Why you can’t keep B2B in the corner

Over half the value and only 12% of the budget: isn’t it time we let B2B come to the marketing party?

March 23, 2015

Ask any government statistician and they’ll tell you it’s impossible to quantify the contribution that trade between businesses makes to the economy. This isn’t because B2B’s contribution is small or easily ignored; quite the opposite. It is so deeply integrated into every aspect of economic activity that it’s impossible to separate out statistically. If you are a politician or economist looking out for the health of your country’s GDP then you know that B2B’s value is literally priceless. In reports analysing the economic impact of businesses in nominally ‘consumer’ sectors such as mobile or FMCG, over half of their positive contribution tends to come in the form of B2B dealings through a supply chain. And of course, that’s ignoring the huge services sector, which is built primarily around businesses providing solutions to one another. B2B is quite simply everywhere.

Underfunded – and unloved?

Is the size, influence and inescapable nature of B2B activity reflected in the budget handed to B2B marketing? It doesn’t look like it. According to PwC, the world spent $66 billion on advertising in B2B-specific environments during 2014. That’s only around 12% of the total global advertising market of $539 billion. So the sector generating potentially half the economic value is receiving around a tenth of the advertising budget. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

True, part of the reason that B2B receives less money than B2C is that traditional consumer channels are more expensive. TV ads cost a lot of money – and not much B2B activity runs on TV. But the missed B2B opportunity isn’t just about the price tag – it’s more about the attitude. B2B isn’t often given the same flexibility or creative freedom as consumer marketing. It’s forced to operate under strict constraints and it tends to be measured as if its role is simply an extension of sales. When LinkedIn hosts marketing forums and events for B2B audiences we often find participants asking what the future role of a B2B brand really is. Many businesses would struggle to answer that question – and that adds up to a huge missed opportunity both for them and the advertising agencies working with them.

Why you can’t keep B2B in the corner

It used to be easy to ignore your B2B marketing because it seemed likely to be invisible to all but its intended audience; it used to be difficult for B2B marketers to justify its role because it was difficult to quantify; and it used to be hard to see a role for B2B engagement and awareness at the top of the funnel because the only metrics marketers had to justify its performance came in the form of qualified leads handed to sales. Today though, in the age of professional social media, not one of these statements continues to hold true. And businesses need to respond.

B2B marketing is no longer invisible because your white paper or case study now appears in the LinkedIn feed of your CEO, accessible to customers, consumers and employees. It’s far easier to quantify as data and automation give us the ability to drive leads at scale and measure our success in doing so, and its success is no longer measured by how many people fill in lead-generation forms in order to interact with it. Last month, LinkedIn launched LinkedIn Lead Accelerator, a full-funnel suite of marketing tools that targets and tracks highly defined audiences at scale wherever they go on the web. It offers B2B marketers planning and measurement tools at least as sophisticated as anything available to their colleagues in B2C. B2B today has the freedom to build awareness, change perceptions and establish loyalty with a scope that it’s never had in the past. And when B2B plays such a huge role in shaping any business’s topline performance, that’s an opportunity few can afford to pass up.

Nor is this opportunity limited to client organisations. For agencies that can overcome lingering B2B prejudices, there’s a huge untapped market waiting for them to apply the creative and planning skills they’ve honed targeting consumer audiences. B2B’s time is now.

The LinkedIn B2B Forum will be exploring the opportunities that a new era of B2B marketing brings at the Ham Yard Hotel tomorrow morning, from 8.30am, with a line-up of some of the sector’s most influential marketing minds. Join us to find out what the new B2B could mean for you.