Gaining a true competitive edge in the world of B2B, by answering the question no-one is asking: Where's the insight?

Written by The Croc

Having worked in both B2C and B2B for almost two–decades, I can comfortably say that when it comes to executional side of things, there really isn’t that much difference; use appropriate channels to reach people with a specific message. Perhaps the most glaringly obvious exclusion in B2B is Television; business bank accounts and Transit vans aside, Television simply isn’t an effective channel for most B2B brands. Purchase strategies differentiate somewhat, because in the world of consumer, if people want something, they can step out of their house, or hop online and buy it in an instant. Even cars. B2B purchasing however is more complex and takes longer, with multiple stakeholders involved in the purchase decision, lengthy-negotiation periods and contractual agreements having to be written.

Buying aside, where the two really differ, certainly from an advertising perspective, comes down to audience insight.

I’m not talking about the statistics and observations that we all see posted online every day, which are masqueraded as ‘insight’, but aren’t really that insightful at all. I’m talking about real insights that make you look at something, or someone, or a situation, or even yourself in an entirely new way.

Real insights.

Dirty little secrets.

Unspoken human truths.

When it comes to consumer advertising, it’s not that it’s easier to identify an insight, but they’re certainly more plentiful. As a planner, the beginning of your journey to a strong creative brief is to think about the cheeseburger / hand soap / television / pet food / luxury watch in your own life; the role that item plays. And even if you don’t use it, like it or need it, it’s likely you know someone who does, or, it’s easy to step outside and find people who will need it or use it.

And in understanding something in a way that’s relatable, makes the job of framing the problem, unearthing the insight, identifying the tension the product can resolve an easier task to approach, you get to places like these:

INSIGHT: When you’re hungry, you’re an unbearable twat

CAMPAIGN: You’re not you when you’re hungry –Snickers

INSIGHT: When you don’t wear glasses you make silly mistakes

CAMPAIGN: Should have gone to SpecSavers -SpecSavers

INSIGHT: When we’re out and about, we get bored with listening to just one album and crave having our entire music collection with us

CAMPAIGN: iPod, 1,000 songs in your pocket –Apple

INSIGHT: As parents, we all want our children to be able to play on their terms, because that’s when they have the most fun.

CAMPAIGN: Dirt is good –Persil

INSIGHT: People are happy to compromise on the aesthetics of a car if they know it’s going to be built using quality components and still be affordable

CAMPAIGN: Full of lovely stuff –Skoda

INSIGHT: The majority of men’s body wash is bought by their other half because they want choice one how they want their boyfriend / husband to smell

CAMPAIGN: The man your man could smell like –Old Spice

When it comes to B2B however, where is the source of inspiration? It’s not like I, or 99.99999999% of the worldgo out and buy an Autonomous database, or a Cloud security solution, or Hyper–converged storage on a regular basis.

Even the people who do buy these things, only do it once in a blue moon. And yet, we as marketers are expected to know the best way to communicate these things (and many other things like them) in ways that are interesting and resonant.

I ask the question then; if we don’t really know what truly motivates them, like:

Knowing what they really care about.

What really keeps them awake at night.

What makes them laugh.

And cry.

What influences how they see the world.

What invisible forces (beyond the politics and bureaucracy of corporate life) influence their thoughts and behaviours.

What gives them energy.

And takes it away.

What helps them.

And hinders.

If we don’t have a genuine grasp of these things, how are we supposed to market to them in a way that’s effective? The answer right now is, we (the industry), don’t. Look at most B2B communications. Not all, but most. It can be summed up in three words:

Cables and Fables.

Pictures of wires.

And servers.

And abstract images of the planet with lights whooshing around it.And fake people shaking hands. And stories of customers who, after a year of negotiating to buy the product, and a year implementing it, and another year using it, are finally in a position to say how successful it’s been for their business.

But the truth of the matter is that pictures of cables, and abstract lights whooshing around a neon globe, and people our audience don’t know talking about the three–year–long implementation of a solution isn’t motivating.

Let me also say; these aren’t bad things, but they’re almost always generic, vanilla and un–relatable; even to the people they’re trying to connect with.

The other thing is this; they’re also the easy [read; lazy] answer for B2B marketers. Want to promote a new product? Show the product and do a customer case study, or ‘story’ as people seem to like calling any video content now.

So what is the answer? Three words: Proximity. Humility. Empathy.

  1. Proximity: Getting closer to the people we want to reach.

  2. Humility: Recognising that almost no–one outside of any business thinks about that business ever, and cares about even less.

  3. Empathy: Understanding what the people we want to reach actually care about

FYI, no amount of customer data scraped from the Internet, or various first, second or third party databases will tell you these things. It might show you that a particular person is looking at a particular piece of content on a particular platform, or it might tell you that a particular job role is more interested in one thing than another.

But this data won’t tell you why.

But (and this is the biggest ‘but’ ever) it’s the ‘why’ that’s interesting.

It’s the ‘why’ that’s truly insightful.

It’s the ‘why’ that tells us what’s motivated them to read the thing, or visit the website, or discard a product, or post an opinion, or pick up the phone.

It’s the why that provides the insight that can be leveraged into interesting and resonant communications.E.g.:

  • Does a younger generation pose a threat to the legacy and often, archaic organisational structures that exist within many businesses today?

  • Does the C–Suite worry about how their time pressured day causes them to eat bad food making them fatter and more at risk of having a heart attack younger?

  • Does the C-Suite want their children to follow the same career path they’ve taken -or do they hope they’ll do something else?

  • Does everyone who works for a B2B business want to rise to the top, or do their dreams focus on something different?

  • How do people who work for B2B companies view the world (versus ones who work for B2C companies for instance)

  • Do people who work in B2B companies feel like their companies care about the survival of the world?

  • What’s their view on diversity within the IT industry?

  • As global consumption of alcohol continues to decline, where and what are senior business leaders turning to when their working day ends?

  • What do they think and feel about the impact of business travel on the environment?

  • How is mental health affecting the operational side of large corporations?

  • Are people really fearful of automation, or do they see at as an ally to take away the boredom from repetitive work, empowering workers to focus their energy elsewhere?

  • For decades, authority was recognised by someone’s attire, but the new breed of CEO are turning their backs on the formal suits and shoes –does it matter how someone dresses anymore? Are the pictures of people in B2B advertising, representative of people working in B2B?

Finding out about things like the above isn’t easy.If it were, everyone would be doing it. But they’re not. And because they’re not, almost all B2B marketing and advertising defaults to rational product messages, typically using the same observations about the C-Suite everyone else loves to make:

  • They’re busy

  • They’re hard to reach

  • They’re working to a smaller budget

  • Their business is constrained by outdated systems

  • They’re mired in complexity

  • They need to be more strategic

And the resulting messages?

Our thing is fasterOur thing is cheaper

Our thing is smarter

Our thing is automated

Our thing is more efficient

Our thing is simpler

Our thing helps you scale

Our thing helps you diversify

Our thing helps you innovate

All rational messages. All focused on what the product is, or what it does. None of them emotionally resonant with the people they’re designed to communicate to.

Just imagine for one moment that Pizza delivery companies, advertised their pizza, in the way that B2B brands communicate their products:

It’s not particularly enticing, or motivating, or compelling, or interesting, or emotionally resonant, is it?

Recent research has proven, that in B2B, emotional strategies outperform rational ones:

The good news is, we can get the ‘why’, but we have to do something that’s completely alien to most of the world of B2B: We have to get close to the people we want to communicate to.

Not just a handful

Not just the C–Suite (although they will be a big partof this)

Not just people from LondonClients, and their customers

And their friends, and families

We need lots of people, from lots of different places, in lots of different roles, a wide range of ethnicities and ages and an equal gender split. We need to observe them and talk to them.

At their place of work.

In their homes.

With them when they’re out and about.

Never in the confines of a meeting room.

In doing this, we will build out the most in–depth, and comprehensive understanding of people who work inB2B ever conducted.

  1. Real truths that can be used to make more meaningful and effective communications.

  2. Category and cultural understanding to be more empathetic to their individual working and personal contexts.

  3. Strong insight that can be used to enable the brands we work with be more interesting and resonant with the people they are designed to serve.

Then we can turn this into a product that we can use to:

  1. Write better creative briefs

  2. Add value to client conversations

  3. Connect with the ‘B2B audience’ in ways they’ve never experienced before

  4. Use for thought leadership for The Croc

  5. Use for PR; in publications, at conferences, seminars talks and client workshops

  6. Critique other B2B Marketing more objectively. And our own.


None of what this paper proposes should be seen as a substitute to data, marketing technology, media, analytics or anything else that helps make campaigns work.What it should be seen as, is a means to get to better answers, richer creative territories, a greater understanding of different communications channels in people’s lives, what the right sort of medium, visual, message and tone of voice should be used, recognition and empathy of different contexts, and so on.



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