In Essays, Innovation

I’ve just had an epiphany about why B2B communicators find dealing with the B2C media world so challenging.

Most of the “news” in the B2B world consists of whatever a company has just introduced into its marketplace, which is then vetted for veracity and relevance by informed reporters who are interested, a priori, in what companies in so-and-so industry are doing. So B2B communicators focus on putting in front of those media the sales attributes developed by their marketers — functional and performance details, mostly — and, if they pass muster, stories will be shared with informed readers and viewers (i.e. potential customers).

Companies assume that B2B media distribute that information…in fact, when it comes to the largest companies in any B2B category, the chance that its trade reporters, analysts, and bloggers wouldn’t do so is all but unfathomable; any failures in coverage must be the product of bad tactics or personnel, since it’s assumed trade media have at least some indirect, vested interest in the success, if not the smooth functioning of businesses in the categories they cover.

News in the B2C world is far more diverse and complex.

Some coverage is similar to the B2B model, but far more news coverage is driven by reporters and bloggers building stories about other things…topics, themes, issues, ideas, whatever…that aren’t focused on whether a new consumer product has 10% more chocolate, let alone an industrial widget is now offered with 15 more orgones.

So when they’re presented with B2B messaging that’s based on sales messaging, they find those references to topics, themes, or issues uninteresting, almost as if the companies are purposefully avoiding saying anything provocative or, er, important (other than that “XYZ topic is a sales opportunity”).

Which is true.

As a result, such news doesn’t qualify as news, since mainstream media stories are usually about something other than “Company X did this or that”…and, rather, “Topic ABC is a big deal in the universe, and Company X just did something important related to it.” They tell stories into which companies feature, but don’t lead…which often leaves B2B communicators with empty press conferences, or exposure based wholly on their ability to buy placement.

B2C media are customers for information that needs to be crafted and shared with their interests in mind, not those of the marketing or sales departments. They aren’t beholden to the companies they cover (though fawning coverage of tech startups might suggest otherwise), and consumer media could care less if your company succeeds or fails in doing whatever it is you do.

I’m going to start using the Distributor vs. Customer explanation as a starting point for developing B2B mainstream media strategy, because I think it makes an important and useful point. Treating B2C media like customers could change how messages are developed and delivered, and inform expectations thereof.

Approaching B2B media with the same thinking might improve outcomes there, too.

[This essay originally appeared at Linkedin]
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