To Become a Tech Titan, You’ve Got to Build a Tribe

coupaMarketing is the science of emotional connections. As the great Al Ries and Jack Trout famously said, the marketing battle doesn’t happen in the physical domain; it happens in the “mind of the buyer.”

As consumers, when we buy products or services beyond those that serve our basic needs, we’re not buying the physical manifestation of those products. We’re buying our emotional connection to them.

  • We drive BMW because of our emotional connection to the attribute “the ultimate driving machine”.
  • We run with Nike because of our emotional connection to the attributes “athleticism” and “winning”.
  • We fly Virgin Atlantic because of our emotional connection to the attribute “customer service”.

In B2B marketing, however, while we still must make emotional connections, these emotional connections must be created not through our personal wants, but through building professional tribes. After all, network routers, middleware, and ERP software are not the needs and wants we wake up in the morning yearning for at an emotive level.

At the same time, business tools and technologies enable us to perform our jobs better and advance our careers and professional reputations, which for many of us are emotive needs beyond merely securing a regular paycheck.

B2B Marketing and the Importance of Building Tribes

Over the years, B2B marketing has gone through a major evolution. In the early days of technology marketing, just having the “check the box” features was enough. Companies offering software products were selected based on simply solving the needs of the business. Purchasers generally were emotionally detached from these decisions or selected technology from the most well-known brands.

Yet trust in a B2B brand and purchase, despite seeming logical (based on how many quadrants the company appeared on and what features the product offers), is often just as emotional a decision as it is a rational one. This has provided marketers with an opportunity to build tribes throughout the history of technology marketing. From Evangelistic Marketing to Educational Marketing, to what I refer to today as Community Intelligence – the concept of tribe building today has become more important than ever.

The Force of a Dream: The Rise of Evangelistic Marketing

In 1999, Salesforce changed the face of B2B marketing forever. Marc Benioff saw the opportunity to not only move Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to the cloud but also to build a tribe of innovators centered around being part of an up-and-coming brand.

I had a great vantage point to see the playbook in action when I was at Cast Iron Systems. Cast Iron was one of Salesforce’s top partners and lead generators at Dreamforce, the CRM giant’s annual conference, during these formative years. For Marc and team, the customer experience was less about forcing the latest features and more about creating the Big Dream by aligning with the moment’s topic de jour!

Whether it was On Demand, SaaS, Cloud, Social, or even the Arab Summer, Marc and team aligned the Salesforce story to the relevant theme of the time and brilliantly created the feeling that they were ‘skating where the puck was going’, and you were going to be left behind if you didn’t get on this tribal train.

The Evolution of Educational Marketing

Although Evangelistic Marketing to build a tribe still works in B2B, with the rise of many cloud players and voices, it became much harder to establish one’s brand and tribe through purely these efforts.

In 2006, just two years after Salesforce’s IPO, marketing automation leader Marketo was born, where years later I had the pleasure of serving as CMO. Long before my joining, the founders were not only building a revolutionary marketing automation platform, they were focused on building a tribe through a focus on a new type of B2B marketing.

Educational Marketing took center stage at Marketo – with an immediate focus on writing content in the form of blog posts and ebooks – to educate a community of marketers on a new way to market to customers. The company wrote its first blog even before we released our first product. And the focus was simple – how can we teach demand generation marketers to stay relevant and become experts without over promoting the products. The seed of “teaching” to create a tribe was planted early and germinated the larger concept of the Marketing Nation, which today makes up more than 60,000 global marketers!

Marketing Today: Building Your Tribe with Collective Wisdom

Evangelistic and Educational Marketing are still the lead strategies behind marketing efforts at many B2B startups and established companies today. However, it becomes harder and harder to build a tribe in an ever-crowded marketplace.

In B2C, many products drive adoption, conversion, and retention by leveraging the power of collective wisdom. Popular B2C products such as Waze leverage this collective wisdom – or community intelligence to create a tribe of loyal users. Waze pulls in data from users both by automatically collecting this information and allowing users to submit detailed information that would be helpful to other users via crowdsourcing. In the same fashion, B2B companies today are turning to data and community intelligence to build tribes within their products.

This principle must be shaped as part of a brand’s product offering. For us at Coupa, we analyze billions of dollars of spend data at an aggregate level using AI to enable our customers with insights (around item pricing, supplier ratings, expense fraud, and many more) relative to the performance of the entire community. And these insights are provided instantly as part of users’ daily experience.

With Community Intelligence, every member of the tribe is benefiting from the collective intelligence, and the next tribe member will be smarter than the previous due to this ever-expanding dataset.

The Past and Future of B2B Marketing: Building Your Tribe

Ultimately, how you build your tribe must align with the value of your product or service.

While you can start cementing tribal feeling with your customers when you reach a certain critical mass of customers, you need to start seeding this vision into your marketing and product journey in the early stages of growth. Otherwise, it will be too late and hard to catch up.

As a B2B software company, only a Tribe can make you a Titan in today’s customer-driven world.

Also Read: Mastering Customer Experience in the Era of the Empowered Consumer

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