2020 and beyond: The new B2B marketing mindset

B2B marketers have an opportunity to open up to winning consumer-facing strategies while homing in on audience needs.

BY Kim Caviness
EVP, Chief Content Officer, Imagination

We had a chance to chat with trends guru Rohit Bhargava, bestselling author of Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future (out now). The former ad exec current and Georgetown professor analyzed the last decade of business and culture to identify the trends that will shape the next 10 years ahead.

Bhargava is also a regular on the B2B keynote circuit (Seriously: when does he have time to teach and write?). He’s quite familiar with the long sales cycle of B2B companies and the sales team challenge of relaying expertise without coming off like snake-oil-slinging, jargon-spewing know-it-alls.

Bhargava reports the following forehead-slapper he is surprised to hear at just about every B2B conference. “Somebody will be done talking about something awesome. And someone will raise their hand and say, ‘Well, I work for a B2B company, and none of this applies to me.’”

Wrong, wrong, wrong, says Bhargava. “A lot of people who work in B2B, they have this mentality/chip on their shoulder that says, ‘Oh, that’s a consumer thing. That’s not useful for us. Talk to us about us.’”

These B2Bers are selling their audience short, he says. “It is an indication,” says Bhargava, “of closed-minded thinking. What we forget, and what I try and teach people, is you’re still marketing to people—and in fact you have a huge advantage.”

The non-obvious B2B marketing opportunity

Your transformative advantage is that you know what your target audience cares about. Because if they work in the same industry as you, you know their professional pain points and passions.

“Am I going to seriously sit there and read a 30-page magazine about a Snickers bar? No. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. I either see it and I’m hungry and I buy it and I feel bad about myself, or I don’t.”

In B2B, you don’t have that challenge because you know—exactly—what someone is interested in. “Your challenge is to create something that’s worthy of their attention, that actually tells them something that they haven’t heard before, right?” says Bhargava. “I love that challenge, because at least I know what they’re interested in. I have no idea what a customer for a Snickers bar is interested in because they’re interested in everything. Their target audience is literally everybody, except people who have a peanut allergy. How would you market to that target audience?”

B2B lets you focus and win. If you do it right—and don’t think too narrowly, Bhargava advises. He suggests the following mental exercise to visualize reaching your core and next-best audiences:

“Imagine your target audience to be like an archery target, and every circle is your target. If you actually hit your target, somewhere on there, it includes your audience. But it includes other people, too. And the problem is, a lot of times, we think we only want to hit our audience and not anyone else. And so instead of thinking about it as the concentric circle, we think about it as, oh, our audience is over there on a totally different target. Which is not true.”

The bottom line? Your B2B audience is bigger than you think. And they’re human, just like you. Market to them that way.

A lot of people who work in B2B … have this mentality/chip on their shoulder that says, ‘Oh, that’s a consumer thing. That’s not useful for us.’ It is an indication of closed-minded thinking.

Rohit Bhargava
author, Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future

B2B marketing advice for 2020 and beyond

Relentlessly create high-value content that alleviates your audience’s pain points and/or speaks to their passions. Hit the topics at the center of your and their Venn diagram. Be relentlessly relevant, keep it real and don’t compromise on quality. Ditch the whole “we’re B2B, not B2C” thing. Shamelessly borrow engagement tactics and marketing ideas from B2C to hit the B2B marketing sweet spot.

Rohit Bhargava's latest book, Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future, is out now.

This is the second article of a three-part series, which also covers Bhargava's perspective on the marketing trends that associations and financial services firms should have on their radar over the next decade.

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A version of this article will be featured in the upcoming Spring/Summer issue of orange, alongside more trends and analysis for B2B marketers. You can subscribe at no cost to you here.

published: May 17, 2020