Business or consumer? Which is your market?

  A recent discussion with a colleague brought up an interesting question.

Can a brand target both B2B and B2C markets at the same time.

My immediate answer was that I thought this would be a challenge. In most cases B2B and B2C marketing are targeting different mindsets: To quote from a recent post:

  • B2C: Promoting products and services that customers want, but don’t need.
  • B2B: Promoting products and services that customers need, but don’t want.

Okay, it’s a bit clichéd but I think the distinction makes an interesting point. B2C is often selling to emotion, while B2B is about delivering tangible value. On this basis, marketing a brand that fits both viewpoints is challenging. Actually, there are numerous examples of brands that successfully engage with both businesses and consumers so why do I think the combination is challenging? My reasoning is that in most cases where marketing ostensibly targets both businesses and consumers, that marketing is actually treating both as the same (either one or the other)

Targeting consumers as businesses

High street banking and Utilities are examples of businesses targeting predominantly consumers with something that fundamentally they ‘need but don’t want’ i.e. the B2B model. In these cases, the marketing messages are often about value and convenience rather than subjective/emotional messages.

Targeting businesses as consumers

This area has expanded substantially over recent years with the exponential growth of one-man-band and micro-business sector. Owners of these businesses will make subjective buying decisions based on ‘want but don’t need’ so although strictly B2B, successful marketing often takes a more B2C angle. Many companies selling services to the SME sector take this approach. So, a business can target its marketing at both businesses and consumers if they can be influenced by the same style of message. The challenge of marketing a single proposition to different mindsets doesn’t really arise.

Marketing along the supply chain

There is one other possibility which takes a different approach – Marketing along the supply chain As an example, let’s look at AA star ratings for hotels; a highly successful business model for over 100 years (you can find out more here). Ultimately the value here is focused on the consumer. The AA has created a brand that the consumer trusts to tell them the quality of a hotel. So principally this is a consumer brand. However, to be viable in the real world, hotels have to buy into the AA star rating system. If no hotels used the star rating, then the value to consumers would be significantly reduced. On this basis, it is also a B2B brand. The value to businesses is directly related to the value to the consumer. If consumers did not trust and buy-in to the brand, then it would have no value to the hotels The AA Hotel Ratings is first and foremost a consumer brand, with the B2B value coming directly out of that relationship with hotels being a key element in the supply chain who (as businesses looking for tangible value) pick up on the subjective/want but don’t need marketing to consumers. In other words, the marketing is B2B2C! So, to come back to my original discussion, unless you can effectively target both consumers and businesses together because they have a common mindset, or you have the relatively exceptional case where you are marketing along a supply chain, I stand by the view that targeting different B2B and B2C mindsets at the same time with a single message is challenging and will struggle for sustainable success.

Website Redevelopment – An Alternative Approach

A few times recently I have had interesting website redevelopment conversations with clients, which all started with the same statement:

I think I need to refresh the design of my website.

In each conversation, having reviewed the site in question, my suggestion was that it wasn’t a case of needing to change the design of the site, it was something else. Before I look at what I believe the issue was, let’s look at why people so often feel the need to update their website design layout.

The evolution of design

Inevitably, the design process is led by fashion and as such, is constantly changing. It is the job of web designers to continually come up with new website layouts and styles. Furthermore, in addition to the creative flow in website design, developing technologies open up new design opportunities. With this regular flow of new design, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing a new layout (which is intended to give an initial ‘Wow’ factor) and comparing it with your own website which you have probably seen every day for months – if not longer! Most of us are not graphic designers so the above process is leading us down a path of inadequacy!

Only a graphic designer can create good design & that will cost me

To be fair, if your website is more than 4 or 5 years old, it might be that development in web technology means a new website can bring benefits to your business way beyond a new look. This is particularly true if your site doesn’t display well on mobile phone screens. Take a look at your analytics to see how many of your visitors are using phones and tablets. The results may surprise you. So, if there isn’t a technical reason why you might need to refresh your website but you still feel in need of a change, where should you focus your attention?

Beyond the Design

Quite simply you need to look beyond the graphic design of your website with the transient ‘wow’ factor and consider instead, how well your site communicates your business message to your visitors. This communication has 2 elements:

  1. Content
  2. Navigation

These come together under one word: Usability – Does your website communicate the message you want to communicate and make it easy for visitors to explore (and respond to) the aspects of your proposition that they are interested in?

1. Content

The combination of words and images on your website are the essence of communicating your business message. We often see a new website with a smart and up-to-the-minute overall look that certainly has an initial wow factor but when you actually start to read what the words, you realise that all the focus has been on the design and none on the actual content and message. Reviewing the words and pictures on your website can be very revealing. Try to forget what you know about your business and put yourself in the shoes of your ideal target website visitor. Is it clear what you deliver? Do they see how they can benefit from your services? A common mistake people make is to be vague about their offering in the hope that people will get in touch to ask questions. In practice, it is more likely they will move on to a website that looks like it can give them what they are looking for!

If you think your website needs a refresh - look at the content

2. Navigation

The purpose of your website homepage is to quickly and easily show someone they are in the right place for what they want and then make it clear and straightforward to access more detail. Asking people to read too much on the home page can make this harder so an image-rich, clear message homepage with good, clear navigation options is the way to go – IMHO. Don’t just leave your navigation to the main menu. Make sure that images and keywords in the text all link to relevant content. Having multiple links to eth same content is absolutely fine. Different people use websites in different ways so whatever their preferred approach make it easy for them. With so many websites being based on WordPress and similar platforms these days, it is easy to refine and develop the navigation options on your website without going down the road of a new design.

Website Development – A process not an event

For many businesses developing a website is a project. Whether you do it yourself (or, more often, commission someone to do it for you), a site is built, the fee is paid then that is it, until  ‘I think I need to refresh the design of my website’ In fact, website development shouldn’t be a one-off event. Rather, it should be an ongoing process that is fully integrated with your business and, to this end, developing your website is about content evolution and maintaining effective navigation. Don’t put off developing your website because it will be a potentially costly design project, take an objective look at what your site says. You may find some modest, practical changes can make a big difference. Let’s discuss making more of your website

Business Planning in 2018 – Do Stuff and Iterate

  I read an interesting article yesterday entitled

7 Things I learned in Business School that aren't true in 2018

Whilst many of the author’s points are related to the US startup scene, there was one that really resonated with me and one which I think is very relevant to SMEs in the UK. That is the idea of business planning. Back in the mid-90s when I did my MBA, business planning was central to the teaching. The idea that to be successful, you needed to start with a business plan, covering everything about the business including detailed sales & cash flow forecasts. 25 years experience later, I am not a fan of business plans. Some aspects are useful, especially where they force you to consider your business model, the market in which you plan to operate and the potential value you can deliver. However, beyond this, when they move into the realms of sales and financial forecasting, they require too many assumptions to make them useful. It’s easy to write a business plan that says (as Del Boy would put it) “This time next year we will be millionaires”. I know, I have written them in my time, and sadly I am still aiming for my first million. The fact is No Business plan survives the first contact with the market. As soon as it is released into the wild, assumptions will start to tumble, opportunities that you had not even though of will come out of left field and the business you have at the end of year 1 will bear no resemblance to the one in your business plan.

So What Has Changed?

In one word Technology. 25 years ago, when I did my MBA, information was scarce, and expensive to come by. Getting feedback from you market was slow and expensive as was the ability to monitor the impact of your marketing. Business planning based on assumptions was necessary. There was no other way. Roll forward to today; information is easily accessible and feedback is instant. Put out a marketing message by email or social media and 24 hrs later you will be able to measure the impact of your message. Launch a new product or service, and within weeks, you will start to have an idea of how the market receives it. In 2018 often the best market research is to give it a go and see what people think.

Do Stuff and Iterate

In today’s business world, the cost of not getting it exactly right is significantly reduced. So my suggestion, especially when it comes to marketing is, rather than planning in great detail:

 Do stuff and iterate

When you have an idea, go for it. Get it out there and learn what people think about it. You will quickly discover whether your idea has legs. The real-world feedback you receive from the marketplace will allow you to refine and develop your idea. Keep on doing this, trying stuff, learning from it and refining your activities. Next year, whilst you may not have a million in the bank, you will have a much more effective business. Much better than spending the first 6 months writing, reviewing & refining your business plan before stepping out of the door.

The rise of the niche market

2017 was a record year for business startups in the UK with over 660,000 (source ft.com). This is a rise of nearly 40% from 2012 when the figure was 482,000. In 2017, 76% of businesses were sole traders. There is no question that many, if not most, business start-ups have ideas of making it big but statistically, very few do. On the flip side, 60% of business startups make it to 5 years (source: small business.co.uk). Consequently, the majority of startups survive but few make it big. This means that we are seeing a steady rise in the number of SME businesses out there So what doe this have to do with marketing? Bottom line: increasing competition. You might think that rising market competition will naturally trigger a spike in marketing activity as businesses try to ‘spread the word’ in an ever-noisier marketplace but interestingly, this isn’t always the case. I have been talking with a number of business owners recently who have gone the other way. Rather than pushing out ever more marketing messages, they have decided to focus on building a strong brand amongst a small and select group of customers. The key to this approach requires 2 things:

  1. The power of referral Despite what I say above, I strongly believe that no business can succeed without marketing. However, the form that marketing takes can vary widely. It is often said that Word of Mouth is the best marketing, and for small companies, (particularly those with a strong service element to what they deliver) being referred by a satisfied customer to a new potential customer is a great way to get new business. The rise of Social Media networks also makes it ever-easier for people to ask for referrals too.
  2. Repeatability.  If you are only ever going to make one sale to a customer you will always be looking for new customers. Furthermore, it is difficult for any customer to get to know and trust you for what you do to the point that they will be happy to refer you to someone they know. This isn’t to say that you must be selling to the same customers every week but you do need to be able to make a positive impression!

Don’t try to sell to everyone!

Talking to business owners, I will ask them who they see as their ideal target customer? ‘We can sell to anyone…’ is often the reply. While strictly this may be true, aligning your business with a niche market can make things a whole lot easier. If you focus on selling to anyone, you are likely to end up with customers all over the place and no real connection hence limited potential for referrals. If you aim to develop your business within a niche market, there is a great deal more opportunity for word of mouth to spread. A niche can, for example, mean a geographical niche within your local community or perhaps a niche within a particular interest group. Careful engagement with appropriate social media groups can be very powerful. However, be careful to focus on the group interests first and your own interests second! One thing when targeting a niche market is to focus on the niche. Self-interest means that people are primarily interested in themselves and what is around them. Position your business so that, as far as your target niche is concerned, they are the only people who matter to you! You could, of course, repeat the process with a second niche market – but the same rules apply. Make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin.

Really deliver…

Promoting your business within a niche can be very effective – but there is an Achilles heel. You must ensure you really deliver and match or exceed your customers’ expectations.  Under-promise and over-deliver is the mantra. Just as a good impression can spread quickly within a niche market, so can a bad reputation. A bad reputation can be difficult, if not impossible, to recover from in a market where people know one another. Working with 2 or 3 niche markets can be some insurance against these risks but your best bet is to make sure you do a really good job, every time!

Don’t forget your marketing!

Although this article is promoting the idea that maybe you don’t need as much marketing as some may suggest, don’t forget marketing completely. As I have said many times before, a website you are proud of is a valuable tool. Even when people refer you one to another, the first thing your prospect is likely to do is to check you out online. Managing your internet profile not only means you know what they will find when they look but also gives you the chance to show people examples of your work, case studies, testimonials and to give advice, further demonstrating your capabilities.

Do you make the most of exhibitions?

I attended a trade show recently and it struck me how many of the exhibitors fell into the same mould. They had their stand displaying their products or demonstrating their services but the exhibitors themselves were just standing around either talking to one another or simply waiting for visitors to walk up. Typically there was no effort to engage with people walking past. In some cases, there was almost a clear effort to avoid eye contact! It was almost as if all the effort in preparing for the exhibition was about creating the stand – some were very big and impressive – getting it set up, and then just turning up on the day. Actually getting the exhibition to deliver business value was an afterthought. In my case, I was there with a shopping list. I wanted to buy, either on the day or once I had done my research amongst potential suppliers and considered my options. The thing that really struck me was that although when I did I have in-depth conversations with exhibitors on many stands offering the things I was interested in, it was remarkable how few of the people I spoke to asked for contact details or showed any interest in following up or keeping in touch. To put the numbers into context, I visited over 30 stands. In each case, I was interested enough to spend time finding out more about their offering, and in most cases explained that my key objective was to do research prior to making a purchase. Of the 30 stands I visited, only 1 took contact details and asked if it was OK for them to keep in touch! In the age of email and social media, particularly now we are post-GDPR, real “opted in” contacts are like gold dust. For each of those exhibitors, I was an opportunity. I had…

  • Visited the show at all – I am in their target market
  • Taken the time to stop and speak to them
  • Explained that I was researching prior to a purchase – (i.e. I had a requirement and a budget)
  • I would have been more than willing to give them an email address and contact details (Had they been bothered to ask!)

These exhibitors were viewing the show as an event. They would prepare for it, see what happened on the day, and then move on to the next event. By switching their thinking to a marketing process rather than a lead-generating event, they would see that the long-term objective should be to build relationships with relevant contacts who had interest in their proposition, on the basis that these people would then buy when they were ready. The show then becomes just one part of a joined-up process and a great opportunity to build a solid, qualified prospect database. This database could then be used post-show to continue to develop relationships and ultimately to turn them into customers! Sales-leads generated on the day could almost be seen as a bonus!

The marketing approach to exhibitions

An exhibition is just another way to engage with contacts in your target market. They are great because they bring like-minded people together in one place at one time. The marketing approach to exhibitions starts well before the show and continues afterwards

Pre-exhibition:

Spread the word that you are exhibiting to your contacts. Encourage them to visit your stand, even if it is just to say hello. It’s an opportunity for more in-depth meetings too so offer to make specific arrangements if that would be useful for visitors. Check out the other exhibitors. Look for:

  • Prospects
  • Competitors
  • Collaborations
  • Colleagues

Maybe contact them ahead of the show and set up meetings for yourself? Engage with the exhibition organisers

  • Press Releases
  • Branding/Sponsorship opportunities

These are all opportunities to leverage your investment in eth exhibition at little or no additional cost.

Planning your show:

An exhibition is a show. Entertainment can be a valuable (and attractive) part of the package. Have a plan and a focus. Keep things relevant.

  • Give your stand some focus
  • Maybe a new product launch?
  • Live demonstrations can gather a crowd
  • Seminars/competitions (ideally relevant) can be a great ice-breaker with visitors

Look for something to attract people and something you can invite people to get involved with.

Given that most people do not buy on the day but do buy in the coming weeks and months, having a presence that attracts and engages people is a great plan to build contacts. This approach gives a significantly enhanced value, much less dependent on people making the snap decision to buy on the day.

It also creates a significantly better platform for building your business.

Follow up is important too…

But I already take contact details.“, I hear you cry! If you do, that’s great, but what do you do with that information? In the Business to Business world, exhibitions are usually more about contacts than direct sales. Sure, a core focus of exhibitions identifying potential leads, but the value then comes from what you do with them. Let me take you through a scenario: You take a stand at an exhibition and you speak to 200 people during the show. These contact details are then divided up and passed on to the “sales team” to follow up. The sales team then ‘cherry-pick’ those where they think they can get a quick sale. After all, sales teams tend to be measured on revenue. The rest will probably wither and die. A better solution might be to feed all the contacts into your ongoing marketing communications process then let the sales team cherry pick and handle the short-term opportunities. Ongoing communication using a mix of direct marketing tools that will ensure that none are forgotten, but are developed into the short-term opportunities of the future. Take this approach, and whilst exhibitions may be expensive, they also become a valuable part of a joined-up marketing process, that can deliver real, long-term return on investment. If any of this has struck a chord with you, we would be delighted to talk to you about how we can help you get the most out of your investment in exhibitions & events.