Wrong Message

Recent research suggests a surprising gap between what B2B brands communicate to customers and what customers really want to hear. In an article published in McKinsey Quarterly, the market research firm delivers what may be shocking news to some: customers do not care as much about low prices or a commitment to sustainability.

What they do care about is keeping an open and honest dialogue, knowing your people from the C-suite down to your customer service reps, and being kept up-to-date consistently with relevant business information.

The research surveyed marketing materials released by the top 90 brands from six market sectors. Then they asked B2B customers—704 global executives—how they would rate the brand strength of their primary and secondary suppliers.

It would be one thing to say that they found conflicting reports—but the results were staggering. Of the nine most popular messaging themes communicated by B2B brands in their marketing materials, only two had a positive impact on brand strength. One had a negative impact. Of the five most important themes to customers, three were never communicated at all, and one was communicated just 4% of the time.

Results like these should frighten B2B brands. Of the millions of dollars they spend on marketing—from agency fees to production costs to media expenses—it appears no one stopped to ask their customers, “Hey, is this working? Are you OK with this? Are the things we communicate resonating?” Questions like these, the study says, are the most important of all. Customers said a supplier who communicates this way, with an open and honest dialogue, gets their purchasing dollars most all of the time.

So, what’s the best way to create the kind of dialogue that fosters connections like this? It’s simply a matter of keeping customers up-to-date on the happenings within your company and the industry, strengthening your customer service connections, creating a strong internal branding process and system so all of your employees are talking the talk, knowing what your talk is by having a strong brand position, purpose and voice, and ensuring your C-suite is a visible force in the marketplace.

When you put this all together, you get something called “high-touch” marketing. This type of marketing is not your typical campaigning. It doesn’t need to rely solely on expensive media buys or PR-spun press releases. It’s a type of campaigning that focuses on branding inward first (internally to your employees), then outward (to your customers), improving the company holistically, and communicating brand vision, business intelligence and passion. This approach leads to the most effective type of marketing there is—word-of-mouth.

As we discussed in our last article, B2B customers consider an emotional connection much more than B2C customers when making purchasing decisions. And above all, the connection that matters most, this research confirms, is one of an open and honest dialogue.


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