Back2Basics: The digital distraction
by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) Enough! End the digital distraction and focus on B2B’s basics.
During the past 10 years or so, B2B marketers have been increasingly bombarded with a dangerously distracting proposition: a new era is dawning in B2B and it’s being driven by technology.
The shiny new tools and techniques featured in this deviant proposal typically include:
|account-based marketing||automated marketing||inbound marketing|
|data-based marketing||content marketing||social media marketing|
Nothing but tinsel and glitter. A buzz-pack of smoke-and-mirrors that’s been systemised, branded, priced, hyped and sold.
Digital distraction: an emphasis on tools rather than results
B2B’s sole goal is the same today as it always has been — to attract and retain profitable customers. Over 40 years ago, marketers were given a clear warning about the dangers of losing focus on the goal due to an overreliance on tools and techniques. I’ve quoted it before, but it bears quoting again:
“…the emphasis is on techniques rather than on principles, on mechanics rather than on decisions, on tools rather than on results, and, above all, on efficiency of the part rather than on performance of the whole…” —Peter Drucker: Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1973)
B2B companies face threatening challenges. No tools will solve them. For B2B companies today, the two most-threatening challenges are commoditisation and self-sold customers.
Right now, these are the two really hot topics in B2B.
Problem is, there is no technology to counter these challenges. They may only be overcome by proving how products and services create value for the people and companies who buy them.
The skill in B2B has always been to know who those people are, what they value and then communicate how an offering delivers it. That’s not technology. That’s customer insight — which has always been the rock-solid foundation for producing the right messages for the right people.
Marketing vs commoditisation: The only shield against this margin-eating monster is differentiation. And there are no tools to build that shield. Establishing clear differentiation — why you matter to customers — is the only way to avoid being trapped in a ‘game of clones’ where rock-bottom prices are the only way to win.
Marketing vs self-sold customers: Increasingly, the net is being used to inform and guide buying decisions; people are selling to themselves:
“Customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into fulfilment conversations.” —Harvard Business Review
B2B companies are researching solutions, setting their operational criteria and defining the solution they want to buy — online and on their own In the worst-case scenario, their conversation with a sales team is distilled-down to just two questions: “How much and when can we have it?”
The marketing solution is to develop a highly visible brand that is perceived positively throughout its markets. It means creating a trusted brand-image that is applicable, credible and visible to the people who influence and make buying decisions. It’s about making sure customers sell your brand to themselves. No shiny new too tool for that, either.
From disruption to distraction
Here’s what Keith Reinhard, co-founder of Omnicom and chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide thinks about the tsunami of shiny new objects marketers and their agencies have been gulled into using:
“We had the digital disruption at the end of the century which, in some cases, I thought became the digital distraction because we became so obsessed with the tools that we forgot about some of the basics.
“Just because we have myriad channels and platforms doesn’t mean we have to use them all. Apple, the world’s most valuable brand, has neither a Facebook page nor a Twitter handle.” —Drum Magazine, Aug 2017
Tools and techniques are servants, not masters
It’s pretty obvious that the servants have jumped up way beyond their station and need taking down a peg a two. Here’s why. None of the objects in the super-hyped, buzz-pack are capable of contributing anything to B2B’s basics.
They offer nothing that enables B2B marketers and their agencies to:
- identify the people who influence and make the buying decisions that create B2B sales
- qualify and quantify what those people value and how it motivates their decisions
- understand how a product or service creates motivating value
- translate that understanding into relevant, credible content for the right people at the right time
A new era in B2B? Maybe not… A new era in communications? Undeniable. It’s been developing for nearly two decades. For B2B marketers, a smart approach to that genuinely new era is to bear this in mind:
“Adapt your techniques to an idea, not an idea to your techniques.” —Bill Bernbach, from Bill Bernbach Said
Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. He is the author, together with Charlie Stewart, of Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. Mark contributes the monthly “Back2Basics” column, covering how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing, to MarkLives.com.