Why B2E is the new B2B

The CEO of Havas PR North America on the changing dynamics of business-to-business communications and why "getting human" is more important than ever

The communications landscape has gotten far more complicated than simple business-to-consumer and business-to-business campaigns. Today, everyone is a stakeholder, and companies and marketers need to talk to all of them. There was some discussion of business-to-human communications at the recent Cannes Lions Festival, but really what it comes down to is B2E—business-to-everyone.

The truth of "everything communicates" lies in the fact that everyone communicates. I’ve long held that each one of us has clout far ahead of what our Klout Scores say.

Cannes showed that B2E is resonating more than ever; it has real meaning and is not just another buzzword of the day. PRWeek, in a story produced in partnership with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, wrote about how some campaigns really do manage to talk to all their audiences on a human level and not just as businesspeople, government officials or parts of trade bodies. 

The writers presented B2E as part of several connected trends. First, there’s what they call "future legacy," or the idea of purpose—as when a client said: "I want to heal the wounds of the world. I just want to start with energy." That imbued the work they’d been doing for that client with new importance, and let the authors to ponder: "As companies move into a purpose-driven age … the question of what is their ‘future legacy’ becomes more important. What are they to leave to the world, the next generation, beyond making or providing products and services?"

That tips into the related trend of cause fatigue. Stakeholders—i.e., us humans—are bombarded with marketing messages about how companies are making the world a better place (nearly everyone seems to want to be the TOMS Shoes of something). We’re getting smarter at decoding those messages and more annoyed with the ones that are pandering or insincere. The question of what companies are leaving to the world "seems to have been hijacked by some brands ‘acquiring’ a cause and linking campaigns to it," continues the article. "While highlighting any good cause is a noble thing, it feels as though it needs to be more fundamentally linked to the client’s purpose to avoid ‘cause fatigue.’"

The best way to avoid cause fatigue is to get real and address constituencies as humans—take a stand, articulate a point of view and risk alienating some of those who hear it. You can’t have an interesting conversation without stating a real opinion.

One exciting and successful example was premiered at Cannes, in a seminar called "The Power of Cinema to Drive Cultural Change" with John Hegarty, Steve Golin, Lawrence Bender, Jason Solomons and UNICEF’s Claudia Gonzalez. The video, #WhatIReallyReallyWant, highlights the Sustainable Development Goals agreed to in 2015 by remaking the Spice Girls’ "Wannabe" music video incorporating the voices of women and girls around the world telling leaders what goals they "really, really want" to be achieved to help improve their lives. Gonzalez explained why this work was so important. "This is not my agenda, this is our agenda. This is our planet; we have no planet B."

A guest post by Gib Bassett, the global program director for consumer goods at Teradata, on Brian Solis’s blog made a similar argument for disrupting (to use another industry buzzword) the B2B2C model used by the consumer packaged goods industry, which relies on selling products to retailers who in turn sell them to consumers. Bassett asks, "How can a CPG maker approach emergent changes in shopping behavior when physically fenced off from the last mile of the shopping journey?"

The answer: by getting human. Digital channels are allowing companies to claim a "new focus on consumer centricity; that it’s their consumer who matters, who they care about and who they serve."

The model that places consumers at the end of the equation is inherently restricted. Instead, businesses should place them first, starting with the consumers—customers—and what they need rather than their products and what they do. Consumers’ needs must be met and uniquely met throughout the path to purchase.

To add to the human equation, Chandar Pattabhiram, vice president of worldwide marketing at Badgeville, pointed out (in a sponsored post for Wired) that it’s not just customers who matter. Employees do, too—and perhaps even more so. Larry Ellison said as much at Oracle Cloud World, where he kicked off his keynote address by saying, "It’s all about people" and pointing out all the room for improvement in employee relations. "Mr. Ellison last week reiterated what I deeply believe," wrote Pattabhiram. "The future of the enterprise depends on humanizing the customer and employee experience. Human capital management and customer service are the foundation of a successful modern enterprise. That future is not ‘B2C’ or ‘B2B.’ It’s ‘B2H.’ Business to human."

And in partner content for the Guardian, Toby Conlon, a senior associate director for Lexis, took the notion even further. The aim, he said, should be human-to-human, "just one human being having a conversation with another." Everyone can do that.

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