Ruth Lukaweski hosted a great panel discussion at an MRIA event earlier this week on trends in B2B marketing communications and the role of research. (No really, this actually was a good panel discussion. She moderated, and there weren't any PowerPoint slides!)
The panel included senior people from three B2B advertising agencies. Note that none of these companies calls themselves advertisers -- they are all in the marketing positioning, marketing communications space. They all offer integrated service, including strategy, positioning, message, creative, and production. All indicated they are moving more and more towards positioning themselves -- and billing as -- consultants, not agencies.
Richard Willingham, President at HWB is not a marketing researcher. But he knows what he wants to see from research to help him create communications that his B2B clients can use to move their business forward. Here's his list, and it's a good place to start your thought process:
What does your prospective target want, but isn't getting today from your product or category?
Why do they use or not use your product?
What do they know about the product or the company?
What DON"T they know about the product or the company?
What can they recall of the messaging they have seen?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, it's time to start listening to your customers and prospects.
Henry Wong, Creative Director at Campbell Michener Lee counselled researchers to avoid tired techniques in advertising concept testing. The world is full of sophisticated business people who think about marketing issues; and if they sniff out that you are asking them about marketing, they will recommend a strategy instead of reacting to the message. How true this is, in my experience. Consumers are just as likely to do this as business people, and once they start telling you what your client's positioning should be, you might as well thank everyone and call it a night. Wong challenged us as researchers to use methods that are less likely to lead to this frustrating result.
Jennifer Dewar commented on the shift towards a focus on the service, not the product in B2B marketing communications. Dewar says she is seeing almost no purely product focused advertising -- the focus is on the total service package. She also observed that B2B brand advertising is a relatively recent phenomenon, and part of the shift towards a more sophisticated marketing approach in B2B, using methods initially developed for B2C.
All interesting info. There was really only one thing I found to object to: the notion that B2B purchasing decisions are largely made on a rational basis. I'm not sure it's as pure as all that. There's an old sales adage that says "People buy from people". And that's why we have sales forces, and why they take customers golfing. It's not that purchasing is irrational -- it's just that features and benefits that relate to hard-nosed business stuff are not the only thing at play. This is true even in the most rigidly defined RFP processes, such as those in use by governments.