If you’re not a B2B specialist, you don’t do B2B communications. A bold statement perhaps, seeing as many agencies seem to put a few pinstripes on their B2C offering and claim to swing both ways. But the way we approach B2B communications leaves no room for experimentation. It’s all or nothing.
In the case of Fifth Ring, and our many partners in the BBN network, we believe in differentiation by specialisation. But anyone can say they’re a B2B specialist. In this Knowledge Bank article, we intend to identify and dissect one of the things that sets true B2B agencies apart – industry immersion.
It is universally agreed that any marketing strategy is fuelled by a deep knowledge of your clients' objectives and the needs of their target market. But true B2B communications takes this basic necessity to new heights. To add ultimate value to your clients' operations, it is necessary to study their business ecosystem so stringently your knowledge of their company and surrounding market rivals their own.
Fifth Ring’s expertise in the oil and gas industry for instance is a highly-prized commodity. We trade with it often and value it just as much as our expertise in marketing communications itself. This deep knowledge of our clients’ world means we are being engaged as peers and embedding ourselves into their business. We now have Fifth Ring staff based permanently within clients’ organisations providing constant communications support. And we are also taken into their confidence, getting involved in projects at top-secret development stages.
As an example of this, a high-profile oil and gas company recently contacted us to partner them in the launch of a game-changing project that could revolutionise the energy industry. The existence of this scheme was only known to a handful of people in the business itself when we were engaged, and has the potential to transform the oil and gas industry’s output for the next hundred years. The project starts a mission to unlock oil reserves at hitherto impossible depths and pressures. It is at the cutting edge of their industry – truly new territory. So our knowledge is not only used to sell existing products and services, but it involves us at the pioneering front end of the energy industry where imagination becomes innovation. Our immersion in ground-breaking projects like this means we become the go-to agency as other service companies respond to this new market.
So a deep understanding of a particular industry is highly beneficial. But looking at communications in a broader sense, a B2B specialist often has to become an expert in an industry they’ve never worked in before. To be a true B2B marketer, you have to attain levels of understanding that enable you to spar with top-level executives and speak with authority on subjects you’re only relatively recently aware of. The ability to understand the behemoth that is a B2B brand, the varied horde of stakeholders it touches and the complex buying cycle its customers experience cannot be done without a methodical structure and process in place.
Fifth Ring, along with several of our BBN partners, has a set of tools that enables us to become immersed in any business. When engaging any new client we activate our Brand Asset Management process. BAM is a B2B discovery model that uncovers the intricacies of your clients' organisation, identifying the key stakeholders involved and their motivations. This in itself is standard in the world of marketing, but what differentiates our process is the link it has to the B2B buying cycle. With the key people identified, BAM then determines the average time it takes for those individuals to move from a position of unaware of the brand, to a position of purchasing, and crucially, the key questions asked, barriers faced and encouragement needed at each stage of that timeline. BAM breaks the purchasing timeline down into four stages – awareness, interest, consideration and decision. With big B2B purchase decisions, businesses and livelihoods are at stake, so the period from awareness to decision is sometimes years.
So from the very start of our relationships with clients, we immerse ourselves in their world and put ourselves not only in the mindset of customers today, but customers in years to come. We understand the hopes and fears of their market and develop messaging to address these issues as and when they evolve. This level of immersion is only relevant for the big, long buying cycle of B2B brands. But this level of immersion and understanding is an absolute necessity in B2B marketing.
So to the original point – if you’re not a B2B specialist you do not do B2B communications. The dedication needed to understand every facet of not only the clients' business, but also their many customers’ businesses, is not something one can approach without bespoke B2B models and mindsets. This applies to every aspect of an integrated agency and every stage of the agency/client relationship. You don’t see a heart specialist if you need brain surgery. A facetious analogy perhaps, but consumers have been known to follow their heart and successful B2B brands need a head for business.