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5 Key Steps for Thinking Differently in B2B Marketing

In 2016, Adobe did a study that found an astonishing 76% of marketers felt that marketing had changed more in the past 2 years than in the previous 50. That is a big statement. Yet hasn’t change always happened? We are working in an evolving commercial landscape, but what has actually changed?

Shift happens

Before vast updates in technology led to the ubiquity of ‘digital’, marketing was all about organizations and what they sell, pushing out messages to a largely passive audience through primarily broadcast and print channels. This built awareness of our brands – which were represented by a single corporate spokesperson as the voice of that brand – enabled organizations to control both the medium and the message.

Today, however, customers are in control. B2B customers have brought consumer buying behaviours into the business world. The sheer amount of information that is now accessible across such a wide variety of channels, means that our customers are no longer passive receivers of marketing messages, and they are certainly no longer silent.

This is not news. But how are we responding? We have experienced a shift in how we need to think about marketing – but not a fundamental change in marketing itself.

Digital is now such a pervasive part of our lives that we’ve got to stop worrying about where digital ends and ‘traditional’ marketing begins. Customers now seamlessly move from online to offline and back again. Digital has become invisible.

Sure, we have a lot of new channels and a whole host of new tools, all of which makes marketing a lot more complex, and interesting. But many marketers are concentrating on the wrong things: on the tasks and technology instead of their relevance to marketing; in other words, how these new tools enable us to better communicate and engage our customers.

Thinking differently about B2B marketing

Before we can do or be different as B2B marketers, we must first Think Different. I am appropriating the headline from Apple’s iconic campaign of 1997 for two important reasons:

As B2B marketers, we must continue to learn from the B2C world. Though Apple’s Think Different campaign is, incredibly, now 20 years old, it remains a masterclass for marketers in the fundamentals of strategy, brand and customers: Tactics are for the moment, ideas are forever. This campaign is iconic because it powerfully illustrates how the best marketing is about ideas that are lasting and compelling.

Thinking differently is not easy, it means questioning the accepted norms within an organization, which ultimately means questioning existing expertise and what is unknown. Importantly, it means not accepting the obvious and easiest option, but working to ensure you are exposed to multiple perspectives, instead of simply validate those already in place.

Here are five steps that will help you to Think Different:

  1. Schedule thinking time – For yourself and your team, on a consistent and regular basis

  2. Think big – Outside of our marketing silos, about the big issues you’re facing

  3. Listen well – Give everyone a chance to contribute

  4. Take responsibility – Find and implement practical, workable solutions to overcome your challenges

  5. Be accountable – As an individual and as a team for making specific change happen

Then ask yourself five questions to help take this into action:

  • How well do I know my customers?

  • Do I understand how my customers buy? Consider everyone involved in the purchase decision, as well as their influencers.

  • Am I marketing at my business or with my business? Marketing should not happen in a vacuum – talk to the wider business; engage and proactively partner with sales and others to align objectives.

  • Am I focusing on the right things? Don’t obsess about the latest marketing fads or trends; focus on what’s valuable to your business and customers, and hold every marketing activity to the same measurement standard.

  • Does this matter? Ask your business, ask your customers, and clearly articulate the outcome you want to achieve.

It looks like there might be a theme emerging here…