Brand Work

Between You and Me? B2P

Until just a few years ago, conventional wisdom held that, in the digital age, the balance of power in the ongoing conversation between buyer and seller had  shifted in significant ways towards the buyer: With access to better information than ever, consumers could now make dramatically more informed purchasing decisions, drive down prices, and use the power of networks to amplify their demands for more responsive products and more responsible corporate behavior.  

Return of the seller. All true. But sellers haven’t been idle. The more consumers have engaged online, the more digital traces they have left—and the better technology has gotten at reassembling these traces, finding the patterns in them, and making predictions from them. The technology has gotten so good, in fact, that we no longer need to organize customers into categories and classes. We can parse their behaviors individually and then interact with them individually, guided by exceptional insight. Marketing automation firms such as Silverpop [] [disclosure: a client of ours] maintain vast and exceedingly fine-grained behavioral databases. Technology tools such as Hubspot [] , allow you tailor campaigns down to the level of the individual from the outset. For small businesses that don’t market at mass levels, the latter, especially, can be powerful stuff.

A shorter distance between brand and behavior. This new sell-side capability has all kinds of implications. For one, we see it collapsing the distance between Sales and Marketing (while incidentally driving up the value of Marketing within an organization). Brands as we understand them become less of an abstraction: Messaging maps more closely to behavior. The dots between outreach and outcome, conversation and conversion, suddenly look a lot more connected. 

The new face-to-face. At a certain point, we wonder if it even makes sense to keep talking about B2B and B2C as two distinct categories. After all, if it’s just you and me interacting directly, doesn’t it ultimately come down to B2P— Business-to-Person? We see marketing beginning to come full circle from its origins in the souks and bazaars that have been with us since the beginning of civilization, where the exchange of goods was overwhelmingly face-to-face and in real time: The media that have for so long stood between us have gotten so subtle and sensitive that in some ways they have fallen away. As a seller, I now know your hot buttons better than you know them yourself. As a buyer, you know the truth of my claims—and what others like you are inclined to think of me and my wares—regardless of what I might say. We now know each other oh so well. 

The seller as teller. And of the practice of storytelling? Are we edging past the time when its role in buying and selling is fading away? Are we so dialed in to data that reason trumps emotion, leaving the latter nowhere to go? Has the story been supplanted by the conversation? Or, more subtly, can marketers simply jump past the need to intrigue us because they know the offer we can’t refuse from the outset?

We don’t think so—though each of these questions suggest things brand storytellers should take into account. We start with the premise, so well laid out by the folks at Corporate Executive Board in their concept of the Challenger Sale [], that customers care a great deal about how you sell to them—more, even, than what you sell to them once they’ve established that you satisfy their basic purchase criteria. And in the marketplace as elsewhere, storytelling is greatly concerned with the how.

The data-powered story. All that customer data? It doesn’t supersede the story: It informs it. You can use it to understand how and where to begin telling the story, and to whom, which high notes to hit, which themes to bring out. More importantly, you can use behavioral marketing insight to fit individual customers into the story, help them find themselves in it, pique their interest in hearing more—and in hearing more from you in particular. 

Here it’s good to remember that a story is more than a catalyst of emotion. It is a weave of shared understanding and empathy. The space of the brand story is the space of customer intimacy—and has been since ages before the marketing term “customer intimacy” existed. Go back to the dynamics of traditional marketplaces, where levels of “customer intimacy” are often profound. The seller tells the story of the product—its merits and distinctions as well as the skill and effort that went into bringing them forth—not, as a rule, the story of the customer. But where the seller truly knows the customer through a shared history of interaction, he may very well weave particulars of the customer’s life and temperament into the sell. 

At first glance, storytelling in the age of one-to-one can seem overwhelming, a problem of scale: the need to tell a different story to each individual customer: a million stories for a million customers. 

But, seriously, do you have a million stories to tell? No. You have one—yours—that you and others can tell in a variety of ways, times and places. With dynamic, database-driven customer insight, you can tell that story better and better over time, every time.

Recent Articles