Emphasize Safe Innovation When Marketing to Millennial B2B Buyers

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Numerous research studies have shown that millennials are now playing pivotal roles in B2B purchase decisions. Many marketing industry pundits contend that millennial buyers have distinctive characteristics that require a different approach to marketing and sales.

But many claims about the attributes of millennials are gross oversimplifications of reality. In a 2017 report, the global research firm Ipsos MORI wrote, "Myths and misunderstandings [about millennials] abound, with bad research jumping to general conclusions based on shallow caricatures . . ."

A research report published last November by The B2B Institute and GWI provides a detailed and nuanced view of millennial attitudes and behaviors. Work in BETA:  The Rising B2B Decision Makers ("Work in BETA") was based on surveys of business professionals between the ages of 21 and 64 in ten countries. The report focuses primarily on the attitudes and behaviors of survey respondents between the ages of 21 and 40.

The Work in BETA research produced several insights that have significant implications for B2B marketers. One important group of findings relates to the attitudes of millennial business professionals toward innovation and risk.

The Desire to be Innovative - The Need to Feel Safe

Millennials value innovation highly, and they are also keen to enhance their professional status. These two aspects of the millennial mindset are both evident in the findings of the Work in BETA surveys, and they create a tension that is manifested in how millennials make business decisions.

For example, the surveys asked participants what types of improvement initiatives were important for their company to implement in the coming year. Improving efficiency and productivity, and finding cost savings were the most frequently identified initiatives by respondents of all ages. However, millennial business professionals were far more likely that older survey respondents to identify improving innovation as an important initiative.

Millennials also want to be trendsetters, and they want to be sure they are keeping up with peers and competitors. In the Work in BETA surveys, millennial respondents were more likely than older respondents to agree that "I always like to try new products" and "Having the latest technological products is very important to me."

When survey participants were asked about the reasons that might lead them to consider bringing a new product or service into their company, millennial respondents were more likely than older respondents to say:

  • To keep up with the latest trends
  • Because a competitor is using it

Somewhat surprisingly, the Work in BETA research found that millennial business professionals are more risk averse that is commonly thought. The report states that millennial buyers ". . . spend the most time on research, explore the widest range of vendors, and yet are the most likely to ultimately pick one that they already know."

The inclination of millennial buyers to be risk averse is evident in the sources of information they see as most influential when researching products or services. The Work in BETA surveys asked participants to rate the influence of 16 sources of information used when researching potential purchases. The three sources most frequently described by millennial respondents as very influential were:

  1. Recommendations from experts in my network (53%)
  2. User reviews (51%)
  3. Recommendations from industry analysts (50%)

These survey responses show that millennials are very aware that their decisions or recommendations regarding potential purchases will have an impact on their professional status, and therefore they seek out the opinions of trusted experts and other users to support their decisions.

Implications for Marketers

The implications of this group of findings for B2B marketers are fairly obvious. The actions suggested below will be effective to some extent with potential buyers of any age, but they are particularly important when marketing to millennial buyers.

Emphasize Innovation - To make an impact with millennial buyers, it's vital to position products or services as innovative to the greatest extent possible, and marketers should make innovation a major theme of the brand story. Products or services can be innovative because of their design, architecture, or functionality, or because they will enable users to implement innovative business processes.

Expert Endorsement - As noted earlier, recommendations by trusted experts are very influential for millennial B2B buyers. Therefore, marketers should have a plan for keeping recognized experts in their industry informed about product/service capabilities and new developments. Marketers should also look for opportunities to establish and cultivate relationships with relevant experts.

Social Proof - In the Work in BETA surveys, just over half of the millennial respondents (51%) rated user reviews as a very influential source of information when researching potential purchases. So marketers should encourage customers to share their experiences with the company's products or services and provide an easy-to-use way for customers to give reviews. Case studies can also be an effective way to provide the social proof that millennial buyers want.

Brand Salience - About 30% of the millennial respondents in the Work in BETA surveys said they will only buy from a company they've heard of before. As the report states, millennial buyers are ". . . drawn to names that have a ring of familiarity and an established reputation." Therefore, programs that are designed to raise brand awareness and increase brand salience are important for marketing effectively to millennial buyers.


Image courtesy of Epic Top 10 via Flickr (CC).

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David Dodd
David Dodd is a B2B business and marketing strategist, author, and marketing content developer. He works with companies to develop and implement marketing strategies and programs that use compelling content to convert prospects into buyers.

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