Why B2B Companies Need to Embrace Millennials

As a marketer, I work mostly with big B2B companies in the semiconductor, electronics, pharmaceutical, and machinery sector. These are conservative industries with little need for hype – on the contrary. Fluff pieces, unrealistic promises, and sensational advertising tactics harm these companies more than help them.

So at first glance, we have very little to do with millennials or the “next generation” of customers, whatever you call it. We inhabit a universe of often boring industries that haven’t really kept up with the social media revolution and companies that have made little effort to digitize their operations and marketing.

And yet, the changing attitude and habits of the new consumers mean that even the most boring old industries need to start engaging with new tools, concepts, and ideas.

Disruptive Marketing Is No Longer An Option

I came to me when I heard a seasoned marketing manager of an electronics company give a presentation in which he said: “All that inbound marketing, all that influencer marketing, that is just a fad. It’s got nothing to do with our business.”

He still bets on exhibitions (attendance falling), printing product spec sheets (young customers look for them on the Internet), and spamming people via e-mail (with questionable success).

The reason we had been invited to consult for that company was that market share had fallen from 20% to 8% and margins had halved in the last 3 years. Time to update your thinking maybe?

40 mill

What you need to understand is that by 2020, so-called millennials will make up 40% of the workforce.

Think about that. This is a generation that grew up with mobile devices, Instagram profiles, and Twitter accounts; employees that perchance found their last job on LinkedIn and who share their mood, experiences, and aspirations on Facebook. These are not the people that will respond to disruptive marketing techniques.

It is also a generation that does no longer trust advertising and brand messages, and relies on testimonials shared experiences; a generation that trusts influencers over brand ambassadors, Amazon reviews over product blurb; a generation that watches reviews on Youtube rather than read a 10-page report by a product testing agency.

We did a project recently for a server manufacturer who was convinced that reviews in industry magazines and special IT forums were the primary sources of product information for their potential clients. They spent millions on a promotional film to show on aircraft and hours on discussions which giveaways to prepare for their next trade show.

After a 6-week in-depth questionnaire sent to hundreds of IT managers, purchasers and CTOs, we found that over 90% of the people instrumental in buying new equipment got basically all their product information from YouTube.

Their clients, essentially IT managers under 40, spent up to 4 hours a day watching YouTube while sitting in the server room managing a company’s hardware. They didn’t read magazines, didn’t participate in forum discussions, and never bothered to attend poorly organized product presentations in hotels. Instead, they consumed in excess of 120 hours of video content on the Internet.

I have covered the details of inbound and content marketing – the only form of marketing millennials respond to – in articles like

Inbound Marketing Explained

So What is Content Marketing Anyway

Using Content Marketing to Strengthen Your Brand

There Is Money In That Content Man!

The 4 Key Success Factors of Content Marketing

While these are comprehensive articles about the different aspects of inbound and content strategies, let’s look at how industrial companies can and must leverage the new digital environment for their marketing.

One of the most successful examples of marketing in the industrial space is the German company Kuka. They make robots. What robots do in a factory is usually boring repetitive stuff, but not if you look at these examples:

table tnees

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. Kuka Robot

Here, machines are taking to their extremes, with creativity and the power of influencers and celebrities. As of 2018, the video has over 11 million views on YouTube, as have many of their other productions. The marketing message is clear: extremely brought reach with the right generation and a clear statement that if the robot can do this, there’s nothing it can’t handle at a customer’s plant.

GE is another brilliant example. A company that covers engineering in almost every industry from aviation to renewable energy has managed almost 1/2 million followers on Instagram, a platform better known for promoting food and fashion, by using exceptional photography, video marketing, and engagement with global influencers.

Industrial giants like Siemens have managed to engage over 2 million of potential customers on platforms like LinkedIn by producing and sharing industry-relevant content, like statistics, case studies, product news, and reports about the challenges of tomorrow. Schneider Electric, one of the most B2B companies imaginable, manages over 1 million followers.

So, if 40% of your technical professionals will be millennials, and good content marketing is the only way to reach them, the question is, how do you get started with it?


Getting Started With Industrial Content Marketing

The key here is to remember that just like everyone else, engineers and technical professionals have access to more information sources than ever before in history. They used to go to libraries and take part in training seminars to get access to the latest news about their industries; now they google what they need. The content they want to see must be part of their customer’s buying journey, i.e. deliver content that is informative, valuable, and solves problems or helps to increase efficiency.

Industrial marketers and influencers want content to help with customer base understand technologies, implement changes, and make informed decisions. 

Beyond doubt, one of the most powerful tools for engaging with customers in the realm are case studies; high-quality, in-depth, often long-form content, distributed over social networks through the help for great images and captivating videos. Content marketing isn’t about selling a specific product on the spot, it enables manufacturers to become a trusted resource for potential customers and be in a better position to win their business. Nowhere is this more important than with the millennial segment.

Millennials, already used to consuming content from trust sources like industry blogs and influencers, will keep following these sources as long as they deliver value. The investment into creating this content is minimal compared to what it costs to ship machines across the globe for exhibitions or engaging PR firms, not to mention advertising. All you need is a good camera or smartphone, and a marketer with a knack for journalism, able to tell the right stories in the right way.

Produce compelling content that resonates with your desired audience, and devote sufficient resources to ensure your content reaches the correct audience.

Content marketing is attractive to many industrial marketers because, in theory, no significant investment is required to implement a program. However, content creation is resource intensive and often strains an organization’s limited marketing resources to produce engaging content in a consistent manner. So many companies find that a key to content marketing success is engaging with a media partner, influencers, and other 3rd parties, who can provide a professional portfolio of end-to-end services that help to overcome such challenges.

In particular, industry exhibitions and trade shows should be leveraged through global B2B influencers. For very little investment, such industry celebrities often produce highly engaging content, live reports, blog posts, and product videos that may not be up to Hollywood production standards, but thanks to their hundreds of thousands of followers on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, allow for wide distribution of great content.

What Content Does Not Work for Industrial Millennials?

In short: advertising. Millennials no longer believe brand messages and overly promotional content. Especially engineers, doctors, scientific staff or technical professionals are hardly ever influenced by promotional messages. On the contrary, when asked what they think about such content, most millennials will tell you that in their eyes, it lowers the respect for a brand. “If they have to resort to advertising, their product can’t be that good.”

Finally, millennials, at the start of their careers, are looking to the future. Therefore forward-looking content about industry trends, future technologies, the potential of new technologies, or the limits of technical solutions will always be more engaging than stale content about projects completed a decade ago. Don’t just do this on your website though. Content creation in and of itself is not enough: you have to get the message out there. Use social media platforms, industry blogs, industry publications, newsletters, and industry influencer to make sure your laboriously produced, informative, content actually gets seen and heard.


Marketing Keeps Evolving, So Must You

And one last thought, if you are just getting started with content marketing for your industry: it is not enough to implement a strategy and then stick to it stubbornly.

Digital marketing is not a static process. It is evolving over time. New tools and platforms come online, and the behavior of users changes. Two years ago, LinkedIn wasn’t exactly the most popular platform for marketing in most countries, now it’s growing rapidly and become more and more relevant for B2B marketing. People put great hopes in Snapchat, and then Instagram did hit back. What works and what doesn’t seems to change by the minute.

One way to keep abreast is to have a dedicated “technology advisor” with regular meetings. This may be a person in your company or an outside agency. Having these regular briefings will help assure your strategy isn’t outdated before it is even launched.

Content marketing is a journey. It is not just another way of marketing, it is part of the digitalization of our world. And one thing is sure, companies that don’t become digital will be left behind.





Published by Dr Martin Hiesboeck

Futurist, Marketer, Policy Advisor for Companies and Government Head of Blockchain and Crypto Research at Uphold and CEO of Alpine Blockchain Consultants Zurich - London - New York - Taipei

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