Alan Cooper
Alan Cooper 23 November 2018
Categories B2B

Personalisation in the Non-Sexy, Non-Ecommerce World of B2B Manufacturing

Remember the 1980s, 90s, Noughties? There was this thing called “marketing nirvana,” which was also coined “1:1 marketing.” Marketers were anticipating the day when they could deliver a targeted message directly to a potential customer, delivering an experience completely tailored to them.

Fast forward a few connectivity, bandwidth, device and Moore’s law cycles and lo and behold we have “personalisation” deeply ingrained into customer or user experience (CX/UX).

It’s still the marketer’s nirvana, but now it feels within reach. As consumers, we can set our own preferences and identify what we like – and not just on Tinder. As marketers, we can personalise through data, neuroscience, behavioural analysis and, of course, through direct application of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in all its guises.

There’s absolutely no doubt that we’re closer to the 1:1 zenith. Buying a pair of trainers has never been more me.

Still, let’s look across the divide to a different world where a company is in the business of – let’s say – building and servicing oil rigs. I’m no expert in the subject, but I suspect there are tens of people involved in the selling and buying process – probably hundreds throughout the supply chain. That’s a whole lot of personalisation.  

There are similarities with the B2C or B2B commerce model, but even Amazon would struggle to make deliver for “people who specified a North Sea oil rig, went on to specify an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico” and their colleagues exhibiting similar behaviour two months later.

The challenge facing non-transactional B2B websites

B2B organizations who have no online transactional model; particularly in manufacturing, technology and service, are faced with this challenge. Despitehuge digital transformation projects happening internally, which are streamlining their businesses, it’s still a massive challenge to serve digitalcontent to all the required audiences at the right time. These transformations often have customer experience as a driver but delivering that experience via the website is just plain tough.

Often these businesses are limited to communicating through owned channels of their website and social handles. To the best of our knowledge there’s no “rate my oil rig” on Trustpilot. You need to place much more emphasis on quality and range of content to engage with these hyper-niche audiences, even before considering the technology needed.

The size of the audiences in this example is typically small, making the competition very high stakes;particularly if a contract is worth tens of millions of any currency. 

It’s also complex; there are multiple audiences with different requirements all seeking a mix of information from you. And you must get it right every time. Procurement, specifiers, installers, suppliers, employees, CIO/CTO/CMO/CEO/CFO any ‘C’ you want. They’re knowledgeable, forensic, hard to please and can stop the buying process at any time.

So what value is personalisation? And how do you start to realise personalised experiences for these complex audiences and long buying cycles? What tools do you have at your disposal to keep these valuable customers engaged?

You can rule out many of the tools and widgets that make ecommerce and the measurement/optimisation thereof so effective. We may never quite reach “customise my oil rig” online. There’s no “you might also like” or abandoned cart automation. It’s harder to assign ROI to A/B testing, and in the attribution model for your oil rig, it doesn’t really matter what the last or first click was.

Understanding the audience is key to applying the right technology

So, you really need to understand the journey, the touchpoints and where/how to influence your audiences.Sales in the oil rig world is personal, relationship-driven, long, complex and involved. Purchase is at the end of a legal process with a 100-page contract. The role of digital content probably stopped months ago, though there will be a tail of sorts. Potentially a long tail if you can continue the relationship through customer portals, service scheduling, renewals or spares (possibly a ray of hope here for ecommerce after all; 20% off flange grommets anyone?).

“If you can’t rely on the data, to make personalisation more effective you need to plot the stages of audience journeys,” said Joey Moore, Head of Product Marketing at Episerver. “For B2B manufacturers, journeys will typically be longer, more circuitous and involving more third parties than any ecommerce model. Audience mapping, detailed persona work, task modelling and UX journey planning are key starting points to fully understand the audience segmentation.”

Bring on the smart technology

Is this an argument against using sophisticated marketing and commerce platforms? Not for a moment. 

In fact, you need to make the marketing platforms work harder than ever. Buyers/specifiers/influencers are looking to research, gather evidence, create business cases and have at their disposal answers to all the questions that procurement or senior board execs will throw at them. So, it’s your job to provide all this close to hand – and you need the technology to understand the user behaviour and surface relevant, useful content for them at every stage of this long journey.

“Basic segmentation of audiences via geolocation or IP lookup won’t suffice; different audiences for B2B manufacturer purchases, for example, might come from the same IP address or download the same content,” said Moore. “The emerging technology of personalisation is more important than ever here; Machine learning algorithms and automated presentation of individualised content is a massive advantage.”

Moving your audience from unknown, to recognised and to known is vital here. The volume of the audience is potentially less reliable to infer intent (i.e., a corporate site may have strong performance indicators but traffic could all be visiting the careers or press pages). B2B manufacturers need stronger engagement tools, to identify the visitor quickly and provide them their own content. 

This is where the integrated marketing platforms can really flex their muscles, and clever marketers can drive highly individualised experiences, understand the audience behaviour and react quickly to changing needs.

Key takeaways and summary

Personalisationis hard work in the non-transactional B2B manufacturing space, but there are big gains to be made by following the audience journey all the way through; 

  1. Do the background work: Understand your audiences; map them, analyse them, go into detail
  2. Use all the UX tools at your disposal that are right for these audiences and your business: Personas, journey maps, CX task modelling, channel planning
  3. Focus on your owned channels: Your content must work harder as long-burn sales collateral
  4. Don’t skimp on content: Your audience is forensic
  5. Deploy the best technology; integrated marketing platforms, AI/machine learning tools: You’ll be working with less data so make sure it’s as high quality as you can
  6. Create a continual improvement loop: Go back to the audience maps, validate, measure against, check progress

The B2B manufacturing world often resorts to brochureware and generic content, and we may never reach “add oil rig to cart,” but this is an industry with high-value, low-volume transactions and there is a vital role for personalisation—through intelligent technology andaudience understanding—to play in creating commercial success.

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