The B2B4C Evolution: Building Relevance With End-Users For B2B Brands

B2B rules are changing, lines are blurring, and the business models that once fueled B2B growth are no longer producing the same results.  With a primary focus on selling to intermediary customers, many have lost touch with the end-user, which can lead to commoditization.

The solution?

Evolve to a B2B4C model, which emphasizes a healthy obsession with the market and end-users.  Companies that embrace this role can rapidly transform from a commodity supplier to a strategic partner, and drastically increase their value proposition.  The ultimate goal is to progress even further and become an indispensable ally to their customers – and their customers.

This shift requires a deeper understanding of what a brand is, and isn’t.  It’s not the logo or the company name.  A brand is your promise, value, people, products, services, and experiences.  It should create an emotional connection with consumers, while will lead to engagement and loyalty.  Without this connection, growth will remain elusive because the brand will be just one of many in the intermediary’s crowded portfolio.

Owning The End-User Experience

B2B companies have often dismissed brand relevance and customer experience as the concerns of consumer-facing brands, the ones that favor primetime TV spots and artsy social media campaigns.  But the new reality in this commoditized environment is that becoming relevant to end-users will define B2B success.  It is one of the fastest routes to sustainable B2B growth, creating stickiness and paving the way for new opportunities.

It’s also important to realize that becoming relevant to B2B customers is powered by the same four forces that drive consumer relevance – customer obsession, pragmatism, inspiration, and innovation.

The most relevant B2B brands possess a steady focus on the customer; they push themselves to earn and re-earn customer loyalty across many different channels by leveraging market insights, innovation, and engaging customer experiences.  They know that if each customer interaction is a meaningful, brand-building, business-expanding experience, they will be able to ward off the pressures of commoditization.

The last few decades have produced a handful of highly recognizable B2B2C successes.  Intel famously used this approach to make itself one of the most important names in computing.  The brand appeal of Intel’s processor and performance rose above the PC brands, driving consumer preference for anything with “Intel Inside.”  BASF, which put itself on the consumer-awareness map with its “We don’t make the things you buy – we make the things you buy better” ads, certainly demonstrated B2B4C orientation.

The cotton and, more recently, the glass industries are also great examples, each adopting a B2B4C approach to revitalize their categories and renew their relevance as new competitors entered the market.  The award-winning “Cotton, the fabric of our lives,” and Owens-Illinois’ “Glass is Life” campaigns are benchmarks for using marketing to connect directly with consumers.  Both drove new awareness and interest for the products by directly providing the facts to consumers in an appealing way.

So what holds B2B companies back from the B2B4C transformation?  Interestingly, it’s doubt and misperception.  Many B2B companies see themselves as a different animal than consumer-facing brands. But they’re not.  It’s just a matter of positioning, mindset and point of view.

Procter & Gamble, for example, is a large and successful B2C consumer packaged goods company.  Yet, in many ways, it is similar to large B2B companies.  It is just as asset and capital intensive as any manufacturer.  It sells through a variety of channels and intermediaries to get its products to end-users.  So what makes it one of the most successful B2C companies?  Obsession with the consumer, and the intermediary customers’ businesses.  P&G’s outside-in orientation ensures its offerings are driven by demand signals, unmet needs, customer experiences, and new opportunities.  It markets to both its direct customers and the end consumer, which has made it an indispensable ally to each.

The path for B2B brands to become indispensable must include a renewed urgency for market research, consumer insights, actionable analytics, coupled with a rich innovation pipeline and advanced commercial skills.  B2B businesses that lean into this B2B4C approach will be rewarded with robust growth.

The Roadmap To Relevance

Does that mean that B2B companies need a fundamental shake-up in their thinking?  Often, it does, or at least a reinvention of their business processes.

Many companies still rely on relatively dated business models, developed in an era before technology’s fluid economy made disruption a daily occurrence.  They harken back to times when B2B companies built fortunes by making products to stock or order, or churned out millions of the things they knew their customers would sell.  In short, they made what they liked to make.  The less variation in product, the better.  Longer runs with minimal changes led to optimal manufacturing metrics.  But to be relevant today, B2B companies must be both highly efficient manufacturers and consumer advocates , who possess a deep understanding of customers’ preferences, behaviors and motivations.

This move often requires a company to ask itself tough questions.  For starters, what business are you in, and what could or should you be in?  What friction points exist for your customer’s customer and how can you help?  What kinds of company orthodoxy must be overcome to build a new roadmap?

In short, gaining brand relevance means becoming an outside-in company, not one that functions inside-out.  It calls for the ability to step back and objectively size up the market, find the gaps and emerging opportunities, and then fill them.  Companies that embrace end-user obsession, ruthless pragmatism, distinctive inspiration and persistent innovation will become more relevant.  Even indispensable.  It’s what makes the difference between a brand that’s one in a list of commodity providers, and one that consumers ask for by name.