What B2B Can Learn from Burt’s Bees — Shifting the Why of Your Business or Service

Image from New York Times article

Burt’s Bees’ new campaign, “Uncap Flavor,” offers insight into how strong messaging can shift the reason for purchase in a customer’s mind. The campaign is highlighted in this New York Times piece, which explains how the lip balm industry has changed its marketing strategy from a functional message (curing chapped lips) to a message about personality-expressing accessories.

“[The marketing of lip balm] traditionally has been very functionally driven, just talking about, ‘You have dry lips, here’s a solution to your problem,’ ” said Tad Kittredge, associate director of marketing at Burt’s Bees. “But recently you’re starting to see a lot more of what I would call personality-driven and lifestyle-focused advertising, and we’re focused on the flavors as a way to reinforce the fun aspect of the brand.”

Other products and services have performed similar transitions. Apple is the most-referenced example of a company turning utilitarian products such as computers, phones, and music-playback devices into statement-making products reflective of their owners’ personalities.

The B2B world is catching up. Powerhouse Dynamics names its HVAC management technology SiteSage. An attractive unit with user-friendly interfaces, SiteSage enables restaurant and convenience store chains to manage equipment, control HVAC and reduce utility spending. Naming the device SiteSage instead of a generic moniker like “HVAC Monitoring and Control System” gives it more personality, makes it more memorable and creates a personal connection with B2B customers and prospects. It also differentiates it from competitive systems with generic names. And what restaurant chain owner wouldn’t want SiteSage minding the store rather than a random hourly employee who might not notice the freezer, which contains $50,000 of food, has stopped running?

IBM markets its cognitive computing platform under the Watson name. The platform promises a new partnership “between humans and computers that scales and augments human expertise.” IBM understands that even in a B2B sale, we like to imagine ourselves or our businesses in Sherlock’s shoes, solving mysteries and providing great service to the world… with Watson at our side. Many competitors market Business Information (BI), analytics and big data technologies. Not many of them have taken IBM’s lead to personalize the products and services and make them more immediately accessible.

In fact, much of the B2B world has to learn about marketing to the human beings who make up their business customers. Senior leaders and marketing teams often believe that their prospects make purchasing decisions based on cold comparisons of features and benefits. Perhaps they sell to engineers, financial services experts or hospital IT teams, and they know that these buyers will create systematic and rigorous evaluations before buying. Yet if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve had the experience of losing sales to lessor competitors. Why does this happen? Often because the decision-making team liked something intangible about the winning bidder. Those intangibles might include a better responsive website; a strong visual identity; the communication they regularly receive from a particular company or brand; the product’s name and surrounding messaging and story. Any of these create a stronger personal connection with the buyer.

Just as Burt’s Bees can be more about personality and individual taste, even more diffcult-to-grasp or specialty products or services can be positioned to win their customers’ hearts, not just their minds. AG Mednet made a business of providing high-quality image transfer for the clinical trial industry. A couple of years ago the company changed its positioning to be all about zero-delay clinical trials. This positioning showed a deep understanding — and commitment to — solving a larger problem for the industry into which AG Mednet sells. Suddenly the company’s product was associated with a huge industry pain, and that association helped AG Mednet’s reputation and lead generation skyrocket.

Strong marketing and positioning speaks the customer’s language and addresses the customer as a whole, not just a single problem. The lip balm industry exploded because it went from addressing lips that needed protection and healing to human beings whose search for personality and individuality has no end.

B2B marketers must ask themselves who their customers are as human beings, understand their needs, and position their products and services to make a critical difference in addressing those needs, while creating a personal connection with the audience and the industry. This is where the right agency partner can make a huge difference, offering outside perspective and helping a business understand why and how its offerings can move beyond the realm of features and benefits and into the realm of personal relationship with target audiences.

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