Prioritizing customer relationships within B2B marketing strategies was a powerful tool before the pandemic. Now, it’s an essential one. COVID-19 placed a new importance on relationships between B2B brands and customers. As organizations across the spectrum faced uncertainty, they looked to their business partners to provide stability and support.
According to Forrester Research, these relationships have become deeper and more consistent: The average number of buyer interactions has risen from 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021. Meanwhile, 75 percent of Americans report having changed brands during the pandemic – evidently, these interactions are becoming increasingly impactful on customer behavior. B2B brands needed to feel like they could trust any potential partner to stick by them before committing to the relationship – and this will continue in the post-pandemic world.
As many businesses now enter into a growth phase after the instability of 2020, there are new opportunities for B2B brands to develop meaningful relationships with their customers based on trust and human connection.
Customers Want Brands They Know and Trust
In 2021 and beyond, B2B customers need to feel like they can trust your brand to provide support through thick and thin. In fact, 53 percent of respondents to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report say “whether you trust the company that owns the brand or brand that makes the product” is the second most crucial factor when purchasing from a new organization. Trust is second only to price.
Recognizability: You can create a sense of trust and familiarity in your brand through a share of mind marketing strategies. By giving your brand a signature look and sound, you help solidify your company in the minds of potential customers. For example, you can leverage sonic branding by using a few notes or a melody to distinguish your brand across different video and audio channels (think the sounds of your computer when you turn it on, or the classic Apple notification sound). This helps build unconscious brand association and, as a result, trust.
Authenticity: In today’s age, it’s also vital to instill customer trust in your brand by being clear about your values and making sure your actions match up. Potential buyers will be put off by brands who claim to stand for something but don’t back it up – integrity is crucial in driving relationships forward. These values encapsulate how you treat your staff, how you champion diversity and inclusion, and how you support social and environmental issues.
Creativity: B2B companies can take a page from the B2C book when it comes to openly champion their company values. Just take Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, for example. The company has built brand loyalty through their identifiably amusing and quirky ice cream names, quality, unique ingredients, and their values-based philosophy, which publicly stands up for social issues.
The Importance of Human Connection
After more than a year of isolation, human connection is more important than ever, and that applies to marketing relationships too. In this sense, B2B and B2C marketing methods merged in surprising ways during the pandemic. B2B brands like Zoom became household names for consumers, and many other B2B companies were forced to reckon with the fact that the end customer is a human – not a faceless organization.
This means that B2B brands now have to increase their focus on emotional connection as well as provide functional value. Currently, 50 percent of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase if they connect to a brand on an emotional level.
You can begin by leveraging storytelling to develop that connection with your customers. Storytelling is a great way to demonstrate the impact of your business on the lives of others. Just take Salesforce’s Customer Success Stories or Google’s AdWords Stories that highlight local businesses using their ads platform, for example. Telling these kinds of stories provides human connection and instills trust as customers can see the real-life impact of your product or service. All of this contributes towards forming a solid relationship with your customer.
It’s also wise to consider the more minor but just as essential details of your messaging, especially during turbulent times. You’ll want to make sure that any brand communication is delivered at the right time and in the right tone. If your customers are likely to be hit by the impact of a current event or involved in a particular social cause, be mindful of that in your messaging and offer the appropriate tools for support.
Listen To Your Customers – On a Whole New Level
No relationship can develop without feeling heard. Uncertainty still abounds as the world emerges into a new era and the unknown is always lurking around the corner. Brands simply can’t afford to steam ahead without consulting their customers on their current and upcoming needs.
There are several ways that you can ensure your customers feel heard while meeting them where they are. For example, it’s a good idea to frequently conduct social listening, collect feedback on your product or service through surveys, and analyze user data for insights. You can also take the time to have individual conversations with your most valued customers about what they see on the horizon. It is those brands that tailor their product to meet customer needs that will succeed in building long-term relationships with their customers.
With social media usage soaring through 2020 and into 2021, more B2B customers than ever are willing to use these platforms to communicate with brands. It’s been shown that customers are willing to spend more (up to 20 percent) on products when the brand responds to them on social media and 64 percent of people want brands to connect with them – so listening to and interacting with your community on social media is vital in nurturing these relationships.
This also requires defining customer segments and engaging with these customer groups based on their purchasing behavior. Listening well means responding meaningfully – so ensure that the conversations you have with customers are based on their known needs and behaviors.
In essence, post-pandemic marketing for many B2B businesses will mean bringing the core ethos of your strategy back to basics – maintaining quality, long-term relationships. The path there may require some innovative thinking and novel methods, but staying focused on building connection, loyalty, and trust with your customers, will help keep you on the right trajectory.