What Intel Can Teach B2B Marketing About Strategy

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Thanks to a tweet from Paula Gray, Anthropologist-in-residence at AIPMM, I was made aware of an article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review.  The article, Ethnographic Research: A Key to Strategy, was written by Ken Anderson, a well respected anthropologist at Intel Research.  Although it is written from the viewpoint of using ethnography for understanding consumer behavior, there is applicability to the transformation underway in B2B Marketing and Strategy.

“Informs Functions Such As Strategy and Long Range Planning”

Mr. Anderson makes the assertion from the start that ethnography is not just for innovation anymore but now plays a role in informing strategy and long range planning.  Similarly, I have made assertions that the buyer persona development process is about informing strategy.  I also make this same point in an interview with Stephanie Tilton on her blog Savvy B2B Marketing. 

The Connection

There is a strong connection between persona development and ethnography when it comes to informing design strategy for users.  Intel has been a forerunner in this area and Ken notes how Intel has now over two dozen employed anthropologists and ethnographers.  Ken states: “by understanding how people live, researchers discover otherwise elusive trends that inform the company’s future strategies.”  In my recent definition of buyer personas, now in a Buyer Persona 2.0 context, one of the key components of buyer personas is this focus on the unarticulated and the not-yet-discovered which can be truly elusive if only an analytical approach through customer data is used.  In the B2B Marketing and Strategy context, companies must now adopt capturing an anthropological view of their markets.  Making use of anthropological methods to gather important customer and buyer insights that inform B2B Marketing Strategies may very well become a key difference maker in the years ahead.  The “investigative process” I’ve referred to in previous posts is the term used to capture the essence of what Ken describes as: “anthropological researchers visit consumers in their homes or offices to observe and listen in a non-directed way. Our goal is to see people’s behavior on their terms, not ours.”  The investigative process applicable to buyer personas is very much about visiting buyers, talking with buyers, and listening in non-directed ways to capture insight about buying and decision-making processes.   


The Translation

Essential to informing B2B Marketing Strategies is translating as well as communicating the implications of the customer and buyer insights gained.  Ken describes their role as: our job as anthropologists is to understand the perspective of one tribe, consumers, and communicate it to another, the people at Intel. Our experiences in both worlds make this translation possible.”  Buyer persona development is about understanding the “perspectives of buyers and communicate it to others.”  The buyer persona development process becomes the translation and communications medium for customer and buyer insights as well as how they inform strategies.   Thus, making buyer persona development, defined in the context of informing B2B marketing strategies, profoundly more than just a profiling tool. 

The Lesson

 What Intel teaches B2B Marketing is that to stay ahead in your market, you must do as Ken prescribes: “truly understand customers and adapt to fast-changing markets.”  While the Internet air waves are filled with many how-to prescriptions on social media marketing, content marketing, sales enablement, and etc. for B2B Marketing, the informing of these “how-to” aspects for each organization starts with understanding buyers and keeping up with the fast-changing environments in their markets.  One of the aims of Buyer Persona 2.0 is to develop the best practice of applying anthropological methods to gathering customer and buyer insight and to help inform B2b Marketing strategies.  Paving the way for senior leaders in B2B Marketing and Sales to not only be informed on which strategies to apply but to also use buyer personas as the communications method to help their organizations to be informed about as well as to understand their customers at the deepest level possible.

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