B2B Communications: Business Communicators Need to Reach Beyond Customers With Their Messages

Communication purists staunchly draw the line in the sand between professional and consumer audiences.

On the business-to-business side, industry trade shows and specialized media relations are typical line items within a traditional PR budget. Consumer-facing programs may involve heavier doses of social media and high-profile event sponsorships.

But aren’t consumers also employees, community leaders, industry associates, current and prospective clients and shareholders? If so, have some business communicators become so granular in their thinking that they are squandering opportunities to influence important stakeholders by eschewing more mainstream outreach?

As many corporate reputation polls continue to show, the perceptions of internal and external audiences are shaped from various experiences with a business. These interactions can take place at work or leisure.

As such, the channels of communication an organization uses have to cover the broadest possible range of settings where any potential stakeholder may be found. To ignore one of them is to deny or weaken a relationship with an individual sought after or already valued by the business.

We asked communications executives about why and how their B2B organizations are now engaging with consumers along their specific value chains. They each underscored the importance of knowing that not all their brand relationships are strictly business.


SVP, Global Communications, Nielsen

We’re all consumers, and today we have more choices than ever. For communication strategists this means we have more opportunities to reach audiences than ever before. It also means developing and executing communication strategies requires more critical thinking, a clearer understanding of consumer behavior and even greater clarity around goals.

At Nielsen, a global information and measurement company, we produce information and insights around what consumers watch and buy. Our business model is B2B, but our information and insights are of interest to the public as well. Part of our strategy is to make insights available to consumers to help them better understand behavior. In turn, this approach helps Nielsen become part of conversations. We have a public-facing blog; a presence across social media platforms; a global survey on more than a dozen topics we issue public reports on; and for each release our press team collaborates on global media outreach campaigns.

As a result, Nielsen information is more frequently and more regularly referenced in dialogues among community leaders, educators, interest groups, governments and more.

Sure, we maintain some B2B specific strategies and tactics, especially related to our solutions, but we also broadened our audience base for key information. My advice is not to approach communication planning as B2B or consumer. Instead, think about how your audience consumes and what’s of interest.

Know what you are trying to achieve, think through the value chain of your audiences and develop plans for your audiences to access your communications on their terms—at any time and on any device.


VP, Marketing & Investor Relations, Plug Power

A business-to-business company views social media tools a bit differently than most common Facebook and Twitter users. In short, the strategy is rooted in a business’ objective to remain relevant to multiple audiences and establish itself as a thought leader in its industry. At least that was part of the plan for Plug Power Inc., a manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cells for the material handling industry.

The B2B social media user needs to weigh the value of touching an audience that isn’t made up completely of “customers.” For Plug Power, building the company’s brand on a virtual platform provided a more interactive approach to communicate with the media, investors, partners and the “general-interest” supporters. Even further, promoting the message of sustainability and the commercial success of the company’s green products has attracted attention of those looking for ways alternative energy is making a difference in the world today.

A tool like Facebook has allowed Plug Power to highlight the people aspect of our industry—a business which can seem a little dry to those not directly involved. Plug Power has been able to solidify its place as the thought leaders in the hydrogen fuel cell sphere, leading the way with not only the industry’s most advanced products, but the market’s most progressive in terms of communicating in a world that seems to get smaller as it gets larger.


Digital Marketing Manager, GE Aviation

People are people, and the same things that engage us and appeal to us as consumers can also appeal to us as consumers representing our companies. At GE Aviation, our marketing organization is focused on taking advantage of digital and social media to tell our story and engage consumers, as well as customers. Business customers are digital, too, so why not have a little fun while we’re at it?

One of the ways we’ve gained consumer engagement is through interactive Web content—from an “advergame” that puts the user in the seat of an airport manager (while subtly highlighting GE technologies, of course) to strapping a video camera to an RC helicopter and flying it around our jet engine testing plant to share a sneak peek into our manufacturing world.

We also understand that in the world we live in today, consumers have an interest in connecting not just with friends, but with brands as well, and we want to be friends too.

Through active social media engagement on Twitter for example, we have connected with #avgeeks all over the world, and in fact even met our 5,000th follower at the 2011 Oshkosh Air Show in 2011 (we recognized him with a free hat for making the trip).

These #avgeeks have become brand advocates for us, putting forward our GE brand and enabling us to go beyond just our 12,000 followers to reach 3 to 6 million impressions a month just on this specific platform.

Finally, we’ve also made an effort to take traditional communications methods like conferences and sprinkle in some digital elements to rise above the noise by putting the “show” in trade show.

Last year, we launched an aircraft health management system on the Gulfstream G650 aircraft, and used Microsoft Kinect motion sensing technology to provide a product demonstration-meets-gaming experience to educate customers and consumers about the new technology and its prognostics capabilities.

On average, we’ve found that interactive technologies in our exhibits have increased traffic by three times. After all, who can resist watching a colleague use their body to control a plane?

At GE Aviation we’ve had some fun with digital—but of course, ensuring the strategy is aligned with business objectives is always top of mind. PRN

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B2B Communications is written by Mary C. Buhay, VP at Gibbs & Soell Public Relations. She can be reached at mbuhay@gibbs-soell.com.