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There’s no such thing as a B2B customer: Why B2B marketing needs a makeover

By Chris Adams, Founder & director of growth

Hey Honey


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November 29, 2023 | 8 min read

Chris Adams of creative agency Hey Honey says it’s finally time to put the myth of ‘B2B customers’ to bed in favor of a simpler explanation: they’re all (just?) people.

A crowd of people

'B2B customers': an unhelpful fiction? / Rob Curran via Unsplash

It feels like we’ve been discussing the evolution of B2B marketing forever. Companies in B2B have been fine-tuning their advertising and marketing strategies for years.

Now, though, we’re at a pivotal moment where the tweaking needs to stop and a new approach needs to be embraced by all. Why? Because it's time we reconsider how we approach our customers. Regardless of whether they're investing in a software-as-a-service platform or buying a new pair of Crocs, customers are individuals with dreams, desires, and personal goals. It's time to embrace this reality.

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Why do B2B companies handle their customers differently than their B2C counterparts? While B2C dives head-first into emotional storytelling and brand-centric narratives, B2B has stuck to the tried-and-true functional and product-centric playbook. But here’s the twist: whether they’re buying for themselves or their teams, customers are, at their cores, people. So why the disconnect in how we engage with them?

The crucial first step is to understand that the B2B customer isn’t the relic of the past that our marketing methods seem to suggest. As digital natives, millennials (and now gen Zs) bring a fresh perspective, complete with unique online behaviors and expectations. A study by Ethos Marketing highlighted these generations’ demand for speed and efficiency, with 60% saying they won’t tolerate slow-loading platforms.

Meanwhile, gen Z is growing up. They’re not in trainee or exec roles anymore; they’re becoming decision-makers with influence and responsibility. I’ve seen firsthand how social media managers and content teams in our agency play a pivotal role in choosing the tools we use. The shift in decision-makers demands a shift in marketing strategies to align with their preferences.

Customer-centric marketing is more than testimonial videos

While customer testimonials are an industry standard and contribute to SEO (so, yes, keep them coming), in today’s sea of sameness, they fall short of helping you truly stand out and create meaningful connections.

Consider flipping the script on B2B interactions by embracing a consumer-led approach. Instead of the usual campaign focused on product features, envision acting more like a consumer brand, emphasizing real benefits. Take, for instance, Semrush's recent ‘My Life, My Terms’ campaign. Rather than centering it around the product's features, the brand highlighted a real customer's story to showcase how the tool simplifies her workday, enabling her to savor a full life outside of work hours.

In a recent discussion with Vimeo, Olga Andrienko, vice president of brand at Semrush, shared, “Our biggest aspiration was to act like a consumer brand; to bridge this emotional gap that is missing.” This shows how embracing a lifestyle-focused marketing approach is solid proof that when you put customers at the heart of things and create emotional connections, you build stronger bonds and brand loyalty.

You don’t need to be Nike to tell stories with emotion

I'm not suggesting diving head-first into the kind of advertising that elicits tears or laughter like Christmas ads – at least not right away. But I am pointing to a style of storytelling that taps into fundamental emotions. Why? Because emotions play a crucial role in decision-making, and B2B buyers are no exception.

Think about how an Apple or Nike ad makes you feel. A great example right now is LinkedIn’s ‘No One Knows What You Do’ campaign. It shines a light on often misunderstood aspects of modern B2B selling. According to LinkedIn, it's not just about inspiring B2B marketers but also about practicing what you preach with a creative approach that speaks directly to this audience. It's about making us smile, laugh, cringe – connecting with us on a human level.

Your campaigns should always be crafted from a simple truth and key insight. In this instance, the insight is quite simple: ‘No one knows what you do. And that’s good!’. The messaging becomes clear: there’s ‘no better place to deploy your B2B campaigns than LinkedIn – where members, by and large, do get what you do.’

In B2B (be it SaaS, logistics, or wholesale) a robust strategy that focuses on the 'why' should be conveyed through captivating and emotional storytelling. As customers evolve and digital natives come to the forefront, standing out requires strong creativity, emotion, and a focus on the customer. B2B can’t afford to use the old playbook anymore. Incorporating elements like emotional storytelling, humor, and consumer-centric approaches isn't just a choice. It's a necessity.

Audiences who embrace new digital habits and behaviors desire a deeper connection. It’s time for a change in mindset. Let’s say goodbye to old-school B2B marketing. Whether we're ready or not, B2B needs a makeover, especially with gen Z bringing in a breath of fresh air to decision-making. Those smart B2B brands that get on board with this shift and tweak their marketing game are set to thrive.

There’s no typical B2B customer anymore; it’s all about customers, plain and simple. The future of B2B? Treating each customer as a unique individual with their own dreams and aspirations, just like we do in B2C. It’s not just a shift; it’s a much-needed evolution. And those who change now? Well, they’re the ones who will win.

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