Last week, at the Business Marketing Association (BMA) 2014 Conference, the theme was “where b2b’s going!” After three days, it became clearer where. Business marketing, B2B, is crossing the chasm from cold hard facts-driven marketing to establishing emotional human connections with customers and buyers. Driven by the evolving digital economy, we are seeing the “humanizing” of business marketing starting to emerge.
I was privileged to speak on the first morning of the conference. My focus was on understanding the modern buyer in the digital age. Of which, I covered the need for a human-centered approach to marketing. This approach is based on what I have gleamed from several hundred qualitative buyer interviews during the past three years. The calling for humanizing business marketing (B2B) continued as the dominant theme throughout the conference.
The Story Of Three Days: Emotions, Storytelling, and Humanizing
To provide a flavor of the emerging call for humanizing business marketing, here are some conference highlights:
- Mike Miller of Google reviewed the role emotions play in creating business value based on a study by Motista showing a human connection via emotions is 2 times more impactful
- Beth Comstock of GE focused on “big is personal”
- Xavier Burgat of Airbus talking and showing how business class flying is about designing and marketing to the human experience
- John Sachs on the power of story telling to tap into emotions
- Teresa Poggenpohl of Accenture talk on Accenture’s use of disruptive “humanizing” to differentiate
- Heather Teskey of Hallmark Business Connections on how to establish personal connections in business environments
- Karen Walker of Cisco talk on how business buyers are more emotionally connected to business brands versus consumer brands according to a 2013 brand study
- Linda Boff of GE on how to get people to emotionally fall in love with your brand
- Jay Baer of Youtility focused on smart marketing is useful marketing, with the intent of helping people
What stood out from the speakers above is the focus on establishing a human connection with customers and buyers. All echoing business doesn’t have to be boring, b2b buyers want b2c experiences, understanding human emotions adds business value, and if you want to differentiate in today’s digital economy – business marketers will need to learn a new capability of humanizing. They will need to learn how to become human marketers.
Getting There Is The Next Big Challenge In Business Marketing
One question coming out of the conference and on the minds of many is this: this is all great but how do we get there? How do we humanize our business (b2b) marketing? Getting there will mean adopting a human-centered approach towards business marketing. In my presentation, I covered three essential steps:
- Hear your customers: to understand your customers and buyers means investing in hearing and observing them. The path to humanizing business marketing starts here. Without taking time and resources to listen to your customers qualitatively, taking the journey towards humanizing cannot begin.
- Understand your customers: what became clear during the presentations is the challenge will come in developing the capability to understand customers who are rapidly changing and evolving. Translating what has been heard and observed into an understanding of emotions and personal human connection will require new analysis and insight capabilities.
- Model human-centered connections and interactions: we saw some good examples of companies like GE, FedEx, Airbus, Cisco, and Accenture translating humanized understanding of their customers into brand marketing efforts focused on emotional values.
One thing is clear. Business marketing is changing. What many speakers were saying at the BMA 2014 conference is business marketing does not have to be boring. The reason why it cannot be boring is business customers and buyers have new expectations. They expect you to hear them, understand them, and to respect that they are after all – a living, breathing human working in business.
Tony – I’m glad to learn that there is more attention being paid to humanizing selling. Just 30 years ago, it would have been astounding to think that there would ever be need to ‘humanize’ selling. But I think in large measure, we’ve met the enemy, and it is us. In the name of ‘do more with less,’ companies have literally sucked personal interaction out of selling, and purveyors of ‘marketing automation’ have been delighted to reap the financial benefits. But I don’t think the report card from customers has been glowing. In addition, sales managers have promoted the importance of being ‘numbers driven’ and showing prospects the ‘business case’ and ‘high ROI’ without giving any priority to ensuring that their experiences are positive. The often-faulty assumption is that the ‘business case’ drives the sale. Yes . . . . but it’s not as compelling if the salesperson is abrasive or if the experience is patently impersonal.
On a separate, but related note: I got a big chuckle out of “how to get people to emotionally fall in love with your brand” . . . as opposed to ‘unemotionally’? I have to see Ms. Boff’s presentation.
Very well put. The need to humanize B2B marketing and sales has never been more profound. The more the world becomes “digitized”, the more people will long for the human side of everything they do. The cold “ROI” based facts – I even see this sadly enough in buyer persona development – do not add to the human experience.