Latest industry views and advice

July 1

How can B2B businesses and brands get a competitive edge in their markets and play to the strengths of B2C businesses?

By becoming what’s called a “participation brand”.

According to integrated B2B marketing agency, Iris, this is a brand that:

  • Creates content, conversations and experiences people want to get involved in
  • Makes it easy for buyers to access ideas, understanding and validation from other customers
  • Outperforms competitors without outspending them
  • Empowers their market to do their marketing for them

Recent research conducted by Iris explains and quantifies what constitutes a B2B participation brand and how they outperform the competition. Collecting data from 1,940 B2B decision makers across multiple sectors in the UK and US, the research identifies a Participation Brand Index (PBI) score which is based on various factors such as consideration and interest in a brand and willingness to pay more.

And this chart shows how the top rated B2B businesses are outpacing their top performing B2C counterparts.

Why does “participation” matter in B2B?

So, how are these brands pulling ahead of big hitters in consumer markets like Tesla and Disney?

Iris claims the secret lies in the so-called pillars of B2B participation:

  • Passionate purpose:
  • Standing for something
  • Championing social issues
  • Having a positive environmental impact
  • Actively shaping the future
  • Helping people make a difference

E.g. Microsoft pledging to go carbon negative by 2030 and helping both customers and suppliers to be more sustainable.

  • Culture shaping
  • Fuelling audience passion and interests
  • Creating new experiences/ideas for people
  • Constantly evolving
  • Leading the way in business/work culture

E.g data analysis business, Splunk, sponsoring McClaren in F1, so reflecting the increasing importance of data in the sport.

  • Distinctive character
  • Being highly distinctive
  • Challenging the status quo
  • A customer champion
  • Transparent communications

B2B brands that harness the various elements of these “pillars” perform more strongly because, says Oli Bealby – Iris San Francisco MD – they have “built strong connections with customers over time; interacting with them every day and playing a big part in our careers.”

But how does a B2B business start this journey to participation?

“Starting with purpose – look at your own brand, where you’re indexing and look at the competition to see where you can outperform,” Bealby said. And where social/cultural issues are normally associated with B2C companies, he suggested that people are looking also for B2B companies to “do the right thing”, which is an opportunity for them to stand out.

PayPal – a top 10 participation brand 2021

Iris’ research found that PayPal was a top 10 performing “participation” brand this year, with a higher-than-average PBI score for B2B brands.

Angela Rittgers – PayPal, VP SMB Marketing – explained that all the participation pillars were “core to the business”, for example:

Passionate purpose: having a mission democratise commerce capabilities for businesses of all sizes and helping them grow and succeed.

Experience innovating: putting the customer first and using innovation and disruption based on their needs and pain points (not just the sake of it). PayPal realised this by taking their online service and introducing it to the physical world as a point-of-sale provider.

Other elements included PayPal’s sponsorship of a local US soccer team to bring business and the community together, including 250 seats reserved to host local people at matches.

Additional, socially-driven initiatives have included providing interest free loans to US federal workers when the US Government shut down in 2019.

Rittgers said: “People want to be part of brands that have strong mission and are doing the right thing for people and the world at large. Businesses play a role in driving positive change while being authentic to your brand.”

And her advice to other B2B businesses: “Just get started – don’t ‘boil the ocean’. Start to try things and learn what’s authentic to your business, employees and customers. Build it into the brand, spend your brand efforts in the community and drive advocacy for your business.”

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