Today’s consumers are used to being in control of their online brand experiences. And brand marketers are actively encouraging this engagement with their online and omni-channel marketing strategies. It’s no surprise that these consumer expectations bleed into the B2B experience. Buyers crave B2B engagement opportunities in the same way they crave engagement with B2C brands.
In Brand Engagement in the Participation Age, Google highlights the shift in consumer behavior from “leaning back, receiving brand messages, to leaning forward [and] actively engaging with them.” The lessons in this report have interesting takeaways for B2B marketers.
Engaged customers buy more
The Google study found that consumers who engage more with brands buy more. Sixty-two percent of the consumers surveyed report engaging with brands online at least one time per week—these are the hyper-engagers. These consumers are also more likely to buy online (40.2% reported buying online at least once a week).
It isn’t much of a stretch to see how this kind of engagement can translate to the B2B experience. In fact, a new study from the Acuity Group on the State of B2B Procurement confirms an important trend in B2B buying behavior: B2B buyers are researching and buying goods online in greater numbers than ever.
- 68% purchased goods online in 2014, up from 57% in 2013
- 54% researched products on a smartphone or tablet computer, up from 41% in 2013
- 30% researched at least 90% of products online before purchasing, up from 22% in 2013
This report gives evidence that buyers are engaging online with B2B brands. But are the B2B marketers able to adapt to this shift in behavior? Probably not as well as they could. According to the Acuity Group, report less than half of B2B buyers (48%) purchase their goods directly from suppliers, preferring other purchasing channels or third-party websites. And three-quarters of the respondents (75%) said they would buy again from the same supplier because the company has omni-channel capabilities.
Work to inspire engagement
The Google report noted that successful B2C brands use multiple channels and align their advertising and marketing messages to consumer passions. The survey also found that the use of influencers who create word-of-mouth buzz and interact with a brand’s social media really make a difference. Even with the traditionalists who typically avoid online engagement with brands—38% said that recommendations from “people I know” inspired them to engage.
Inspiring customers is possible no matter the product. B2B marketers need only to look at Sungard Availability Services, the IT operations support company, for some inspiration. The company takes advantage of current events and trends to inspire their customers with fun videos like Surviving the Holiday Fiasco: Pack Like an IT Pro and a zombie apocalypse-themed email campaign that won the 2014 MarketingSherpa Email Awards.
Another company working to engage customers is Caterpillar. They tend to create more traditional videos and campaigns (no zombies just yet), but the company has generated significant engagement with its social media channels like a Facebook page and popular YouTube channel.
Close the B2B engagement gap
In the B2C world, there is a gap in the desire to create online engagement and the ability to execute that strategy. Eighty-six percent of the Google survey respondents said that engagement was a priority, but only about 45% are able to actively manage online customer engagement.
The Acuity Group report cites a similar gap on the B2B side. Though customers do engage with suppliers’ websites, many of them report a lack of useful information, tailored content or that seamless omni-channel experience so familiar to B2C customers in many industries.
If there was any doubt about how important the online and omni-channel experience is in for B2B buyers these days, consider this: Seventy-one percent of the B2B buyers in the Acuity Group survey said they would switch suppliers if the overall digital experience was better at another organization.
It might be easy to forget when considering the way many businesses buy products, but B2B buyers are the very same B2C buyers who want to engage with brands online. B2B companies that enable online engagement can still get first mover advantage in some industries, meeting a content need and engaging with customers of those who haven’t figured out how to leverage B2B engagement.