B2B Brands’ Space Time Continuum.

As B2B brands move painfully towards a digital future, I find myself having to go back to push them along – ‘back to the future’ you might say…

However hard I try, there is still a reticence on the client side to actually part with cash to ‘do’ digital. The extent of digital ambition on the B2B client side appears to be entrenched in ‘the website’, ‘emails’ and maybe some banner ads – all admirable pursuits, but oh so very tip of the iceberg. And mostly spam.

I’ve nodded patiently and sympathetically. I’ve been empathetic and encouraging. I’ve tried teaching and being supportive. I’ve even resorted to shoutery (which didn’t take too long if I’m honest…) but all seemingly in vain. Fortunately for all of you, I have discovered the answer – ‘The Space Time Continuum’.

The barrier to trial and adoption isn’t interest in the digital opportunity – there is no doubt brands are interested in social communications, community engagement, crowdsourcing, mobile interaction, cool shit generally – but when it comes to the sign-off crunch, there isn’t a budget to develop the digital activity from concept to reality. And so the opportunity is lost (if it ever truly existed in the first place). I begin the process again and talk to someone else about cool shit that they’re never going to implement. You can see how that might get annoying after a while I’m sure.

In trying to resolve the problem and remove the obstacle then, I have discovered that the B2B client almost always has a ‘space’ budget. A brand will happily spend inordinate and inappropriate amounts of cash on media space – traditional space in papers and magazines, and even digital space in banners and skyscrapers. Even when there is no direct evidence that the traditional advertising works, or worse, when banner clickthroughs definitively prove that the banner campaign essentially isn’t working, the business spends more money on space in the hope that it will come good in the end. Well, it won’t.

Those days are gone. Not entirely and not even necessarily forever, but they’re gone inasmuch as the market has moved and the relative importance of the ‘space budget’ is considerably lessened.

It’s taking the market a while to accept that. Denial is a particularly warm and cuddly blanket for the B2B market. Ineffectiveness and underperformance, however, can’t last forever – not even within B2B. At some (near) future point, the space race will become untenable and clients will seek an answer to the problem. You lucky, lucky, people – I have found the answer for you already.

The answer is not ‘space’ – it’s ‘time’. Traditional client budgets and the relative importance of activity needs to be shifted from ‘space’ to ‘time’ – the Space Time Continuum.

I would encourage B2B budget holders to attach value to the ‘time’ part of the equation. Conceiving, developing and delivering the digital solutions to the challenges of brand engagement takes time. It’s an evolving landscape, so the solutions are often bespoke, untested and even unique. Allocating the time and the budget to explore the possibilities is increasingly important if brands wish to remain relevant to an ever more selective audience. The audience will decide where and when to engage with the brand. They will decide who to listen to and whose advice to take before making purchasing decisions. Adding more pages to your website is not the answer. Sending more emails is not the answer. Take some time to find an answer that is applicable to your audience in the context of their digital world.

The first step is to recognise that you’ll be investing in thinking time and not design time or space time. It’s a big shift, but there is value in the ability to conceive of a channel(s) and/or a tool(s) that will pull the customer towards the brand – and there may be little (if any) requirement for design or media. This may all be a bit uncomfortable for clients and agencies – but the customers have already made up their minds. Hello? McFly?

Scot McKee