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Starting the conversation: What can B2B marketing in financial services learn from B2C communications trends?

Starting the conversation: What can B2B marketing in financial services learn from B2C communications trends?

This interview followed an event we hosted on behalf of the Financial Services Forum on this topic in November 2022, which included a panel of consumer brand and financial services communications experts.

Treating B2B and B2C audiences as two entirely different cohorts, requiring altogether separate communications has long been the approach taken by marketers. But is it time for a rethink?

Following the event we hosted last month in partnership with The Financial Services Forum, we spoke to Sarah Christie, Head of Qualitative Insight at Truth Consulting – our dedicated brand and innovation practice – to understand how financial services communications in a B2B space might benefit from taking a leaf out of consumer trends.

Here’s a quick summary of what she told us:

  • B2C is focused on customer-obsessed emotional marketing – something B2B has to learn to adopt
  • B2B buying decisions aren’t purely rational or solely product-based
  • Financial services could reap big benefits by being braver with their messaging
  • B2B is becoming increasingly humanised and the lines between B2B and B2C are blurring

Read the full interview below:

Changing the way B2C brands “speak”

The way we serve and interact with customers has changed in financial services, to reflect changed behaviours. In a competitive landscape, B2C providers have needed to become customer-obsessed, moving beyond product-based communications to establish deeper emotional connections based around needs and values.

Numerous key trends in the customer-brand relationship in B2C within financial services are indicative of this. Increasingly, B2C brands speak to the holistic consumer, considering passions and lifestyle that extend far beyond the moment of transaction. Digitisation of CX, and the shift towards servicing via micro moments mean brands have multiple moments per day to connect, within the context of people’s own lives and environments. Conversational banking has brought a new intimacy to B2C touchpoints and opened up the ability to speak to hearts and minds.

B2C brands are putting renewed energy into development of customer-first agendas. This means speaking to the individual, focusing on relationship trajectories rather than individual touchpoints and developing product solutions based on need, not ask. Tailored and intuitive offerings are now expected by customers of all types – from personalisation of apps to payment APIs and individualised rewards. All consumers and all companies feel they are instinctively different – and now demand to be treated as such.

Put simply, B2C brands need to speak the language of emotional marketing. In financial services, product alone no longer differentiates, and in a highly competitive marketplace there is even more pressure to break through. B2C brands have, for some time, been focusing attention on emotional connection, speaking to values and need states and connecting with targets at a deeper level. As such, B2C brands speak as brands rather than as product portfolios.

What has B2B traditionally got wrong when speaking to their audiences?

B2B audiences can be a tricky target to connect with. They are habit -driven and time-poor, and it can be hard to shift attitudes and behaviours. Recent research conducted by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute showed that 47% of B2B customers in need of a new financial service or product go straight to their existing bank, and 75% of those who do shop around end up sticking with the provider they are already with.

Additionally, the content of our messaging, often focused on what we can produce (versus what people need) and product features, perpetuates a lack of engagement at a deeper level. The fact that we talk about product rather than brand in B2B is sometimes referred to as the “product delusion”, because it is a fallacy to believe this functional messaging is what is needed to reach B2B audiences. In B2B we tend to target the rational brain and forget that audiences are people too. It’s not necessarily wrong to talk about product; what it is and what it does, but alone this does not pull us apart from competition, nor create the “stickiness” we strive for in this competitive marketplace.

We have known for a long time that rather than acting like computers in decision-making, consumers feel and intuit, very often “satisficing” and making choices on emotional pull, even where technically there may be better choices out there for them. In failing to capitalise on this, we are neglecting to use the most powerful tool we have in our armoury as marketers. As an illustration of this, one shocking statistic indicates that 77% of B2B advertising scores 1 on a scale of 1-5 for creative effectiveness (System 1) . We shy away from going deeper with B2B targets, and this needs to change,

When thinking about marketing broadly, are there any challenges specific to financial services brands?

This is a sector where it can be hard to connect with the customer, whether B2B or B2C– while financial publishers spend 2.4x more time creating content than other sectors, the content performs around 20% below average, according to a recent piece by The FinancialTimes. So, this is a sector issue as much as a target issue, but we could hypothesise that there is genuine opportunity for the brave brands who push harder with their messaging within this sector.

Are B2B audiences becoming more like B2C audiences? If yes, why?

I think we see increasing evidence of this. B2B audiences are changing – they are typically younger and used to consuming different content via different channels than their predecessors. Ultimately, the lines between B2C and B2B are becoming blurred – we need to remember that B2B targets are also B2C targets in other spheres of their lives and all are people first and foremost.

Add to this the fact that SMEs (and even micro-businesses) are the new battleground targets for many areas of financial services and we see an increasingly humanised B2B customer who expects and responds to similar types of messaging as a conventional B2C customer. I would hypothesise that eventually the distinction between B2C and B2B will be a thing of the past.

What does it mean to build an emotional connection, as a B2B brand? How can a B2B brand build emotional connection?

CX and emotional connection are the new battlegrounds for B2C, and the same applies to B2B. Of course, increased digitisation is an opportunity, offering more potential touchpoints, and the potential to harness “new intimacy”. B2B brands have a chance to exist as brands in people’s physical spaces and be a partner in daily business. 

Successful brands navigate this digitisation via maintaining customer-centricity, and with strategies which ensure that humanised servicing is not lost in the drive towards digital experience, even if that is delivered by digital means. This is especially important in B2B where human servicing has been the cornerstone of CRM.

Appropriate use of data is critical to this but is woefully underused currently. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are used extensively in our industry (for instance within trading), but rarely used within B2B marketing to understand the customer better. Data gives us the opportunity to know what customers think, feel, and ultimately want and is also the main tool for individualisation of CX and offer, a key need for the modern customer and a cornerstone of customer-centricity.  

Data also enables recognition and validation: both key asks from B2B customers and often cited as a key element driving the stickiness we seek.  A lack of acknowledgement of longevity is a cited frustration of B2B customers, reducing loyalty and commitment to us as providers.

And finally – can you share any B2C-esque B2B campaigns you’ve seen recently that have inspired you?

I absolutely love the new NatWest advertising, “Tomorrow Begins Today”, created by The&Partnership and directed by Freddie Powell. It’s a bold, energised shout-out to get going at a time of consumer cautiousness and fear around the future, and targets B2B and B2C interchangeably.

In showcasing three vignettes about a young person saving for new trainers, a mature student returning to university and a young entrepreneur setting up their business it breaks down the siloes that exist in how we target financial services customers and proudly and unashamedly speaks to deeper needs of all, whether B2B or B2C.

Read more on the consumer trends of 2022 in our report

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