Human-to-human Marketing: Does It Mean Anything?

We recently sat down with seven leading business-to-business (B2B) marketers to talk about where the industry’s heading and whether the distinction between B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) is collapsing. With B2B and B2B arguably converging, some commentators are heralding a new synthesis: human-to-human marketing. We couldn’t help taking the opportunity for a bit of buzzword-busting: do our experts see something new there, or just a trendy new phrase?

Rawad Jammoul, head of PPC, Adapt Worldwide: if it helps us create communities, it’s all to the good

What I like about ‘human-to-human’ is that it’s a reminder to marketers that you’re not dealing with a click. You’re dealing with a real person. We need to approach the market with a sympathy toward the problems that users are trying to solve, the jobs that they’re trying to get done.

Having this mentality of thinking about the relationships between people makes clear what job you’re doing as a marketer. It helps us think about the core question: how can we create a community around the services that we’re providing and get firsthand feedback right away on the products and services we’re providing? That helps us do the job better.

Eoin Rodgers, managing partner, TMW business: focus on understanding real people

Human-to-human as a phrase is maybe more confusing than useful. But what’s more useful (and more universal) is the focus on human understanding. The leveler across B2B and B2C is that if we want to create campaigns, ideas and ads that move people (change their behavior, or get them to do/buy/think something), then a pretty good starting point is to try to understand them .

We’re in a world today where that understanding can go deeper than ever – I don’t mean data and survey responses. We need to be considering behavioral science and neuroscience. How humans respond and react is much more textured and powerful and leads us to be able to connect on an emotional level. That part of marketing is a leveler for B2B and B2C.

David Van Shaick, chief marketing officer, The Marketing Practice: don’t forget the context

I’ve got a bit of a problem with the phrase human-to-human. It doesn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know. And it’s only half-true because a lot of the time, the first part of the equation isn’t actually a human, it’s a brand. Brands trying to personify themselves is risky and often painful. It misinterprets the relationship that people want to have with a brand.

We are highly contextual creatures and marketing is a highly contextual discipline. The tactics and approaches are different in every context. There are some fundamental rules of marketing that apply across B2B and B2C – about reach, about fame, about mental availability – but context is so important in getting the strategy and tactics right. Hallmark Cards-style philosophy statements like ‘human-to-human’ don’t really help.

Jennifer Pyron, client strategy director, PMG: how about peer-to-peer?

Not so much human-to-human, perhaps, but it’s about making sure you have capability around peer-to-peer. Behavior has increasingly been focused on making sure that they have a really good understanding of people’s experiences before they’re willing to purchase.

Making sure that there are opportunities from the very beginning to understand what your peers are doing and what’s working for them. Making sure that’s a piece is more critical than making sure that you think of brands as humans.

Rafe Blandford, chief product officer, Digitas UK: what about machine-to-human?

Human-to-human will always be part of the narrative, because it’s a neat shortcut. It is about humans. We’re talking to people.

But soon it’s going to be about machine-to-human. There’s going to be the rise of generative content, synthetic content – ​​and that’s particularly well-suited to B2B, where you’re often producing content for individuals. You can imagine a white paper that uses a bit of machine learning (ML) to personalize and generate the paper for that person, by a machine, and send it off automatically without a human ever being involved. That offers a scale for B2B marketing that could be very interesting in the next five years.

Secil Fuller, brand strategist, AgencyUK: relationships are the core of everything

I don’t use the term human-to-human myself, but all it’s referring to is relationships. The relationship that one might have with a brand or a salesperson could be transactional or at the loyalty level, but it’s all about human psychology and how I want to interact with this brand. It’s up to the brand to decide what market I’m operating in and what relationship I’m going to have with consumers.

Paul Godwin, managing director, 2Heads: building emotional connections

It’s no longer about having the best products. It’s about building the best connection. That’s where it’s gone in the consumer market, and that’s how B2B brands want to evolve too. It used to stagger me how little planning would go into some B2B events; nowadays, it’s more about building an emotional connection from the moment of the first interaction. People don’t want to buy something because you think it’s the best; they have to think it’s the best and they have to respect you as the company that’s selling it.

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