Why the human element still rules in B2B marketing

Today, a lot of communication – be it in the B2B or B2C field – is done over digital mediums. But the power of one-on-one human interaction, still cannot be replaced, stressed panellists at Marketing’s insights session – “Braving the last marketing mile” – done alongside BBN.

The collaborative agency-owned organisation nature of BBN provides it with an unparallel knowledge and understanding of communicating to the B2B sector with a strong focus on a structured approach, underpinned by a focused management.

Group director of strategy at BBN UK, Peter Lyall, reassures that maintaining a human connection is essential for businesses in spite of rising digital-first transactions led by an increasing young workforce entering the B2B working environment.

“The conversation is the relationship,” he said as he elaborated that marketing efforts should be less communicated via emails, and more via face-to-face interactions. In the B2B world, where building a relationship with your client can determine your success, “it is not only important for marketers to talk about business, but to talk to each other”, he said.

Riding on that point, Garick Kea, executive director of consumer insights at Nielsen, emphasised the need for human connection because for marketers in the B2B industry, they are “dealing with the human element”. According to Kea, the line between B2B and B2C marketers is also blurring and B2B companies are ultimately looking at the same set of consumers that B2C companies target.

It is then essential to “keep in mind the end-users and their pain points” when charting marketing directions. “At the end of the day when you are doing B2B business with a human, you will be able to relate better when you talk about some of the pain points from the consumer perspective,” he said.

Adding to the matter was Wendy McEwan, head of marketing and communications for APAC at Knight Frank. McEwan was of the view that while “conversations need to happen across both digital and physical” what is more pertinent is in knowing how to package your marketing efforts. “This is to give clients what they need, rather than what you as an organisation want to push to sell. But at the end of the day, knowing what will resonate with your clients is about understanding who they are, what they care about and then contextualising all of that so it resonates with them,” she said.

To do that well, building a relationship is necessary. She added: “We are humans and face-to-face is everything. Nobody is going to show up even to an event unless they can see what’s in it for them.”

An understanding of culture

Panellists also agreed that entering new markets has always been tricky for marketers. In the region of Southeast Asia alone, there are different cultural nuances when it comes to specific markets such as China, Indonesia, or the Philippines. Different markets require different marketing strategies. What then, should marketers do when they are entering a new market with an unfamiliar culture?

Lyall’s advice is to ask questions and seek information from people who “understand the local market” and listen to them. Deeming it “absolutely fundamental”, he stated it would be a mistake for marketers to assume there is one ideal way of marketing the same product or service in different countries, and urged them to ask more questions to get to know the market they are entering.

“Whether you’re in Singapore or Amsterdam or Scotland, I think your first point of view should always be to ask questions. When we set up an office here in Singapore, we wanted to have people locally who understood the marketplace and had a connection,” he said.

He added that while managing a global brand identity internally is never easy, marketers should always explore the people, process and content that is distinct to each country.

“So have people on your team who understand the local market place and listen to them. It’s very basic, doesn’t sound particularly insightful, but it is absolutely fundamental.”

Agreeing with his point, Jeremy Tan, APAC director of client services at BBN Singapore – INL, said that before going into any new market or area, even if it is a domestic one, it is always wise to listen – especially if you are going to try something new. Moreover, with Asia being so diverse for organisations with APAC teams, Tan highlighted the importance of diversity today in representing new holistic ideas.

Unfortunately, he added that while cultural diversity is something most companies strive for these days, in reality, not many have achieved it. Also, to truly understand a new market, it is important for companies to ask employees on the ground doing the day-to day jobs what their pain points or recommendations are. Encouraging these employees to speak up is also a way to understand the market sentiment.

“Often when I sit in a boardroom with the table as long as my living room, and a question is asked, like on remote control, everybody’s head turns towards the end of the table [to the CEO]. But if anyone has an opinion, we should be encouraging them to say it,” he said.

Succeeding in a new market

McEwan, on the other hand, noted there is a common fear of risk when entering a new market. Marketers “want to feel that if they do it, they can do it well”, she said. In such cases, she suggested “finding a champion in the business to work with and experimenting with them, finding outcomes, and learning from other countries” – especially for countries within Asia where you might have the cleanest of data sets to build your marketing plans off.

And while having good clean data is key, as emphasised by Anol Bhattacharya, chief executive officer of BBN Singapore, he also added that nothing can truly replace the human element. Sharing a Google-client presentation, he said that account-based marketing (ABM) is a technological tool can be used to provide tailored content to the right audience.

However, a solid strategy both in terms of persona and content is vital as teams will otherwise “not be able to achieve good ABM results despite having all the technologies in the world”. “The human element is still needed as marketers have to first understand who their consumers are and what they care about, before using the technology to contextualise stories so that it resonates with consumers,” he said.

This post is part of Marketing’s bespoke Marketing Insights series and was sponsored by BBN. It was held on 26 November 2019 at Pan Pacific Hotel.