B2B public relations is widely perceived as the nerdy cousin to consumer PR’s popular girl, B2C. Some of this reputation is deserved; it’s true that B2C public relations is often more glamorous and accessible than B2B. Promoting marketing automation software to corporate executives is very different from marketing luxury shoes or helping a whole-grain snack bar reach health-conscious women, for example.
Or is it? I’ve walked on both sides of the street, and believe each sector has something to learn from the other. Having already noted what B2B PR people can learn from their colleagues who run consumer brand accounts, I think the reverse is also true. Nerds, after all, have become cool.
Take a look at the shopping experience. Customer acquisition in B2B categories like enterprise software or corporate accounting can be a slow process, in part due to steepness of the customer education curve. Today, there’s plenty of information for every purchase we make. Data is everywhere you look, from reviews and ratings, to category research, analyst reports, user testimonials and social content.
The same trend is happening in consumer sectors, thanks to social media. Ecommerce has made buying easy, but the sheer amount of information – reviews, blog content, and earned media – available for almost any product makes shopping more research-driven and time-consuming. From Yelp to editorial features, there are many rabbit holes to enter with the help of search and social sharing.
A well-crafted strategic PR campaign can help in either case, but here’s what many B2B public relations programs do that B2C programs can benefit from.
Use the data.
For many of our B2B PR clients we’ve perfected a data bureau component in our programs that offers mediaworthy facts and stats for use when the team doesn’t have a hard news announcement or a big story to share. Sometimes the data lives with the client in question, but often it can be produced through low-cost surveys about hot topics and trends that are particularly timely. A data bureau can also be a powerful PR tactic for a consumer brand who wants to drive additional customer engagement while creating news around its core expertise or the passions of its fans.
Connect to business culture.
The most effective consumer PR programs differentiate the brands they support. One unbeatable way to make that difference meaningful is to incorporate individual aspects of the brand narrative or history. We’ve seen this in the rise of the CEO celebrity figures like Richard Branson or even the late Steve Jobs, but it works for other brands that have a differentiated business culture as well, from a retailer with a distinct mission like REI, whose #optoutside campaign was so successful, to huge brands like Disney. The most compelling consumer B2B PR programs leverage corporate culture, community commitment, and overall business practices.
Target beyond demographics.
It used to be that consumers were reachable through a huge monolithic channel called mass media. But those days are over, and today’s customer segmentation is far more data-driven and individualized. The prototypical buyer doesn’t really exist. Marketing — and, yes, B2C PR strategies, must be grounded in an understanding of audience behavior, preferences, and friends. That simply means that any good consumer PR campaign should start with hardcore prospect data, and it needs to incorporate digital and social media in ways not previously possible for product marketers.
Support sky-high customer expectations.
Business customers have arguably had a more service-oriented and personal relationship with the brands that serve them, due to the typical sales rep structure and the cost and long-term nature of the engagement. But today buyers of consumer products have high expectations, too, and not just for product performance. They want excellent customer service, corporate transparency and responsibility, even cultural relevance. They don’t want to hear from brands too much – except when they do, and then, the want it quickly. A sound PR strategy is informed by what key customers and influencers are saying and how they experience a brand, and it should have the flexibility to ready to respond when needed to head off problems.
The use of third-party experts or boldface personalities is a time-honored PR tactic, but there’s room for more than celebrities. We now borrow from B2B PR campaigns by tapping journalists, reviewers, analysts, and emerging social media stars for a fraction of the old-school appearance fees.
Or impart it.
A classic B2B PR technique is to make the customer smart. But this works just as well in many consumer categories, from skiing to gluten-free cooking. We promoted a relaunch of a classic IPA by educating beer drinkers on the history of American ales, and the time-honored recipes and brewing techniques that made the “new” beer possible.