Anyone who’s familiar with experiential marketing as a tactic might think of it as more of a B2C method — casting a wide net to attract interest from those unfamiliar with whatever you’re offering, relying on shock and awe more than a compelling service or product outline. But there’s no reason why it can’t be used as a B2B practice as well — in fact, it can be better.
They key is getting the context and presentation right. You can’t just throw something out on a whim, like a fisherman hurling generic bait into a deep pool and hoping that something of interest comes along. You need to focus very specifically on the target audience, understanding what they’re looking for and finding creative ways to deliver.
Get the execution right, then, and you can really make experiential marketing work as a B2B tool. But what exactly does it offer you that other forms of marketing can’t? Some very powerful things, in fact. Let’s run through them:
Directly communicating with prospective customers
B2B relationships are about far more than product and service quality, of course. They’re also about strong and consistent communication, common values, and communal spirit. A strong B2B relationship can last for years, if not decades, seeing companies share their successes and failures and essentially become family.
A compelling business pitch might make a B2B brand a logical choice, but logic isn’t the only factor. If you can’t get along with a company, why work with them? And sure, you can get somewhere with emailing, chatting through social media, and talking using VoIP services — but if you want to forge a connection with someone and start to understand them, there’s no substitute for meeting in person.
After all, it allows you to cut straight to the heart of the matter without being ducked. What do they think of your business? Your products? What do you need to do to secure their business? Some aggressive initiative rarely goes amiss, as it shows that you truly care about working with them and refuse to be beaten to the punch by comparable companies.
Creating a buzz around your brand
Suppose that you’re looking for a supplier for a particular type of product, and you receive a proposal from one such supplier, but you’ve never heard of them. Since you try to keep your finger on the pulse of your industry, you wonder why this is. If they’re worth your time, shouldn’t you have read something about them? Why are they flying under the radar?
This line of thinking doesn’t really have anything to do with brand quality, because a completely-unknown company might have the best products on the market. It’s a more niche appearance of social proof — instead of expecting reviews from general customers, companies look for approval (or at least acknowledgement) from industry titans — be they corporations or publications.
By creating an experiential marketing event (such as appearing at a notable trade show, or arranging a public product demonstration), you can build up some buzz for your business, and get your name mentioned by some valuable influencers. Even if nothing comes from it on the day, you may well find that subsequent proposals land more heavily because your name has earned a degree of industry recognition. Enterprise B2B brands like Cisco do a good job of cross-promoting the events they attend in the media, building a community that seamlessly bridges the online/offline divide.
Showcasing (and proving) B2B product quality
Consider the role that trust plays in selling products. Years ago, before the rise of the ecommerce industry, product sales took place in stores where shoppers could examine the products before committing. Now that much of retail has gone online, it’s become tougher for sellers to convince people that their products are as good as they say — they need lots of social proof, high-quality imagery, and a generous return policy. But that’s for B2C.
Online selling is orders of magnitude harder for B2B companies. Why? Because of the scale of investment involved and the expertise of the shoppers. Placing a B2B order online isn’t something to be done flippantly: instead of paying $10 for something you don’t need to meet your expectations, you might be paying $10,000 for a bulk order of a product that will sink your business if it can’t perform as required. You can’t afford to take a risk on something unproven.
And when you’re attempting to secure a large-scale B2B deal, you’re not going to be dealing with a novice buyer uncertain about what they’re doing. You’re going to be pitching to someone with an exact understanding of what they need and what they’re willing to pay for. If you can’t clearly show that you have what they’re looking for, you’ll drop out of contention.
Because of this, the need to provide a highly-catered experience actually starts online. Business sites must provide rich and relevant information through mobile-friendly copy, and recent years have seen the ecommerce industry become flush with a range of B2B-focussed platforms because it doesn’t suffice to use a generic storefront — any B2B seller that wants to be taken seriously must take all available opportunities to impress potential customers with customized copy, prices, and product ranges. And for B2B brands pushing ads or social campaigns — Unbounce is a lifesaver when it comes to creating awesome landing pages.
Experiential marketing is so valuable for B2B because it goes even further than any online page (no matter how customized) can. It allows you to physically showcase what you’re offering in a setting of your choosing, allowing you to display it in the most positive light. Instead of telling people why they should buy from you, you can show them, immediately setting you apart from other brands that stick to more detached forms of marketing.
Networking with useful non-competitors
While it’s often useful to run with comparatively-small experiential marketing (setting out a stall at an existing event, for instance), there’s always the option of going for a large-scale gambit such as hosting your own full-scale event. The beauty of that approach is that you don’t need to do it alone, and you can benefit further from collaborating with others.
Consider this scenario: you want to introduce some big brands in your industry to your new range of products, but you don’t really want to spend a huge amount on renting a space for a day, and you’re not sure how you’d get brands there if you did. Why not team up with some companies that complement yours to host a broader event?
If you sold office equipment, for instance, you could reach out to companies that ran catering services, provided high-level HR support, or handled IT matters. With no overlap between what you offered, there’d be no conflict, and the companies demonstrating could all help one another to earn new business and networking opportunities.
Experiential marketing is all about moving away from the coldness and uncertainty of connecting online — finding ways to meet people, showcase products, and establish the familiarity that’s so important for B2B relationships. See how you can work it into your general marketing strategy.