. She has been working mainly with consumer and beauty brands for the last five years. Thanks for joining us Jasmine!

My name is Penny Schroeder Smith and I’ll be guiding you through the session. As a Content Director at Nordic Morning, I have covered both B2C and B2B areas in the past.

Let's dive in. To make sure we’re on the same page, B2C comms target the individual, and B2B comms target individuals who are intending to buy on behalf of an organization. But when it comes to more nuanced influences, Toliy, let's start with you first. What for you are the main differences between B2B and B2C communications?

AH: No pressure being the ambassador for B2B here! Obviously, a lot of these will be generalizations and it's not going to be true for every single B2B brand out there. But in terms of patterns of what's happening, I think it's pretty clear to see that B2Bs are playing it safe. When things come up, like new platforms, new approaches, that B2Cs are quick to jump on, B2Bs are a little bit more hesitant to get on board.

So, we like to play it safe. A lot of that comes from the differences that B2B and B2C have between their customer journeys. The reality is that there is no ‘set’ B2B journey. It's really hard to map out what that journey looks like. B2Cs have a bit of an easier time with that compared to B2Bs.

B2Bs are very logical with our comms. We speak about your goals, targets, how our product helps, etc. B2Cs on the other hand target more of the emotional side of things.

And when it comes to customer service, B2Cs are quick (i.e. Twitter). B2Bs on the other hand need to be a lot more intentional with their account management. The problems they're solving are very complicated so they have to know a lot of information about their customers and their prospects. Those are the main differences that stick out in my mind.

PS: And Jasmine, as our B2C expert, what are your thoughts here?

Jasmine Cederblad (JC): From my experience working with B2C brands, we focus a lot on getting to know the audience, which we do with the help of insights and data. And we learn about their behaviors, what they like, how they seek information, and where the touchpoints with the brand are.

I feel that's the biggest difference between B2C and B2B. As Toliy mentioned, B2B brands often make assumptions about their audience and then they stick to that. All of these things are very important when creating communication and messaging.

It’s important to put yourself into the mind of the consumer and answer ‘what's in it for me’. What makes them stop what they're currently doing? Because that is essentially what we're asking them to do.

Essentially, both B2B and B2C should have the same starting point. They should be eager to learn and get to know their audience. When they do that, they can then tailor the communication. And, as you mentioned Toliy, it flows into different journeys after that because a B2C journey is very different from a B2B journey.

PS: We've been so bold as to name this LinkedIn Live “Where do B2B comms go so wrong and how to fix it” based on some reoccurring trends and challenges that we've seen. But before we get into all the good stuff that B2B companies can do, what are the red flags? What is it that B2Bs tend to get slightly wrong?

AH: So to start on a really high level, going digital in general has been a bit of a struggle for B2Bs. That could look like the website, to what kind of content they are creating for these different platforms, to the digital experiences they make across the board. They're not quite as intuitive and a lot of the elements that people look for in those types of communications, like a bit of humor, might be missing from the B2B perspective. It's not always tailored to what an audience is expecting on that platform.

Another place where they're missing the mark is enabling their employees to be brand ambassadors. This really connects well to what Jasmine was just talking about with the personalization. It's really important to keep the relationship person to person because it's easier for a brand ambassador to say “I love where I work”. That lands much easier than a company's LinkedIn page.

The last thing is that B2B is very narcissistic. We love to talk about our amazing features and how much money we save you and all these awesome statistics about what makes our product so great. But at the end of the day, it's supposed to be about you the consumer, and how you're the hero of the story.

PS: I have to agree with that. A lot of the challenges that I've had before were trying to shift the product away from the spotlight, and instead put the spotlight on the value it actually brings to customers.

A few of the bigger companies that I've worked with had marketers that previously came from a product background. Trying to get them to see things from an outside-in rather than an inside-out perspective can be a bit of a challenge. Jasmine, what are your thoughts?

JC: I agree with you guys. I feel B2B brands are very afraid of being vulnerable and adding soft values to their communications. They tend to go straight to the selling part and skip all the other steps in the funnel which are also important. And that is because it's easier to measure, see the numbers, and be in control.

I would say that it wouldn't hurt if they had a bit more faith and trust in their brand, their consumers, and their employees. Something I’ve also experienced is that it's easy to forget about good communication and creativity. Instead, it's always aiming for fast processes and generating sales.

PS: Yeah, what you said about going straight to selling and wanting results quite quickly reminded me of a stat where 95% of companies expect to see significant sales within the first two weeks of launching a new marketing campaign. That's a tough buy, especially when it comes to content marketing. We're not about these immediate sales. It's very much about nurturing, and taking a long-term view.

My follow-up on this is related to social media. How can social media play its part in B2B? Because there is a tendency to be slightly more formal and not feel the most comfortable in this space? What do you recommend?

AH: That's a tough one. It's uncomfortable for B2Bs to talk about social media. As soon as you walk out of the lines of LinkedIn and enter Instagram, Tik Tok, you start asking questions like ‘How do I translate my product into a really funny Tik Tok that's gonna go viral?” It’s uncomfortable thinking about how to bridge that gap.

The first part is to accept there is a role to play for social media when it comes to B2Bs. You need to just accept that your audience is on these platforms and it's in your best interest to figure out the best way to talk to them on those platforms. That's going to look different from platform to platform. And it should. What you do on LinkedIn shouldn't be what you do on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. It's on you as a brand to figure out what that looks like while still keeping a connection to who you are as a company.

Of course, social media is great for upper-funnel activity. For B2Bs, there's a lot to gain when it comes to promoting your content, events, etc. Those do really well on social media versus if you just kept it on your website.

And for all those people that are addicted to getting the sale, there's something for you too on social media in the form of Account-Based Marketing (ABM). You can get really personalized and target people on a highly detailed level. By figuring out exactly what they're interested in and what their patterns are you can get them lower in the funnel towards that sale.

You also have to talk about the role of LinkedIn. There is a reason we're doing this talk on LinkedIn right now so I don't want to bash LinkedIn. It's still the best place for B2B comms to happen because it's the only social network of its size that is built for professionals, so it makes sense that it works. We're not saying to ignore that, but be more open to figuring out what comms could look like on other social networks as well.

PS: Are the majority of marketing professionals, including agencies, diagnosing LinkedIn as the only solution?

JC: I definitely get the impression that B2B brands are more comfortable using LinkedIn as their main way to communicate. They have a fear of dipping their toes into other platforms to reach their audience. But I also wonder if it's fear from the brands, or if the industries put B2B brands in this LinkedIn ‘box’ as the platform of choice.

Of course, I agree with you Toliy. LinkedIn is still an awesome channel and should be included in the strategy. But what about trying out audio ads, traditional advertisements, Spotify ads, or display banners? There are so many options where you can still reach your audience in a personal way. Don't forget that all these other options are available.

So I hope looking ahead we will see more B2B brands start investing in good communication and good content while becoming more experimental. Don't be afraid to fail. Failures are opportunities to learn more about your audience and what inspires them. You can optimize from there.

AH: Exactly. I want to take this opportunity to call out the B2Bs out there that say in their manuals “we are challengers”. In reality, we just love copying each other. This is your opportunity to use social media to lead the way in your industry and figure out how that could work for you. There is a lot to be gained from it.

PS: Good discussion there. Moving into what's happening in B2B today, obviously, we can't ignore the ongoing pandemic, which has really made it a lot harder for everyone, but particularly for B2Bs to secure new customers.

As a result, we've seen retention marketing has increased by a huge amount. So instead of trying to take a risk to grab new customers, we're seeing a lot more B2Bs trying to maintain and nurture current customer relationships. There's even more pressure on B2B businesses to get their digital customer journeys and online services pinned down while identifying new ways to communicate in a quick, efficient, and smooth way.

What are the major trends developments over the last year? Jasmine, let's start with you.

JC: A trend that we have seen become bigger this past year is how taking care of the environment, being inclusive, and standing up for human rights and diversity has become very important to customers. As you said, a lot has happened as a result of the pandemic. Because people have become more aware and interested, they want to know what's happening around them and they seek information about it.

That is also affecting the way they view content from brands. They have bigger expectations when it comes to responsibility and what responsibility brands take for the environment and inclusivity. Audiences want brands to pay attention to these topics, communicate around them, and be transparent about what they're doing.

This means that it's even more important to communicate your brand's values and aspirations so that customers can understand if those values are in line with their own. It's important to tell your brand's story and not only talk about services.

AH: Yeah, that's all super important. I just want to add that it is uncomfortable to take a stand on something for B2Bs because then the question that comes to mind is “If our brand stands for this, what about all the people in our audience that don’t agree? What are they going to think of my brand then?”

That's outside the comfort zone. When you're taking a position, there's gonna be some people that don't like that. And with B2B, the audiences are smaller so we don't want to isolate anyone and lose out on any potential opportunities with people in that audience. That’s a tough one.

From my perspective, meeting customer expectations in real-time is going to become more important. That’s something really needed in the B2B world. In the B2C world, you talk about a problem on Twitter and the company is responding two minutes later. That’s just not a thing in the B2B world.

It was Harvard that said, the average time to get back to a prospect that reaches out to a B2B brand is 40 hours. That’s almost two days, during which time you can talk to 10 other competitors. From an inbound perspective, every hour you wait to get back to a prospect that reaches out to you the drop-off in conversion gets bigger and bigger.

Being more personalized will also be important. We've seen the bar set pretty high by brands like Netflix. They're probably the personalization kings, because they know what we want, what I like, what I'm interested in, and they're taking advantage of that. That’s why I engage with the brand so much.

If B2B could do that somehow, that would be pretty impressive. Netflix has been working on that for a long time, but why not make that your ambition? Set the personalization bar high and go for it. You're gonna see big results coming your way if you can nail that down.

PS: I think personalization and being human-centric is only going to get bigger. But let's move to the juicy examples. What brands out there working with B2B comms are doing it right?

JC: I really like Squarespace. Their communication is really good. They're an online platform where you can easily build and customize your website for your business. Squarespace is a really good example of a B2B brand that is personal. They’re really good at capturing situations and moments that you might face as a business owner in their communication and at speaking directly to the individual to show that they understand you and they hear you.

They do this in a really nice and simple way that makes it very easy to understand. Their comms add a touch of humor, which is always a bonus. I want to give an example of a commercial, which is about small business owners starting their journey, and it's called ‘Five to Nine’. It's about working your full-time job, and then doing your passion and exploring your dreams the rest of the time when you're off. That's really human-centric.

They're also really good at inspiring their audience to pursue their dreams, passions, and believe in their business idea. That makes them a really likable brand because they show care for their audience and that they understand them.

Also, they're good at doing this on their own channel. They use their own content, but they are also good at using influencers and other content creators that talk about their own experience with Squarespace. Again, this creates very relatable and authentic content. Influencer marketing is really big with B2Cs, but it's really nice to see a B2B brand that understands the power that it has.

AH: I love Squarespace! I have a couple of examples from the B2B world. So I think one that stands out is a landing page builder software called Unbounce. They did a partnership with a digital marketing learning platform called CXL to create a video series called Page Fights.

They took the landing pages that people had submitted (something connected to the product) and then they would break them down and have a landing page battle between two different landing pages. It's really humorous and you come away from it learning a lot about what a good landing page looks like. It was the perfect mix.

Drift, a conversational marketing brand that works with chatbots, is really good at employee branding. They put their employees in front of everything which makes me feel comfortable working with that brand. I know that if I’m having a problem or I’m trying to figure out how to use their product, I'm going to get help from a person.

Shopify is another really good example. They’re an e-commerce solution for people that need tools to manage a retail business. They did this campaign called “Let's Make You a Business” that focused on connecting with people that are just getting started with their e-commerce businesses. The slogan was “Your mom should be your first customer, not your only customer.” It’s really good because it’s a story a lot of people can connect with and it’s human-centric.

PS: With this human-centric element, do you think it’s more crucial at a particular point of the customer journey? Or is it important throughout?

AH: In B2B, my initial thought is that it’s a bit more important towards the back end of the customer journey. Once you’re in the mid-funnel and lower-funnel then it definitely makes sense to have a human enter the process. When you hit that stage in the lower funnel, based on my experience working with B2B, I feel pretty comfortable when a salesperson enters the process.

PS: Looking ahead, what's on the horizon for B2B comms? Is there anything in particular that B2Bs should be taking note of?

AH: There are a few things that I would take note of, but I want to start with one that maybe is unexpected. Influencer marketing. Jasmine talked about the importance of that from the B2C side and shared the example of Squarespace when it comes to a B2B brand doing it well.

You're going to see a lot more brands in the B2B world taking advantage of influencer marketing because it builds so much trust. And the global B2B brands out there working in many markets especially have a lot to gain with influencer marketing by being able to go local.

If you're a Microsoft or an IBM, how is your brand going to connect with me here in Sweden? Well if I see a Swedish B2B influencer, who I've been following and engaging with their content for years, start talking about one of those brand’s products, that’s going to resonate a lot more with me. So it definitely has a place in the B2B comms mix.

PS: Jasmine, what are your thoughts here?

JC: I'm very excited to see B2B brands dipping their toes into influencer marketing. Squarespace is a really good example. Their biggest target group is small business owners and the best way to connect with them is through other business owners. They can use them as their ambassadors, or influencers, and let them talk about their experience with Squarespace, how it helped their business, and inspire other people to do the same.

Squarespace also used famous influencers, for example, their campaign with actor John Malkovich. Together they created a commercial called “Calling” which won a Primetime Emmy Award. It tells the story of John Malkovich, who is creating his own fashion label in Paris, finding out that the domain name he wants to use (with his own name) is already taken. It's actually based on a true story which makes this concept authentic and relatable.

I think it's a really smart way to use a big name in an authentic way. Everyone can have this experience where you try to enter your domain name and it was already taken. So I think it's important to bring these celebrities and spokespeople closer to the audience and this is a good way to do it.

PS: Any other big trends that you think are coming up Toliy?

AH: Personalization for sure. I'm going to say it over and over again, just because it has so much value. It's such a big booster to the experience that these brands provide their audiences. And again, it's about being human. It's about humanizing everything your brand does. If you can do that, you're way ahead of the game.

PS: Nice. Jasmine, any other thoughts from you?

JC: I think the main focus will be on creating personal experiences that speak directly to the individual as well as being transparent in your communication. And the content will differ depending on your brand's goals, who you want to reach, and what you want to communicate.

A format that is still growing a lot is video. We have been talking about how video is king for a long time but it's still something B2B brands should tap into more. We can also see, as a result of the pandemic, that people have more time, and they spend it on social media. And they have time to enjoy the content, therefore video content has grown. It's important to create content that stands out and to be creative and relatable to capture the attention of the audience. I hope we will see a lot more video content from B2B brands going forward.

PS: Yeah, I have three key points here that are kind of all intertwined. But I'll try and lay them out clearly. The first thing is content and data are only going to get closer together. The team that I work with has used data to influence our content for a while now. But I think that's only going to get closer, smoother, and quicker as we go along.

I think the other thing is quite a simple thing but it's apparently difficult. Writing content for humans. This means leaving the jargon at the door and remembering that there is a human on the other side of the screen.

And then the third thing is bringing storytelling into more of a strategic role in your communications. Toliy, you've spoken about personalization. Jasmine, you’ve spoken about the shift from experiencing a brand that has great products to experiencing a brand that has great values.

At the same time, we're in a place now where building relationships is everything. And living in this post COVID world, we should be placing a new emphasis on relationship building. Content marketing and storytelling fit perfectly in these different touchpoints that we've spoken about.

It’s all about brand resonance. How can we tell a story that that really resonates with the audience? Is the content really helping solve the problems that your customers need solutions to? Is it building trust? Are you producing content that reflects wider industry shifts? And is that content being driven by your experts?

So yeah, a few different questions that I usually tend to go to and I hope will continue to become more important as we go on. Okay, let's start to wrap up now. If we try and summarise in one sentence, what's the one thing our B2B audience should think about going forward?

JC: Brands should think about how they want their brand to be explored, and what experience they want their audience to have.

AH: If there's one thing to remember, it's failure is absolutely an option. The faster you fail, the faster you find what's gonna work for you.

PS: I think mine has to be - write for humans. Simple. It's a big one.

Great way to end the session. Thanks, guys and thank you, everyone, for tuning in. We'll see you next time.