The B2B consumer: marketing innovation to the millennial generation

Younger generations want to feel as if their interest, and not just their money, is genuinely valued, says Elsevier's senior strategic marketing manager.

We are living in the age of the consumerso much so that B2B marketing has changed dramatically. Marketers are no longer tasked with appealing to monolithic businesses, but instead to "consumers" within businesses who have become individual decision-makers.

In many industries, the sole focus is the discovery and development of something new—and in pharmaceuticals in particular this means a new drug or medical device. For industries that rely on this continual innovation, it’s important to promote regular breakthroughs as a part of the new B2B consumer marketing, including aligning the company with broader industry innovation.

This is a particular challenge when it comes to appealing to the decision-makers of tomorrow—millennials—84 percent of whom say they don’t trust traditional advertising. It’s unsurprising considering they have matured in a time when it’s possible to simply fast-forward through television ads, and when most people are more likely to see sponsored social media posts on their phone than notice peeling billboard advertisements. This makes it hard enough to appeal to millennials in a B2C environment, and more difficult still in the B2B arena.

Given that this demographic has grown up surrounded by innovative, ground-breaking technologies—and are therefore much harder to impress—how can tomorrow’s decision-makers be reached?

Millennials, Generation Z and the future of consumers

Younger generations know what they want from marketing—to feel as if their interest, and not just their money, is genuinely valued. Capturing consumer attention and becoming part of the discussion demands that organizations create stories that align themselves with innovations happening within their industry—just as the insurance industry, not typically considered a leader when it comes to technology, has done with cybersecurity insurance and smart devices.

B2B consumers, particularly digital natives, are looking for stories that engage them—they don’t want to be bombarded with marketing buzzwords. Accordingly, B2B marketers should leave mass marketing messages behind in favor of a more story-driven approach spread across a variety of media. For example, take video as a platform: internet video traffic is predicted to account for 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2021. It is vital that B2B organizations create an immersive, narrative-focused marketing strategy that uses a popular medium like video to its best advantage.

Case study: Promoting innovation and community in pharma

Obviously companies tend to be focused on their own individual development, but many are also beginning to understand the importance of the industry’s progression as a whole and the need to promote that progress to their audience. Promoting the benefits to the wider community is just a first step in appealing to a millennial audience—to truly differentiate, businesses need to take the next step and actively contribute to moving industry innovation forward. 

In the pharmaceutical industry in particular, fostering innovation in start-ups is crucial because Big Pharma is renowned for its productivity deficit. Research from Deloitte highlighted this issue, showing that 45 percent of Big Pharma’s total forecast revenue came from external sources—such as those in Elsevier’s start-up innovation project The Hive. Clearly, promoting industry innovation is more important now than ever. 

Industry is changing

In 2017, creative outreach should be focused on reaching individuals and niche groups, rather than relying on flash-in-the-pan, broad-brush marketing techniques. Industries are progressing at breakneck speed, with businesses battling to overtake competitors and meet customer expectations, all while trying to maintain their originality in an ever-more technologically advanced world. Innovation is the way forward, but there is an increasing responsibility to show the rest of your industry how you innovate, and to bring them on board for the ride. The context of marketing is changing—now the industry just needs to learn how to keep up.

Betsy Davis is Senior Strategic Marketing Manager, Pharma and Life Sciences at Elsevier’s R&D Solutions.

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