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At BlackBean, we’re accustomed to working with businesses that are just beginning their marketing journey. Our clients may be established and profitable companies, but their marketing knowledge is low. In many cases, their marketing strategy only recently became a priority due to increased global and regional competition.
Often when we ask our prospects what kind of marketing they’d like to do, we get a pretty vague answer: “all of it.”
Nobody wants to miss out on an opportunity. There are many paths to marketing success, and each can support the other. A marketing strategy that accounts for every available opportunity is known as an omnichannel strategy.
Today, let’s look at omnichannel marketing for B2B companies. We’ll define omnichannel marketing in more detail, offer some pros and cons for businesses considering an omnichannel strategy, and give examples of how omnichannel marketing can support a B2B brand.
What is omnichannel marketing?
At its most basic level, omnichannel marketing simply means marketing through every available avenue. Omni meaning all; channel meaning path, opportunity, vehicle.
In practice, omnichannel marketing has a few more defining characteristics. The most important characteristic is its customer-centric philosophy.
Omnichannel marketing strategies strive to provide a consistent customer experience across all brand interactions. It means that whether customers interact with your brand in print, online, or in-store, they’re getting the same message in the same voice, emphasizing the same product benefits.
Which channels are “omnichannel”?
Ideally, an omnichannel strategy lives up to its name. If you can be represented somewhere, you should be. In practice, not every channel is equally worthy.
There are few businesses whose marketing budgets are so vast that they can throw money at every opportunity. “Omnichannel” should never become a synonym for “underfunded and undersupported”. Instead, omnichannel marketing should focus on doing the best job possible on the most channels possible, emphasizing valuable channels at the expense of niche or risky ones.
For B2B businesses, an omnichannel strategy should include, at a minimum:
- Digital advertising (search/display)
- Email marketing (newsletters, updates, offers)
- Website/content marketing (articles, white papers, guides, case studies)
- Direct marketing (cold outreach, ABM)
- Social media marketing (organic/paid posting, affiliate marketing)
- Other inbound marketing channels (live chat, phone call, text message)
Remember that omnichannel marketing is all about consistent customer experience. Each of the above strategies should support (and be supported by) your sales and support team.
Omnichannel marketing example: Apple
An easy consumer example of a company that excels at omnichannel marketing is Apple. Their visual brand is minimalist, clean, and high-tech. You’ll never see a cluttered, visually busy iPhone ad. Not online, nor on TV, nor printed on a bus shelter.
That brand experience extends to their Apple Stores — famously among the most profitable retail spaces per square foot. It shines through in their annual Keynote events. Even their product packaging places an emphasis on quality, minimalism, and sophistication.
This constant reinforcement of brand attributes is the true power of omnichannel marketing. Everywhere consumers go, they interact with Apple marketing content. Each interaction reinforces Apple’s brand strengths, helping them maintain their position as the world’s premiere developer of mobile and computing hardware.
In fact, Apple’s marketing strategy flies in the face of some common assumptions about marketing. For instance, instead of maximizing retail shelf space, Apple strictly controls its product placements. They would rather have fewer square feet that conform with their exacting brand standards. Even in big box stores like Best Buy, Apple invests in custom furnishings and displays to differentiate their section of the store from the rest. This “store within a store” model is now widely adopted by brands looking to offer a premium, tailored experience.
Product packaging is something customers only experience once. After the product’s unboxed, the box goes in the recycling bin. Yet Apple invests heavily in product packaging. Why?
Because of their commitment to customer experience. In the age of the unboxing video, having the nicest packaging is a product differentiator. Opening a brand-new iPhone feels special. Flagship mobile devices compete pretty evenly on technical specs. When the facts are about even, it’s feelings that move more units. Apple gets it.
Does omnichannel marketing work for B2B brands?
B2B brands experience radically different sales cycles than consumer brands like Apple. Does omnichannel marketing work for companies that sell heavy industrial equipment, or specialized electrical controls?
An argument can be made that omnichannel marketing is more potent for long B2B sales cycles than it is for consumer goods. Though a person may use their iPhone every day, the sales cycle from initial research to final purchase might only be a few days on average. Of course, the strength of omnichannel marketing is that it’s always working away on consumers, ensuring your brand is top-of-mind for whenever customers make a purchasing decision.
For B2B companies, sales cycles might take years. Often, industrial companies capture prospects at the research phase. Put up a landing page, run an ad campaign, collect email sign-ups for prospecting.
What’s happening to those prospects in between sales communications? Without an omni-channel marketing strategy in place, they’re either left without any brand interactions… or they’re interacting with your competitor’s brand!
Although omnichannel marketing can generate leads for B2B companies, what it does best is protect and nurture opportunities. Omnichannel marketing can be a powerful tool for B2B brands because it supports prospect nurturing while defending valuable leads from being scooped up by competitors.
How to get started with omnichannel marketing? Develop a brand promise.
You know how 90% of an iceberg is below water? Planning an omnichannel marketing strategy is a bit like an iceberg. Planning and research are invisible but essential components to the strategy. Getting your message and position just right is absolutely critical, even if that planning and research never directly reaches your customer’s eyes.
The first thing to do is to collect customer data. Naturally, for an omnichannel strategy, we want omnichannel data. Everything from website analytics to in-person sales data can help marketers understand their audience better. The goal here is not to build infinite buyer personas, or to identify every single message that may resonate with purchasers. Instead, we’re seeking the universal: the message that encapsulates your product, buying experience, and brand — let’s call it a brand promise.
What’s your brand promise?
You may have clued in to the fact that omnichannel marketing and branding are closely related. Because every marketing channel supports such different types of content and messaging, finding a strong general position encourages consistency across channels while allowing each to play to its strengths.
We might call that generally-specific message a “brand promise”. A brand promise is a general statement of value that informs customers of the benefits of your product and business. Apple’s brand promise is “Think different”, for example. Coors Light’s is “the world’s most refreshing beer.”
In both cases, the promise made is emotional or subjective rather than a literal or factual. There’s little that Apple does that is truly “different”, and as one of the biggest brands in the world, purchasing an Apple product is hardly an example of “thinking differently”. Equally, “refreshing” can mean different things to different people.
But we know what both promises mean. We can see the Think Different-ness of Apple’s marketing campaigns. The other tech companies are boring stiffs who don’t “get it”. Apple is the people’s tech company: hip, cool, progressive, attractive. Buying Apple means tapping into this cool factor.
Here’s a practical example of how this brand promise works. From a technical perspective, a Windows computer can accomplish any creative task that a MacBook can. Windows PCs typically offer faster hardware for a lower price. But Macs are the de facto work stations for creatives. Entire industries pay a massive surcharge on their hardware because their workers demand Macs. That’s the power of “thinking differently”.
Researching and planning an omnichannel marketing should start by identifying a strong brand promise. This isn’t something that gets brainstormed in a single meeting on a Friday afternoon. As the beating heart of your omnichannel strategy, a brand promise deserves more care and attention.
Live your promise: applying your brand to each channel
One you’ve settled on a brand promise, it’s time to express it. Take an inventory of each channel your business currently uses, and each you’d like to use in the future. Ensure your reach extends only as far as your grasp. That is, be realistic about what you can accomplish this month, this quarter, this year. If you have to start with a multi-channel strategy instead of going full omni-, that’s OK.
The brand promise is the root of all our messaging. For each channel, we need to understand the types of messages that work best. Then, we develop messages specifically for each channel that support that promise.
Example: understanding Instagram for B2B
For example, let’s break down Instagram as a messaging channel:
- Heavily image-based
- Support for short-form and live video
- Typically consumer-focused
- Used recreationally by a wide audience; many niche topics available, organized by hashtag
- Strengths: immediacy, strong visual branding potential, reaching prospects at home/outside of work
- Weaknesses: poor at communicating complex messages, users demonstrate lower business intent than platforms like LinkedIn, hard to execute without creative support
A proper breakdown should be more targeted and thorough based on your industry, brand promise, and positioning. We can draw some general conclusions from this high-level summary. Content on Instagram should be immediate and focused on visuals. Complex topics should be avoided, as they are hard to communicate on the platform. Finding (and understanding) the right niche via relevant hashtags is especially important for reaching B2B prospects on typically B2C platforms. Since we’re reaching people outside of work or on their coffee break, we don’t want to beat them over the head with product features and economic benefits. This is a good place for soft selling.
Let’s once again consider Apple as an example. Their Instagram feed is full of artistic video and photography, targeting the hashtag #ShotOniPhone. You won’t find many product shots or technical explanations. Instead, they focus on a singular product feature — their camera technology — and contextualize it for their audience and for the platform. Look at these great photographers who Think Different. If you had an iPhone, you too could Think Different.
The right message for the right channel
B2B brands should seek similar angles. Maybe your brand promise involves going the extra mile for every customer. Perhaps your Instagram account can support that brand promise by highlighting unique stories from the people on your support team? There are many ways to leverage casual communication channels for business gain. Find the fun, the silly, the cool, the romantic… whatever it is, find an angle that supports your brand without trying to turn the channel into something it isn’t.
The beauty of omnichannel marketing is that not every channel needs to be a direct lead generator in order to contribute to selling success. Having your business represented outside of working hours in a personal, relatable way has an impact on customer perception during the work week. People buy from people (and brands) they like; don’t be afraid to make someone smile, even if it doesn’t directly support your selling strategy.
Is omnichannel marketing right for my business?
Not every business is ready to embrace omnichannel marketing. It’s a complex strategy most suited to larger businesses with the budget and resources to invest in all forms of content marketing, from articles to video.
That is not to say that smaller businesses must avoid omnichannel marketing. Businesses of any size with the right mix of creativity, marketing investment, and sales expertise can leverage omnichannel marketing. As long as the first commitment made is to quality — that every article and every post be valuable to your audience — expanding to many channels is a great way to enrich your marketing performance.
Omnichannel pros and cons
The benefits of omnichannel marketing include:
- Expanded reach. Ensure your brand lives everywhere your customers do
- A marketing playground. Leveraging many marketing channels opens up opportunities to be creative and try new angles
- Protection from competition. Extending your brand reach wards off competitors. Make sure your customers find you on social media, not your competition.
- Many paths to purchasing. Not all customers are the same. Offering multiple paths from research to purchase reduces friction and ensures a good customer experience for a wider audience.
- Strategic thinking baked in. By identifying a brand promise and leveraging it to build an omnichannel messaging strategy, you’ll learn more about your business and institute a framework that ensures brand potency and consistency.
Some drawbacks of omnichannel marketing are:
- Expensive, especially for smaller businesses. Doing great marketing across five or ten distinct channels is complex and time-consuming. Therefore, it can get expensive quickly.
- A slow burn. Executing an omnichannel strategy (and reaping its many benefits) can take months or even years. It is a long-term investment in marketing success, not a short-term lead generating strategy.
- Can be risky. Expanded messaging, including more casual, personal messaging, can introduce risk into your marketing. There’s always a chance that a joke won’t land, or an anecdote will inadvertently offend.
- Requires full-team buy-in. This is arguably a benefit, but it’s surely a challenge. Providing a consistent customer experience across every brand interaction requires full buy-in. Your sales, marketing, support, and management teams all need to contribute to pull it off.
The bottom line: brand matters
At the core of marketing is branding. No matter how much money you throw at marketing, it simply won’t work if the message isn’t right.
Omnichannel marketing enhances the importance of messaging. If you commit to an omnichannel marketing strategy without building a strong brand promise, you don’t just get your messaging wrong once. You get it wrong for each and every channel. That’s a costly mistake.
If you’re interested in expanding your marketing strategy to new channels, why not start with a brand audit? We can help you dig deep and find what really matters to your business and your customers.
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