On B2B Online, I came across the recently released study/survey (now in its seventh year) entitled “Insights to Action: ISBM B-to-B Marketing Trends 2012“, a report that summarizes and discusses results from a survey of academics and marketing practitioners in a broad range of B-to-B industries. I think some of the results indicate a very positive future for the use of simulations in product marketing, owing to a natural potential connection with their role in customer training and support.
The study and report were produced and assembled by the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (out of Penn State) and Gyro:HSR. One of the stated purposes that caught my eye is “…Being current on the state of business marketing practice can be key to the successful launch of new products, maintaining market share and uncovering opportunities for growth and competitive advantage.”
At its core, the study asked respondents to identify key challenges for business marketers over the next 3-5 years, and the capabilities they believe we have to build in that time period.
Getting right to the good parts, the top two study results were:
- More effectively quantify and communicate value created for customers
- Develop approaches and methods to better understand what customers really need — beyond what they can say or articulate — Stronger “Voice of the Customer” Practice
I think these two reflect naturally the benefits of using simulations, as I will discuss.
1. Communicating Value
Marketing and advertising has to be centrally about communicating the value in products and in the brand. Ultimately, real value for customers is about solving their problems. As a prospective customer, one is looking to see both how the product solves their problem and how well the company can support the product with training and/or assistance beyond the sale, for all but the simplest of products. Therefore, I believe that a company that focuses on support and training can demonstrate greater product value than one which primarily focuses on the sale itself.
I think that a company which uses simulations to put the prospect into the role of the problem-solver — using case-based scenarios around real customer needs — will be able to communicate greater product value than merely presenting a video about someone else solve a problem (if that), or some video about how satisfied customers are with the brand. Taking it a step further, the company that uses simulation to market/advertise products and carries it over into product training and support will better demonstrate their commitment to sustained value for the customer. If a company can show this commitment to its customers, I think it will reflect beneficially on prospects who are looking into the future to assess the product value.
While good training makes the product, great value comes both from the intrinsic product features and how well the company communicates how those features can be applied, which of course depends on support and training. Good training can make good products great.
From the marketing perspective, you don’t have to train prospects to use your products, you just have to convince them that they can learn to use your products efficiently and correctly. I think this is the subtle difference between simulations for marketing/advertising and simulations for training. Naturally, simulations used for marketing and advertising will have components that can be used for training, and vice versa. So integrating marketing and training efforts — not just marketing and sales — I think is a good path for increasing value.
The study summarizes the implications of this trend for B2B Marketers as “Invest in and install the best tools for quantifying and communicating value.” Clearly, I believe that integrating simulations into marketing, and integrating marketing and training, is right in line with suggestion. A key response they received in the survey echoes this point: “Our biggest challenge is deepening our relationship with customers and helping them see the total value proposition we deliver to them – including but not solely driven by innovation – and what it holistically is worth to their business versus just evaluating us on a per-item quote versus a competitor.”
2. Approaches to Better Understand What Customers Really Need
The study summarizes this trend by saying “If you build it, they may not necessarily come, not unless you deliver on what they really need versus just what they say they want.”
One of the critical values we have demonstrated in using simulations is the ability to gather what customers and prospects are doing with the products, not just what they are saying about the product. Simulations, combined with traditional marketing testing, can provide a fantastic source of real data about
- What people are doing with the product, and
- How they are engaging (or not) with the message.
One respondent from the survey noted the need for: “[b]etter skills in uncovering fundamental needs and creating exciting offerings that aren’t considered ‘me too’…” I think by focusing on the specifics of a product and demonstrating it in an interactive way, it naturally becomes a unique expression because it is about the specific product — even if it is using the same modality (simulation) as competitors.