March 29, 2022 / Marjoram
Good marketing simply meets the customer where they are. But great marketing brings with it a compelling argument that helps your product stand out from the rest.
A product feature list, no matter how nicely presented, just doesn’t cut it.
Bottom line: It’s the story that sells. You can make the most technically sound product from the best materials and equip it with the most cutting-edge features. But you still have to make your case to the customers to explain why they must buy it.
In industrial B2B spaces, this basic tenet of marketing — that narratives help customers make purchasing decisions — isn’t always acknowledged, and in too many cases is ignored altogether. Industrial product marketing campaigns are regularly built around a list of features designed to appeal to a more technical mindset.
But engineers and tradespeople are still people. Just because they speak a more technical language doesn’t mean they won’t respond to a captivating, informative narrative. More importantly, they’re usually not the ones making the purchasing decisions.
So why haven’t more B2B brands adopted more narrative-driven product campaigns? What stands in the way?
Why Industrial B2B Product Messaging Tends to Skew Technical
There are a couple of obvious reasons B2B product messaging is often overly complicated.
First, industrial products are often made for highly technical purposes in highly complex industries. Second, these products aren’t sold to average consumers — they’re bought for and used by engineers or specialized trades in technical professions.
These factors tend to create a preference for more technical, feature-first approaches to product campaign messaging—and this preference is expressed in different ways by B2B industrial brands.
In B2C marketing, consumers are targeted with simple, short, benefit-driven messages. The simpler, the better. Unfortunately, that is not the case in most industrial B2B product campaigns.
Industrial product teams believe that the value is in the complexity of their product, and they work hard to impress this idea on the marketing teams responsible for taking the product to market. Product teams often view the feature set as the main selling point and aren’t shy about insisting on overly complicated, technical, “latest feature” language.
When your end users are engineers and the technical trades, it’s almost a built-in excuse to speak in more technical terms. There’s definitely a time and a place to focus on specificity of product attributes, but that time is the final consideration stage of the buying cycle (see: product technical specifications). First, you have to get past the research stage of the process: marketing.
Remember, while your product tech team is driving the conversation, the actual buyer of your product is usually not the technical end user. Most of the time, your buyer is on a corporate procurement team. That feature-rich campaign content full of technical jargon might speak to the engineer’s problem, but is it doing enough to address pain points the actual buyer will understand?
This preoccupation with speaking to the technical abilities of your B2B products often gives your internal product team an outsized role in the formulation of campaign language.
With B2C-oriented product messaging, the product team provides the initial technical information to the marketing team and then reviews and signs off on the final language of the product messaging. The purpose of that review is simply to make sure the technical information is presented accurately.
Industrial B2B product message development, however, often gets bogged down with excessive input and requests for revisions from the product engineers. Convinced that they have the most applicable insight into end user needs, the engineers push for more and more feature-infused language. This almost always comes at the expense of speaking about product benefits and user outcomes.
Which brings us to…
Misapplication of Proper Marketing Principles
Let’s remember, there’s a reason why features-first product campaigns for B2B industrial brands are the industry standard, not the exception. Industrial brands often operate within traditional industries where staying power is earned with consistency, effort, and know-how. Straightforward communication styles are the norm. Creativity and sophisticated marketing approaches, on the other hand, aren’t usually part of the mix.
In addition, B2B product marketing teams often work in silos. Some industrial B2B brands are acquired and brought under larger umbrella brands and never properly onboarded. They may not have relationships with marketing counterparts across the organization or have access to all the marketing resources the corporate brand possesses.
In the face of consistent pressure to hit every technical feature of their industrial products, many product marketing teams simply fold. In most cases, they’re not empowered or positioned to challenge the existing dynamic within the silos.
The unfortunate result is product messaging that satisfies internal audiences but fails to differentiate itself from competitors or even peer brands under the same corporate umbrella.
However, the status quo does provide a great opportunity. There are rewards to be reaped in changing your marketing approach and realizing “first mover” advantage. How can your organization take advantage of this opportunity?
Creating Benefit-Driven B2B Product Campaigns
As a product marketer, your goal should be to clearly explain the benefits—not the attributes—of your product. Your job is to reduce complex concepts to easily communicated and digested ideas — not complicate the conversation. Reaching your customers is always easier when you lead with empathy for their needs and pain points.
Every buyer has challenges, regardless of whether they’re a person or a business, a millennial online shopper or an engineer in charge of an assembly line. Focusing on their point of view helps you to position your solutions to meet real needs. You must explain the benefits and use cases of your products and services in context of the problems they help solve for your customers.
The only time you should be talking about product features is in support of your greater narrative — “this feature is just the latest example of our commitment to innovation,” for example — or answering the specific technical questions which typically come at the end of a customer’s buying process.
Think of your product benefits as the movie trailer — the needed hook that captures your audience’s attention and initial interest. Your product features are the stars of the movie — what you use to seal the deal.
Avoiding the Features Arms Race
There’s another reason to avoid features-heavy messaging in your B2B product marketing campaigns: Leading with a list of features makes it easy for potential customers to compare and contrast your product or service, especially in a highly contested marketplace.
This strategy creates no clear winners, only escalation. Focusing on features locks you into a never-ending arms race. You increase your R&D, they increase theirs. You increase your ad spend, they increase theirs. There is no real separation or differentiation.
The better bet is to build a broader, longer-term, benefit-driven value proposition for your products. This is the best way to set your solution apart.
Differentiation is achieved by recognizing your customer’s needs and pain points and leaning into the strength of your overarching brand. The larger brand communicates broad values that resonate with your customers, and your product offers a specific solution to their specific problem.
Admittedly, arriving at product messaging that accomplishes these goals is no easy task — but the most effective method always prioritizes compelling narratives and storytelling over technical feature lists.
Benefit-Driven Narratives Are Key to Effective Product Marketing
If you’re assuming that your technically savvy consumers just want the data, you’re selling human nature short. We all respond best to need-based and emotionally evocative messages — even the most technically-minded people. If you want to reach your B2B customers, take a lesson from your B2C counterpart and create benefit-driven product narratives that speak to your (still human) customers’ needs.