While B2C marketing has long been behaving like your favorite cool, socially savvy cousin with unstoppable entrepreneurial hustle, B2B has a reputation for behaving a bit more like your solid, settled, perfectly respectable-but-entirely-predictable uncle.
B2B marketing shouldn't be faulted for not being up on trends or lagging behind its B2C peers in certain respects. Up until pretty recently, the rules for B2B and B2C brands varied dramatically, and there are still crucial differences between them.
But in an ever-accelerating digital age, many of these differences are rapidly disappearing. B2B brands are beginning to understand that to successfully scale, they've got to take a cue from their B2C counterparts. This means leveraging trends -- whether that's b2b experiential marketing, influencer marketing, social media marketing, and many others -- to effectively reach their audience.
Helping B2B brands make this challenging shift is a big part of what we do at Zen Media with SAM, our proprietary methodology for helping companies go from marketers to market leaders. It's also a primary aim of one of the best books I've recently read on the subject, Rohit Bhargava's Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future.
For those who don't already know, this book (the tenth and final in a series heralded by the Wall Street Journal for multiple years running) is a virtual field guide for B2B brands looking to actively identify, translate, and deploy the latest megatrends in their marketing efforts. Here are four of my favorites that B2B brands can no longer afford to ignore.
Megatrend #1: Human Mode
People are tired of technology that isolates us from one another and are seeking out and placing greater value on physical, authentic, and "unperfect" experiences delivered by humans.
What it means for B2B: For any services brand, this trend has clear implications for how much (and where) to automate your experience versus where it might be more desirable for your customers to have the "upgraded" option of dealing with real people. In sectors ranging from financial services to construction, the power of human connection will continue to become more of a luxury and increasingly expected by customers who demand a premium experience and top tier customer service.
Megatrend #2: Purposeful Profit
As consumers and employees demand more sustainable and ethical practices, companies are responding by creating eco-friendly products and taking public stands on important issues.
What it means for B2B: This wide-ranging trend means it is no longer a viable alternative to remain on the sidelines about issues that affect your industry. Ethical practices, workplace diversity, and a commitment to a higher purpose are all factors in RFP processes and no longer a "nice to have." In addition, this underlying purpose is critical to maintaining a motivated workforce and attracting top talent.
Megatrend #3: Data Abundance
The growing ubiquity of data and the myriad ways it can be collected raise significant questions about how to make it truly useful, who owns the data, and who profits from it.
What it means for B2B: There is a growing understanding among businesses and end-users alike that the data collected by companies, large and small, holds tremendous value. In response, those B2B brands selling products and services that help make sense of this data will continue to be in demand, but those that will set themselves apart are those who find new ways to manage data abundance without contributing to "data pollution."
Megatrend #4: Flux Commerce
The lines between industries continue to creatively blur, leading to a continual disruption of business models, distribution channels, and consumer expectations.
What it means for B2B: Of these four trends, this last may be the one that most highlights the imperative of learning from B2C approaches. Case in point? The Chase BizMobile, a mobile, experiential marketing initiative our team at Zen Media created for Chase for Business. As banks open coffee shops and furniture stores open hotels, this flux between industries will offer major opportunities for B2B brands willing to think differently and move outside their comfort zones.
Using these four trends and many others masterfully outlined and unpacked by Rohit Bhargava in his bestselling Non-Obvious Megatrends series, B2B brands can begin to understand and deploy traditionally B2C tactics to effectively reach their audience. Though crucial differences between B2B and B2C marketing approaches remain, adaptively bridging the divide between them holds the key for B2B brands seeking to evolve and successfully scale in the digital age.