“In B2B marketing, you’re building a heuristic. You’re reaching someone on an emotional level, so they can retain the information.”

Marketing insight series: A chat about B2B with Google’s Harry Davies

As Google EMEA’s Head of Performance Ads Marketing, and now leading efforts on marketing measurement and attribution, Harry Davies has spent years thinking about how one of the world’s biggest brands communicates to its B2B and consumer audiences. Flying Object worked with Harry to create profiles of leaders within companies like Matalan, Trivago, Brainlabs and Metro. We sat down with Harry to hear his insights on B2B marketing.

Flying Object: At Google, marketing teams are divided into B2C and B2B roles. What can the B2B teams learn from their B2C colleagues?

Harry: People think that B2B marketing is much more about rational decision-making; they’re much more accepting that B2C can focus on the emotional side. But while there are a lot of rational processes in B2B, and structures like procurement that force this kind of thinking, a large amount of B2B decisions are made emotionally, in brief moments.

What’s different in B2B is the large amount of complexity in the decision making. Consumers buy shoes at fairly random times. There’s more logic and process in when a company buys things. And then there’s the stakeholders — you have finance, marketing, agency teams — and by no means does any single individual have the “final decision”.

We often talk about reaching decision makers, but it’s more complicated. You need to think instead about these different roles, and then establish the emotional and rational messaging that’s going to reach them. You can cut through to the finance team with something emotional, but you still need to understand their information needs at that part of the journey.

So emotional messaging is still key to B2B, but to work alongside, and help communicate, rational, information-based points?

Exactly. In B2C you’re generating mental availability; in B2B you’re giving people rational information in an emotional way, so they retain that information. You’re building a heuristic, reaching someone on an emotional level so they can retain that info. Your brand — its values, associations — opens the door for that informative conversation.

The work we did with Flying Object (see case study films for Brainlabs, embedded above, and Matalan, below) was to tell a rational story in an emotive way, because otherwise it won’t cut through. No one wants to watch a boring, five minute video — you need to tell those stories in a way that’s engaging, so you can imagine yourself in that story, but convey enough rational information that the viewer can then tell a stakeholder what the takeaways are.

Google has recently re-branded its advertising product suite, doing away with sub-brands like AdWords and DoubleClick and leaning more on the master, Google brand — something that of course has consumer associations. Will this allow the B2B brands to leverage the strength of their B2C cousins?

Yes. Over time the advertising brands have become incredibly complicated. A big part of the idea behind rebranding DoubleClick and Google Analytics as the Google Marketing Platform is it just makes more sense. “AdWords” made a lot of sense when you were bidding against words and phrases — now it’s video, apps, things with no “words” as such. So Google Ads makes sense.

But also the Google brand has a massive weight and awareness, so it makes sense to use it. It’s a very trustworthy brand. And a B2B-only brand still needs to build that mental availability, to ensure you’re already on the list for buyers.

This isn’t unique to Google. Soft drink brands sell products into distributors, which is a B2B arrangement; their negotiation with these buyers involves conversations about how much consumer marketing the brand will be doing. They leverage that consumer marketing and brand in those discussions.

If marketing is empowering sales, how can companies reflect this within their organisations?

There’s lots of org models, but the key part is that if you don’t have good communication between Sales and Marketing, then you have real problems. If it’s only the sales teams talking to the clients, then the marketing will always be weaker. We bring Marketing people to sales meetings; other businesses have done away with the distinction and reflected the focus through incentivisation, with Marketing thinking long term and sales, short term.

The Sales team is really activation, while Marketing builds the brand equity and mental availability. Essentially, Marketing is building the environment for the Sales team to sell. A face-to-face meeting will be a lot more profitable if the client has a positive feeling about the brand.

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