Ever do a Proof of Concept for a Breakfast Cereal?
Ok, 2017 is right around the corner and it’s another new year with new sales objectives and a mission to drive product revenues even higher. This is always an interesting endeavor for marketing, specifically B2B marketing.
Marketers are given a lot of advice about how to market and position their products out in the world. The advice is well intended, however, the lens in which a lot of people look at marketing is through the B2C lens. It’s no wonder everyone has an opinion, we as consumers are inundated with marketing every day. In addition, as consumers we buy a lot of things. There are a lot of things that affect people's decision making when making a purchase. In addition, 90% of our buying decision is subconscious and over 63% of the purchases we make are based upon how they make us feel. Small ticket items, as well as large ticket items, elicit a feeling in each of us as we buy things. The range is pretty astounding from things like a breakfast cereal, to a cell phone, to an automobile.
There are several factors too that influence our decisions on what we purchase in our personal life. The greatest factor, I believe, is how much we care about the kind of item we are purchasing. This can change over time; our age plays a part. At six, I cared a lot about what kind of breakfast cereal I ate. When you tell your friends on the playground you had Count Chocula you were cool, because none of the other mothers let their kids have ‘chocolate’ for breakfast. The older you got, the more you cared about how the cereal made you feel throughout the day or you may have cared about the calories or sugars it has.
As you grew up and decided on a cell phone for yourself, earlier in life it may have been about the games or the apps you could use. Again, as you got older and needed to use your phone more for work than for pleasure, you may not care so much about the games or apps but just want a phone to take phone calls, simple.
Some people also believe that a car says a lot about a person. While we all know and probably had grandparents who lived through the depression, “…a car is nothing more than to get you from point A to point B…” (how many of us have heard that), a car could mean status or reflect your passions. As you got older and were more secure in your job, it could influence the type of car you chose to buy. The car also makes you feel a certain way when you drive it, it could be luxurious, sit up high like a truck (putting you above everyone on the road), sporty, economical (making you feel like you are doing the right thing for the environment). In any case, these things elicit a feeling for the consumer personally.
The marketing messages and brands from these products are designed to make you feel a certain way and connect with you as a consumer of goods that apply to your life.
To this end, I get a lot of advice, from non-marketers, when it comes to how to best market a storage array. Some suggest that I talk about the array and how it will make the storage administrator feel. While B2C marketers deal with this every day, there is a fundamental difference. When Selling B2B products and connecting with the ‘buyer’ there are a lot of variables.
First and foremost, “who” is the buyer and who has the most influence? In any B2B purchase there may be several people involved in the purchasing cycle. Who should be catered to most? Also, do the ‘buyers’ have the same level of empathy for the items they buy for their company as they do for themselves? Will the messages that elicit the same kind of reaction for an automobile, say, be the same for a data storage array? One could argue that performance, reliability and environmental factors are all things that apply to both automobile and storage arrays, so should they be marketed in the say way? Someone who cares more about carbon footprint than speed may have different feelings as to which product is the one for them.
I also hear “let’s focus our marketing on our ‘business outcomes,’” because that’s what B2B consumers want to know about. At the end of the day, the most positive business outcome is more, profitable revenue to the business. I believe each vendor knows this and will say their products can help businesses drive more profitable revenue, I mean, isn’t that why we work for the companies we work for, because they deliver solutions that help others? And of course, ours help better than the competitor or we would work for them. The next question is how The solution helps increase revenues, better than the other guy? It then comes down to things like performance, reliability, green factors, and maybe ease of use.
Much like a car, you do test drive a few before you make a buying decision, but rarely does each car directly compete with each other. With each car you test drive it may have different features such as a sun roof, hi-fi stereo, heated seats, or navigation. If each car doesn’t have the exact same feature set, then the test drives are nice but you buy based on a feeling. When was the last time you bought a car and did a full TCO analysis before making a decision When was the last time you compared the price, the maintenance and other factors the dealer offered to find out the exact best financial deal? I am sure someone has, but for 95% of the people, that is not how it works.
There is no answer here, just some food for thought when giving advice to the marketing team about how to market their products. The other thing that needs to be thought about is the longevity of the marketing message and the brand and what are you trying to build. Having a message that is good for today may not be the right longer term message or what you want the brand to be.
It is important for your company to have its own narrative. Who are you? What do you stand for? And most importantly, and to quote the great Simon Sinek, “Why do you exist?” I believe if you have the right answers to those questions about your company and they are authentic and from the heart (of the company), people will see that and want to buy your product. If you are a good company, offer a good product, practice good corporate citizenship, and believe that your product makes a difference, people will see that and they will buy from you.