What B2B brands can learn from conscious consumerism

Consumer-facing brands are reaping the benefits of brand loyalty and retention through their efforts to become responsible businesses, so is there an opportunity to be had in responsible marketing for business-to-business companies?

Business-to-business (B2B) marketing is about to get all touchy feely. New research conducted by global B2B marketing agency gyro shows business purchasing decisions are being made in exactly the same way as consumer purchases: emotionally. A staggering 62 per cent of executives rely on intuition and gut instinct.

Boomers worked for companies, Gen Xers work for people, millennials and Gen Z work for purpose

“These facts always astound me because often people are buying multi-million-pound products and services for their companies,” says Emma Rush, president of gyro UK. “But what we see is they are behaving like human beings; as such more agencies and marketeers are recognising the need for emotion and storytelling in B2B.”

Millennials driving purpose-driven purchasing

Part of giving buyers a good feeling about your company means running it in an ethical and socially responsible manner, and being vocal about the good things you do. gyro is increasingly being approached by B2B organisations for help establishing a purpose-driven brand.

“We’re noticing a significant shift in the briefs we’re seeing through, especially in manufacturing and construction,” says Ms Rush. “Businesses are becoming aware of the business benefits of responsible marketing for growth.”

In fact, Ms Rush believes B2B purchasing has reached a tipping point, driven by the changing workforce, with millennials rising up the ranks and now entering leadership roles.

“By 2020, millennials will be 50 per cent of the global workforce,” she says. “We think that purpose-driven workforce is now having more power in the decision-making process, which in turn is impacting the growth of B2B responsible marketing.

“We’re seeing much more bottom-up decision-making with employees being more involved in the research and recommendation process. We know that 85 per cent of buying starts with online research and younger, more junior people will be part of the research process.”

Responsible marketing helps attract and retain top talent

It’s not just about selling your products or services to this new audience; it’s about selling your company as a great place to work. As Kirk McDonald, chief marketing officer (CMO) at AT&T Advertising & Analytics, says: “Boomers worked for companies, Gen Xers work for people, millennials and Gen Z work for purpose.”

Human resources managers agree. A recent survey by B2B International shows 81 per cent believe ethical and environmentally sustainable initiatives are important to them in their position. Brand values, mission and purpose are listed in the top five reasons people are attracted to work for their organisations.

“Making sure their brands attract purpose-driven employees is a critical thing, especially in the software space,” says Ms Rush. “Because of this we believe responsible marketing in B2B will very quickly be accelerated.”

According to Professor Mollie Painter, who leads the Responsible and Sustainable Business Lab at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, being able to demonstrate responsible business practices is a key competitive advantage for B2B companies.

“It’s becoming part of the tender procedure to disclose this kind of behaviour,” she says. “Small and medium-sized enterprises are more likely to win bigger contracts from other companies when they can display these attributes.”

Professor Painter adds that environmental, social and governance issues also play an important role in securing investment. “Institutional investors are becoming much more savvy about where they put their money and they’re looking to these B2B relationships to signal where risk lies,” she says.

“If you look at socially responsible investing, there are the UN principles for responsible investment. If you sign on to this, the idea is the investment vehicles are designed to make sure there are no social and environmental risks.

“There’s real divestment if these things are not taken into account. As well as the negative screening part, there’s the positive screening, where there would be more investment in businesses that take care of these imperatives.”

Significant growth in responsible B2B marketing

While business-to-consumer (B2C) is streets ahead when it comes to responsible marketing, the strategy is gaining traction with B2B organisations. A marketing trends survey run by B2B International of 300 marketing managers from large global companies shows a 17 per cent uplift in responsible marketing since 2016.

“In 2019, environmental positioning had the biggest change of all the areas, with 20 per cent of marketing directors now mentioning it as a key strategy. That’s still too low, but it’s a significant shift,” notes Ms Rush.

She says B2B marketers should look to their B2C counterparts to learn how to become more customer centric. “B2B organisations tend to be very sales and product led, and historically marketing has been seen to be servicing that part of the business,” says Ms Rush. “But marketing is actually all about being customer centric. You need to think about the importance of responsible buying because marketing is a reflection of how the audience buys.”

William Douglas, CMO at real estate services company JLL, where he is also Europe, Middle East and Africa board member with responsibility for sustainability, says creating an emotional connection is just as important in B2B marketing as in B2C.

“Your clients need to feel something for your company,” he concludes. “They need to feel like you are ‘with them’ before they make big decisions that have an impact on their business and their career. But also it’s building a brand that means something for your employees, which in B2B is often your largest channel.

“Sustainability and a clear, authentic sense of purpose are now near the top of the list for attributes clients and prospective employees want to see in your brand.”