What’s the role of your product in successful B2B PR and marketing?
Apparently, not a lot.
Recent commentary from the B2B Institute – and covered in Marketing Week – suggests that B2B business’ fixation with products and their features, especially in the tech sector, is misplaced marketing effort.
Authors Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo sum up the problem: “[it] isn’t that buyers don’t know enough about your products. The problem is that buyers don’t know your brand exists…”.
This, they also say, is the “product delusion” – betting the farm on a product and the marketing communications around it to make your fortune. It happens less in B2C marketing because, for example, Coca-Cola chooses to get people thinking about its product in ways other than just “brown, fizzy and sweet”. Whether that’s polar bears or – for an older demographic – liking to “buy the world a Coke”.
So, if buyers are not driven to action by your product itself, then what? According to Weinberg and Lombardo, “buyers want good-enough products that come to mind easily (mental availability) and are easy to purchase (physical availability)”. What’s more important than product is brand and “the best product is the one you know”, they conclude.
When B2B PR people’s principal route to reach the buyer – in the days before self-publishing – was via the media, a familiar phrase among colleagues when creating content was “that’s too commercial”; knowing full well that a journalist would consign the content to the bin if it was all product and no story. So, the product delusion is nothing new but today, with unlimited access to marketing and communications channels, it has greater potential to spread.
What are some of the ways companies can use B2B PR and marketing to ensure they’re a “known” quantity without imposing product specs on a wary world?
Highlight the business issues that matter
Shining a light on the key issues, emerging trends and challenges facing your customers – essentially telling them something useful they don’t know or empathising with what they do know – is more likely to attract and maintain their attention and associate your business with a potential solution. Either conducting credible external research or harnessing substantial, internal data can populate a report that backs your credentials and be the source of stories for the media. In effect, your customer starts to know you for something they care about.
Demonstrating your people’s expertise
If you have experts within your business that know not only about your products but the wider industry context in which they operate, the chance is they will have something of value to share with potential customers. It doesn’t always need to be founded on a piece of research to make it both insightful and credible. Often, the experience and sector-specific knowledge of your people can be enough to generate valuable content such as white papers or e-books.
A destination for independent advocacy
When publishing a regular programme of content, it’s often tough to keep it interesting, topical and as well-received as a story in the independent, specialist media would be.
However, if your B2B product/service has sufficient users willing to engage with you, one effective approach is to create a network of guest contributors. This reduces the burden on your own teams to keep the content fresh and flowing but, more importantly, it gives a broad spectrum of independent viewpoints – effectively, testimonials that tell a story in a way your customers don’t feel they’re being sold to.
Making your customers the “hero”
Putting customers front and centre of your content and PR activity – such as case studies or user stories – is a way to give prospective or future buyers an insight into how “someone like them” has solved a problem or made significant improvements to their business.
And getting customers talking about your product in their own voice and from their own perspective will take the conversation some way from features and benefits in a language that feels authentic.
Translating written case studies into video is another way of bringing the story to life in an easy-to-consume and highly memorable format.
Obtaining independent academic credibility
Whether your B2B business has teamed up with a university or other academic institution as part of your product development, or for a one-off project, having academic backing can give you both added visibility and credibility.
Giving your academic partners space to speak on your behalf – primarily about relevant industry issues – comes with inherent authority. Associating their valuable and authoritative insights with your business helps cement your position as a serious player in the market and in the minds of your potential customers.
Do you want to go beyond the product in your B2B PR and content marketing? Contact Metamorphic PR.