Insights /

Digital in B2B and traditional industries and sectors

26.10.16InsightTechnology Strategy
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Before I get into this, some shameful and shameless self-congratulation is in order. The Freestyle team are not only delighted to have won three awards in the digital B2B sector, but also to have recently received a nomination for The Drum Network Awards, all thanks to our work with Bostik.

In what has turned about to be a tremendous awards season for us, has won RAR Digital’s Content Strategy award, as well as ‘Best Corporate Website’ at both the Corp Comms Digi Awards and the Digital Impact Awards.

Bostik's Digital B2B Journey

But more important than the wins themselves is the appreciation that we have for Bostik as a client. They started off two years ago with a (mostly technical) 50-page brief, battling through seemingly endless internal challenges and global complexities. Since then, they have undergone a truly transformational experience; along the way creating roles that didn't previously exist, adopting an integrated, audience-centric search and content strategy, and learning how to use Episerver, a powerful content management system.

Now they have a healthy digital future ahead as the site continues to be rolled out globally. They're seeing real investment in digital innovation from within, and even from the outside it feels like a very different business from the one we met in 2014 - a brilliant example of an ambitious client recognising the impact of digital transformation - our favourite! For all the other Non-Sexy Businesses (newly coined NSBs!) out there, you might not be the newest tech startup on the block, but you don’t have to be left behind the curve of digital B2B marketing.

If you’re an NSB, there’s still hope!

We’ve worked with many clients in traditional sectors, particularly those with no transactional component, often with high value or low volume products and services, experiencing little emotional engagement with their brand. These businesses usually consist of marketing and communications teams who have ambition and talent, but struggle to gain traction within the wider business which is still siloed, departmentally-focused, and stuck on internal jargon and product-speak. We also observe local or regional activity from those in more inherently agile markets, at times even embarrassing the central teams and making their job even harder.

Man working on metal work at a bench with gloves on.

But there is definitely change afoot; over the last two years, particularly in mainland Europe, we’ve seen more digital-savvy marketers and communicators move into senior roles (however you define a ‘millennial’, the influence of those more naturally accustomed to digital communications is undeniable). This has enabled us to make huge strides in the transformation of their digital activity in two areas; always in their digital marketing, and often in transformation of their business models to adopt digital B2B techniques in the wider way they work.

Can Manufacturing, Engineering and the Industrial sector disrupt too?

Digital disruption is everywhere, and we’re all familiar with consumer models like Uber, AirBnB and Netflix. But what does that mean to traditional businesses trying to compete in this transformational world? Disrupt or die?

Digital disruption generally takes two forms:

  • The first is rapid change to the business model through wholesale or partial remodelling, typically using automation or internet connectivity. This is where we see MVPs coming to the fore as companies trial new initiatives, learning to fail fast and adapt rapidly. Large organisations are facilitating this through setting up new internal teams with a start up mentality or top down diktats.
  • The second is to transform the organisation’s relationships with its audiences over time using technology and digital marketing techniques. This is where companies are increasingly segmenting, targeting and personalising their communications across multiple channels to deliver specific ‘engagement points’ with their audiences.

Common to both of these approaches is a thorough understanding of their audiences, and aligning this understanding to their corporate objectives.

Everything starts with the customer/audience

That’s the biggest disruptive change in all industry sectors, and potentially hardest for the traditional, non-transactional manufacturing and industrial sector to get to grips with. They’ve not been able to witness (for example) incremental change to e-commerce algorithms resulting in increased sales. They’ve also been the most guilty of the ‘what have we got that we can sell?’ mentality. 
Understanding the audience used to be the domain of marketing, but now that businesses can connect more directly with all of their audiences, it’s now the domain of all disciplines, and the responsibility of the top table.  

B2B doesn't have to be dull

So our approach to Digital Disruption for traditional, B2B businesses segments the many objectives of the business, allied to a more forensic look at the mindsets, needs, actions and intent of the audiences. 

We believe a thorough segmentation of the audience in their journeys with the organisation is the starting point for a business to decide which transformation route to follow, or at least which to follow first. For many complex businesses, especially in the B2B industrial and manufacturing sectors, wholesale changes in how they operate, produce products or indeed innovate can be a big and complex decision.

Graphic of a cartoon man in a suit saying bye to boring in B2B marketing

Digital Technology for better audience engagement

So what we see more often is using digital technology to begin a better communication, engagement and interaction approach with all audiences. This is a ‘safer’ first step, while the core business may lag a little behind with its product innovation. 

This is manifested by applying commonplace B2C principles in the B2B marketing space;

  • Using Data as an input to drive communication and marketing change, rather than as an output of what has already happened.
  • Improving website technology and platforms, using enterprise level marketing-focused CMS to segment, personalise, analyse and adapt
  • Integrate ERP/CRM and web data to make sure we can track and measure lead generation through to sale (this is complex and there are typically multiple purchase touch points so it’s a significant exercise)
  • CONTENT and SEARCH. Invest in it, Integrate it, recognise their value, use all available channels that work for the company appropriately.
  • Solid governance to ensure multiple stakeholders/markets/teams don’t go off track.
  • And, of course, use a strategic digital partner who can help you with all of this as well as the larger business transformation that digital technology can deliver.

All of this is possible once the organisation has a thorough understanding of its audiences, their experiences and journeys.

Understanding and detailing the user journey

What this sector often thinks is that UX and Customer Experience (CX) is the domain of the B2C or transactional B2B world, but we’ve been able to demonstrate how this can benefit the traditional sector too.

Using audience planning tools, audience mapping, and segmented persona journeys, we’ve been able to map the many complex journeys audiences take with large complex businesses and create digital touchpoints to improve (one step at a time) the experience all audiences have.

Customer Experience Map for Freestyle client RS Components

In this way we’re able to track engagement over time in increasingly granular detail. Using marketing techniques and technologies, including eCRM and Automation tools, we can begin to measure the direct impact these engagements have, and ultimately all the way to the bottom line of share price, product sales, reputation management and audience engagement. It’s a little way off percentage increments in an e-commerce channel, but it’s a long way from AVE and column inch measurement; and fundamentally is a powerful way to improve business performance, which is why we’re all here in the first place.

Let the Digital Natives drive

Our message to those in traditional sectors, our lovely NSBs, is to let the digital natives within your business take the wheel for a while. Even if it’s only in audience mapping, workshops, hacks or pilot programmes. By working with an agency who understands the customer journey (that would be us), you can still do the navigating, all while deriving enormous benefits and sending positive ripples throughout your organisation. This in turn allows the traditionalists among your ranks to gradually get up to speed without feeling undermined, while being able to see measurable impact from Day 1.

The new Bostik website is a great example of a client making decisions to push the traditional boundaries, and is just the beginning of their transformational digital journey.

Does your business fall into the non-sexy niche? Find out how we can help you say Bye2Boring B2B.


Alan Cooper Founder of Freestyle

Alan Cooper

Founder Freestyle

Contact us:

+44 1926 652 832

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