B2B marketing is entering a golden age. Digital marketing is more and more important to B2B marketers, which is lucky for us, because digital marketing also happens to be more and more important to B2B buyers. Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete, which means your B2B consumer is out there making decisions about you well before you’ve had an opportunity to talk to them directly.
We recently completed the groundwork on a new product launch for a B2B client, and as a part of that effort, we did a round of research into recent trends among several seemingly unrelated groups of B2B buyers: small business owners (SMBs), industrial planners, and managers of large facilities. We were looking to discover what influences these buyers’ purchasing decisions and what has changed over the last few years in terms of how these buyers use digital channels to inform and ultimately take action on those decisions.
The product itself won’t hit the market until 2016, so its exact nature will have to stay a mystery for now, but that won’t keep us from sharing some critical things we learned along the way. Below are some of the big points that jumped out at us, and how we believe they should impact your B2B marketing strategy in 2016.
Reviews & Videos Are Big to B2B Buyers
B2B buyers rely on videos, reviews, and product websites for research, much like the average consumer. Just like their civilian counterparts, B2B buyers look to others for product advice and endorsements, and they look to YouTube and social media for product legitimacy.
Online video has seen particularly sharp growth. According to a Google/Millward Brown Digital study, 70% of B2B buyers and researchers are watching videos throughout their path to purchase. Google reported a 52% jump in just two years. The study also found that these B2B researchers aren’t just spending a few minutes each on videos; nearly 50% watched 30 minutes or more and almost 20% watched over an hour of content during the research process. In fact, according to U.S. YouTube data, over 895,000 hours of B2B videos from brands were watched in 2014.
Videos about product features top the list of what’s capturing B2B researchers’ attention. How-tos and professional reviews are next on the list. And not only do buyers find these videos useful, but even better for brands, the videos help extend the conversation. The Google/Millward Brown Digital study found that, after watching, many B2B researchers talked to colleagues, looked for more information, visited a brand’s website/store, or shared the video.
They’re also looking to these channels to get a sense of the level of service a vendor provides and what kind of help they will get with installation, service, and other support-related issues. How-to installation videos, for example, are a powerful way to communicate to B2B buyers not just how to install your product, but that you take installation seriously. It shows you know what you’re doing and that you have nothing to hide.
All of this means you need to be producing content that helps B2B buyers learn about and compare their purchases.
SMBs Are Taking to the Web Faster Than Other B2B Buyers
Because SMBs are much closer to the dollars behind any purchase, and because they tend to wear so many hats and play in niche industries, they are far more likely to take to the web before looking to their business network for purchase advice. Their purchase journey looks very similar to that of a retail consumer: they visit a company’s website, use a search engine to find information, and read content … a lot of content, according to the eMarketer report “What Makes B2B Decision-Makers Tick?”
Where they differ from other B2B buyers, though is how personally close to their budget they are. Small business owners are making purchases with their own money. Their budget is not a corporate one handed down from the CFO: they are the CFO. So when they buy something, it needs to work, it needs to last, and it needs to cost as little as possible for as long as possible. This puts SMBs in a special niche in the B2B buyer category.
Don’t forget about this when creating messaging, creative, and media for B2B buyers. They do go with their gut, but it’s not just about the hard bottom line — it’s also about legitimacy and longevity. Use digital channels to prove you’re legit, stand behind your product, and know what you’re talking about.
Mobile Is a Big Player Here, Too
If you thought maybe B2B was the last dark corner of modern marketing where desktop is still the prevalent method for reaching consumers, unfortunately, you’re wrong. Even here, among buyers who are often on company laptops or last-gen desktop workstations, mobile plays a big role.
In the past two years, there has been a 91% increase in the use of smartphones throughout the B2B path to purchase, including for the purchase itself.
When building a strategy for reaching B2B buyers, don’t minimize mobile any more here than you would elsewhere. In fact, if anything, ramp it up: B2B buyers are doing a lot of research during work hours and many of them are on the go during the day far more than the average consumer, putting mobile research at the top of their to-do lists.
Keep a Sharp Eye on B2B Trends
As goes digital marketing, so goes B2B marketing, so keep a sharp eye out on how this historically easy-to-understand group is evolving and growing ever more sophisticated. A good marketer today is a digital marketer — and that goes for everyone, even those marketing to B2B buyers.