Is global marketing harder for B2B firms?

Image: mohamed_hassan (pixabay.com)
Image: mohamed_hassan (pixabay.com)

Business to business companies are often frustrated by the way that global marketing approaches are often founded on business to consumer assumptions. However, there’s a lot that B2B firms need to learn from B2B marketing, especially in taking an honest look at which of a brand’s domestic strengths really are strengths in international markets.

Most technology businesses are immediately marketing across borders. Many of the 20th century barriers to trade are lower, allowing firms to spread, or even reduce, costs while increase their revenues and profit. However, there are at least three ways to approach that.

  • Low-hanging fruit: Some try to focus on niche segments where those differences will be minimum, for example, international subsidiaries of their domestic clients: they are marketing one solution internationally while ignoring differences in local needs as far as possible. This is especially useful when buyer needs around the world are converging. Generally, in a B2B technology setting, there are several external forces which support that including the recommendations of analyst research
  • Anticipate the local: Others try to anticipate how their solution needs to address differences between their domestic market and their target export markets. These confront the differences in the needs of buyers, channels and business approaches: each country requires an individual marketing strategy, and often a reconfiguration of the solution. This is facilitated by local production and local delivery of solutions.
  • Glocal: As a tactic between those two approaches, some firms take standardized solutions and focus localization efforts on the marketing rather than the solution. To me, it’s a little like the attempts of firms to verticalize global marketing without really seeing how the solution needs to support different use cases. But it reflects the unevenness of economic and social integration. Ideas and policies on the demand side are moving at a different place from the international standardization of supply. The anti-globalization movement highlighted example of that standardization overwhelming local interests, such as those of the environment and the poor.

Some customers are drawn to one of those more than others and are repelled by one. What can providers do to better internationalize?

To understand and test out options, this semester I’m enrolled in a graduate school elective in global marketing at the Aalto business school, one of the three leading schools worldwide for research into B2B marketing. Pleasingly, one of the foundational elements is the 7S Framework from Richard D’Aveni, who taught me in an MBA elective at Dartmouth College.

D'Aveni's 7S framework is Richard D'Aveni's approach to directing a firm in a high velocity or Hypercompetitive markets.
D’Aveni’s 7S framework is Richard D’Aveni’s approach to directing a firm in high-velocity or Hypercompetitive markets.

Immediately, it’s clear that this framework is about disrupting a market rather than conforming to it. Both B2B markets and B2B markets contain elements of continuity and elements of change. However, B2C markets can have enduring qualities, unique associations and brands with centuries of heritage. B2B markets are not only dynamic, but differentiation is both more important and harder to show because of the difficulty of comparison between solutions. You can’t take an ERP system out for a test-drive with your business.

Rather than focus on their standard solution, B2B providers should investigate the differences of target markets and how their comparative advantages might allow them to punch above their weight there. That requires managerial support and local eyes and earns on the ground to be empowered.

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