The Product Delusion
What if Coca Cola was marketed like a B2B product?
Judging by the wealth of B2B ads in my feed, there’s a pretty good chance that if there was an ad for ‘B2B Coke,’ it’d focus on telling me how sweet, brown and fizzy it was.
B2B Coke would probably offer me an exhaustive list of product features and persuasive stats about how well it serves my drinking needs. It would probably propose a convincing price discount. And it would likely finish off by giving me the opportunity to download a fact-heavy white paper all about B2B Coke (assuming, of course, that I had nothing better to do than fill out a clunky online form and read an in-depth product review).
“95% of thirsty people agree that B2B Coke solves their thirst problem,” B2B Coke would promise.
It is worth pondering why you never see a Coke ad that copies this format.
As I’m sure you know, real Coke ads go heavier on polar bears than product specs. They prime audiences with delightful stories that help them remember the feeling of having a Coke. And they have distinctive colors and unique brand assets that have been honed and owned over decades.
The Coca Cola Company understands something that B2B businesses seem unwilling to grasp: most competing products are near-identical. the difference between Coke or a competitor being remembered in a buying situation is the advertising and branding, not the 3% difference in features.
Just like every sweet, brown and fizzy drink in the soft drink category has the same features, pretty much every CRM, marketing automation tool and project management software system has the same features too. And they all say the same things about themselves (“All your tools in one place,” anyone?).
At the B2B Institute at LinkedIn, we call these love letters to product ‘The Product Delusion.’ And in B2B advertising, The Product Delusion is everywhere.
Jeff Bezos himself was once afflicted with the Product Delusion, shaming advertising as the “price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” But Bezos has since learned the error of his ways, seeing as Amazon is now the largest advertiser on Earth. Advertising is not a price companies pay; advertising is an investment companies make to build a brand which comes to mind more quickly in buying situations, helping to avoid competitive pressure and allowing brands to maintain pricing power over time.
For anyone still unconvinced that being remembered is more valuable than being better, consider the concept of “satisficing.” In 1978, Herbert A. Simon won the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics for his work on organizational decision-making. Simon, a complex systems’ pioneer, had spent a lifetime evaluating how decisions are made in complex situations characterized by computational intractability or by lack of information. In other words, when the best solution is not at all obvious. The situations Simon researched, of course, closely mirror most B2B buying situations – where solutions are complex and information is incomplete.
For such situations, Simon made an interesting discovery: most people don’t attempt to make the perfect decision. Instead, most people settle for the decision that is “good enough.” Simon thus coined the term “Satisficing” to describe how most human decision-making works – by “find[ing] satisfactory solutions for a realistic world.” When presented with complex or abstract choices, he found humans seek to save energy by not exploring every available option. Instead, we ‘satisficed’ to find a decision that is just good enough and saves us energy to handle other pressing issues.
We can see the phenomenon of “satisficing” in our recent How B2B Brands Grow research we released in partnership with The Ehrenberg Bass Institute. The research studied how British people made decisions about high-consideration purchases like business banking, where a plethora of banks and options exists. The results were straight out of “satisficing,” with almost half (47%) of buyers going straight to their current bank. And the other half, who claimed to “shop around,” only considered 1-2 banks, with 75% ultimately still choosing their current bank. In fact, the average number of banks that were even considered for a new financial service was only 1.7.
Pursuing the perfect product takes way too much effort for the return of “slightly better,” and marketers are wise to remember that. Because of buyers’ tendency to satisfice, the best product is typically the one they already know. In other words, the brand that is most easily remembered is the brand that is bought.
If behavioral economics has taught marketers anything, it is the lengths to which the human brain will go to avoid cognitive load. Simple stories, heuristics, characters and jingles are the best way to train the brain to remember your B2B product.
Still not convinced? Well, there are a bunch of books you could read to more perfectly validate this thesis. Why not start with Herbert Simon’s 1947 book “Administrative Behavior,” in which the concept of Satisficing first arose, and then follow up with his foundational work on the Parameter Identification Problem in econometrics? A detailed review of Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow read in tandem with Jenny Romaniuk’s groundbreaking work on Distinctive Brand Assets will also help to shape your view.
But, if that is starting to sound like a lot of hard work, why not just pour yourself a sweet, brown, fizzy drink and take the B2B Institute’s word for it instead?
Chances are, it will Satisfice.