Recent research by McKinsey has revealed a dramatic divergence between the brand messages used by B2B companies and the characteristics that their customers actually value the most. The results make compelling reading for any B2B organisation that is committed to stand out from the crowd.
McKinsey analysed the key public marketing messages used by leading global B2B-focused organisations and compared them with the priorities of more than 700 global executives with responsibility for making buying decisions - and they found that most of the common corporate messages had minimal impact on the executive’s evaluation of potential suppliers.
A damaging communications disconnect
It’s interesting (and somewhat disturbing) that three of the top 5 values that were most strongly appreciated by these executives - open and honest dialogue with customers, alignment with the customer’s value and beliefs, and evidence of vendor leadership in their chosen field - had an un-measurably low presence in the core vendor messages analysed by McKinsey.
The 5 themes that most strongly influence B2B buyer perceptions of brand strength
Source: McKinsey 2012 B2B Branding survey of 1,408 top executives; McKinsey analysis
Compounding the problem: copycat similarity
Compounding the problem, many of the messages actually used by vendors had a copycat similarity across competitive organisations. As McKinsey point out, using the same or similar messages to your competitors does nothing to differentiate your organisation - or give customers a reason to choose you over apparently similar alternatives.
So we have a situation in which many of the largest B2B vendors are wasting an inordinate amount of resource on creating and communicating irrelevant or me-too messages that - for the most part - do nothing to create positive perceptions in the minds of their prospective customers, or differentiate the vendor from their competitors.
Breaking away from the norm
How can vendors break away from the norm and create messages that really resonate with their intended audiences, and motivate them to take action? Here are three of my most important prescriptions:
Identify with your most valuable customer and prospects
First, you have to clearly identify the common characteristics your most valuable customers and prospects and seek to deeply understand what really matters to them. This can only be achieved via a deep dialogue and not through a questionnaire - and even then you have to listen laterally to flush out the really important elements (drop me a line if you'd like to learn what I mean by listening laterally).
Develop a distinctive voice
Second, you need to consciously ensure that your marketing messages are not only relevant to your target audience, but also clearly differentiated from your competition. You must avoid using the buzzwords and gobbledygook that prevail in so many sectors and industries. What you choose to say - and how you choose to say it - must always stand out from the crowd.
Align your sales and marketing communications
At the end of the day, what your marketing messages say is irrelevant if they aren’t reinforced and complemented by the conversations your customers have with your sales people. This is a two-way street - as well as being equipped with conversation planners, the sales force can and must feed back to marketing what they are hearing is really important to the customers and prospects they are speaking to
The McKinsey survey covered many of the global leaders in B2B-focused markets. But the lessons learned are relevant for B2B-focused organisations of all sizes. Smaller, more dynamic organisations may not suffer as easily from the predictable and misguided pomposity of the larger players - but they still need to ensure that are on the same wavelength as their customers, and on a different wavelength to their competitors.
You can access the original article here: How B2B companies talk past their customers. Are you really communicating the messages that your customers and prospects want to hear? And are you really standing out from the crowd by standing for something that is distinctively different? If not, much of your marketing is probably going to waste...