As Forbes defines it, the consumerization of IT is the propensity for users' experiences with technology as consumers to impact their expectations regarding their technology experiences at work. And that means trends in consumer industries are crossing over to the business sector. Ease of use, personal style and comfort, accessibility, and a sense of choice are just a few of the domains where business users have adjusted their standards to be more reflective of consumer psychology.
According to IDG Enterprise, there are some positive business implications in this trend. Their 2014 research on the consumerization of IT found that "over the next 12 to 18 months, organizations expect to see enterprise consumerization of IT creating a positive impact in user satisfaction, user productivity, process efficiency and collaboration, and business agility."
This effect has now found its way to B2B marketing--a space in which those targeted by marketers are traditionally left feeling bored and cold, if not completely inhuman. Enter the consumerization of IT, and B2B technology marketers are more than ever faced with the fact that, at the end of the day, they're still talking and selling to actual human beings. As their consumer counterparts discovered long ago, B2B marketers have found that engaging, appropriate, and timely targeted messaging, together with relatable content, is the new standard--anything short of that simply won't break through the noise.
A recent CIO Magazine article on what B2B tech can learn from consumer marketers observes that "B2B marketing, with its educational white papers, commissioned research and analytical approach to selling, lacks the emotional punch of B2C marketing.... In B2B marketing, the assumption has been that deals are cut-and-dry and the best solution wins. But B2B can be even more emotional for B2B customers than B2C consumers. Customers of B2B software or services, for example, are often making big bets that can impact their careers. They might be using the same product every day." In other words, decisions about business solutions are indeed based on trust, emotions, and aspirations, and business software users need to be entertained, connected with, and spoken to in their interactions with technology vendors in exactly the same way as when engaging with consumer brands like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks.
Nowhere is this knowledge more key than on one of tech marketing's biggest stages: Dreamforce. This "Super Bowl of Software," held annually in San Francisco and attracting well over 150,000 attendees in September of this year, represents a community of business software users that exemplify these key shifts in the tech industry. Buyers and end users in this community are often female and retain non-traditional IT backgrounds; decisions are increasingly made by professionals from the lines of business (like sales and marketing) rather than pure IT pros. They're professionals looking to solve hard business problems with technology that's user-friendly, intuitive, and easily accessible. And Dreamforce is where tech marketers get to try their hand at appealing to this new generation of business software users.
At this year's event, some companies stood out, with clever themes and giveaways. These vendors stand in stark contrast to the pen-peddlers who can't seem to get excited about their own message, much less get an attendee to engage with them. One company that burst through the clutter by demonstrating true insight into its audience was Spanning Cloud Apps, a new acquisition by EMC that spearheads its effort to expand backup and recovery services to cloud-based business applications, like Salesforce, Google Apps, and Office 365.
This software-as-a-service (SaaS) data protection company developed a creative concept based on research and a keen understanding of Salesforce users (they even released this infographic summarizing some findings from a survey of the Salesforce community conducted earlier this year). The result was the #backthatSaaSup campaign: an homage to the '90s (the glory days for much of the target audience), and an educational platform for SaaS data protection.
The keystone element of the effort was a parody music video, a fresh new take on corporate video production. Written, co-directed, choreographed by, and starring one of Spanning's own, the video is the epitome of bringing passion, humor, and fun to an otherwise dry industry landscape. And did it work? Attendees stood in a line easily 20 deep to spin a prize wheel offering special edition Back That SaaS Up bandanas, t-shirts, light-up shades, and Beats by Dre audio gear. They took pictures with the music video's star and tweeted to share. And most importantly for Spanning, they learned about the company's products and the importance of protecting cloud application data.
In a sea of buttoned-up, feature-focused, and frankly indistinguishable competitors, companies like Spanning that are relatable and can spur laughter and excitement will be the brands that are not only most memorable but also most likely to forge a meaningful connection with customers.
Moreover, this enlightened approach to B2B technology marketing is great news for users. Slowly but surely, tech vendors are recognizing that they not only have to be on point regarding product functionality and support, they must also make genuine human connections with customers--developing relationships that inspire more than a transactional bond between parties but instead build bonds based on trust and real human experiences. This shift will encourage marketers to be more creative, bold, and engaging, and products and services to be more intuitive, user-friendly, and accessible in the business sector.