Quantum Marketing: A new dawn for B2B
For centuries, scientists believed in the 'planetary model' of the atom, consisting of a nucleus and then a bunch of tiny electrons, making neat, predictable circles around that nucleus. This theory mimicked the physics of outer space and therefore seemed to make perfect sense.
However, in the 1920s, this 'planetary model' was challenged as scientists observed that the electrons in the atom were not making neat, predictable circles around the nucleus, but rather the electron seemed to move around at random. It was impossible to predict where the electron would be at any precise moment in time. This gave way to the discovery of a new model: the 'quantum model'.
So how is this relevant to marketing? Like the scientists of long ago, many marketers seem to understand B2B buying as a predictable, 'planetary model’-type process, where a decision-maker travels down a buying funnel in an orderly, sequential path. However, human behaviour is rarely predictable and this is certainly true when it comes to how people buy. There is no single decision-maker in the B2B buying process, but a distributed network of decision-makers with new stakeholders dipping in and out of the buying process. The needs of this network arise and disappear at random — it may seem like a decision will be made tomorrow, and then it's pushed back a year.
The concept of Quantum Marketing turns 'traditional' B2B buying on its head. It's all about broad, probabilistic thinking rather than a narrow predictive approach. Quantum Marketing is a way to reach anyone who could potentially buy, both in the short-term and long-term. It's also about designing creative and messaging relevant to a broader set of customers, rather than with one specific buyer in mind, and delivering that message all the time, so you never miss a moment. The key here is to manage predictability with precision and unpredictability with probabilities, by considering all potential scenarios and planning for all eventualities.
How to target current and future buyers simultaneously
Marketers need to evaluate their overall brand strategy and determine what their key objectives are. If you're looking for immediate short-term wins, then targeting current buyers could very well be a viable strategy for your brand. However, according to The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, the world's largest centre for research into marketing, only 5% of any B2B market is actively looking to purchase. Also, hyper-targeting is expensive, and if you're looking to achieve sustained growth, you'll need to invest long and measure long. This means casting a broad net that not only looks at existing key decision-makers, but also potential future buyers that can help secure long-term deals.
What's more, future buyers don't look like current prospecting buyers – the CEOs, CFOs and IT Managers of tomorrow could be working in sales or HR today. In organisations, roles, responsibilities and needs are constantly in flux. In fact, recent LinkedIn data suggests around 40% of people change their industry, seniority, function, company size or company, every four years.
Whilst hyper-targeted B2B tactics work in the short-term, they are not capable of driving long-term growth. By targeting current buyers and future buyers simultaneously, you're able to build a bigger audience that allows scope for growth and will ultimately help you build your brand. This is the quantum approach to targeting.
How brand recall creates a sustainable pipeline
Today, brand marketers are losing the budget battle with only 4% of B2B marketers measuring beyond six months. However, trends indicate that brand recall can improve activation performance, leading to higher conversion rates.
The common activation-focussed, short-sighted approach understands the buyer pipeline or funnel to be a predictable, linear path. However, it's important to remember that at the top of the funnel, buyers' minds are unpredictable. Sometimes the buyer may be aware of your brand, but then a week later, they have forgotten about it, or sometimes the buyer is about to buy, and then their budget gets cut or they find another solution and exit the funnel. Instead of focussing purely on activation or timing your marketing to coincide with specific phases of the funnel, you should adopt an 'always on' approach with top-funnel brand and bottom-funnel demand. You can run both brand and demand ads at the same time without much synchronisation and still drive exceptional performance, according to the B2B Institute, a B2B marketing effectiveness think tank, funded by LinkedIn.
One of the key benefits of investing in brand is that it can enable you to build memory structures that help to develop brand recall within your category. This produces long-term value generation as brand building pushes more than a single acquisition; it influences how customers perceive you over time and will ultimately help secure long-term sales from future buyers.
Brand is also essential when it comes to talent acquisition and retention. New figures from LinkedIn show that there was a 58% higher response rate from candidates who had been exposed to a brand's marketing.
The pitfalls of hyper-personalised creative and the pro's of broader messaging
As is the case with 'quantum targeting', 'quantum creative' needs to resonate with all potential buyers, both short and long-term. Despite there being a lot of hype around personalised creative, unless you understand people's tastes on a personal level, you cannot know for sure what creative will resonate with them.
What's more, hyper-personalisation in marketing is primarily based on assumptions. New studies suggest that most third-party data is inaccurate. Data brokers often use online browsing records to create digital consumer profiles that they sell to marketers as pre-defined audiences. However, this process is a 'black box'. Little is known about the reliability of the digital profiles created or the audience identification provided by buying platforms. The assumptions made to create such profiles are constructed and as basic maths tells us, the more assumptions we make the more likely we are to be wrong. Therefore, the data so often used for hyper-personalised messaging creative is not as reliable or accurate as we would like to believe. This is especially true when we consider the frequently changing nature of B2B, how customer behaviours can change and the unpredictability of when or at what point a decision-maker will enter the buyer funnel. If you can't predict the right message, you need broader messaging.
On a practical level, personalisation decreases the shareability of content and your brand's reach. For example, if your content is designed to target a potential buyer in a specific job role and it accidentally reaches the wrong person, it renders that piece of content ineffective. Whereas if you design your content with a broader audience in mind, even if it reaches the 'wrong person' within that industry or company, it can still be effective as it can then be shared with the relevant person.
To summarise, personalised content can never go viral. Relying on hyper-targeting or personalised content is riskier and less cost-effective than one would assume because in B2B, more accuracy does not necessarily lead to less wastage.
As marketers, we have a choice; we can choose to put our trust in predictions and invest in ever more precise marketing strategies, or we can learn to embrace the uncertainty with flexible, probabilistic thinking to get a firm grip on the chaos and understand how this impacts marketing strategy.