Blog 6 minutes

Evidence-based marketing tips for B2B companies

Camille Collins
May 26, 2021
Marketing professional looking for marketing tips for their company

Evidence-based marketing can be extremely useful for B2B companies that may not necessarily get the same volume of customers or web traffic as B2C companies. Read on to learn more about evidence-based marketing, practical tips that you can easily apply and how to stay up-to-date with the latest evidence-based marketing tips and trends.

For our podcast, The E-Commerce Talk, we interviewed Thomas McKinlay, marketer and founder of the evidence-based marketing platform Ariyh, to learn more about evidence-based marketing for B2B companies.

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What is evidence-based marketing?

Catharina Mensak: Evidence-based marketing is a type of marketing where a company makes use of statistics, research trends, industry practices and customer interviews to prove that a product or service works.

Samantha Post: It’s important to remember this as we dive into the conversation today. So, with that being said, I’m very excited to introduce today’s guest, Thomas McKinlay. He’s the founder of Ariyh, a start-up that provides marketing tips based on the latest research from top-based schools. I won’t go into too much about Thomas or Ariyh, because I’d like to give him the opportunity to introduce himself and talk a bit more. Thomas, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thomas McKinlay: Thank you so much for having me, Samantha and Catharina. Let me tell you a little bit about myself and how I started Ariyh. A few years ago, the start-up I was working at was struggling with its marketing. So, I decided to go back to study a master’s in marketing at Rotterdam School of Management, which is part of Erasmus University. This is a very research-oriented university which is what I believe makes it one of the best programs in the world of marketing. Here, I was exposed to marketing discoveries that had just been released maybe one month earlier, and these just kept blowing my mind.

It could be small things like how the order of questions in a survey changes customer satisfaction or bigger things like the huge impact of a physical store on digital sales of your company. And I kept thinking, “this is gold, where was this research when I needed it in my job?” There were so many times where this could have made our marketing and sales more effective.

At the end of my studies, I got an offer to join the Google Ads marketing team in London. It was there that my realization really sunk in. Google is a very data-driven company, but even there we didn’t have an easy way to stay up-to-date with the latest research that was happening outside the company.

Sure, there were trainings, talks and conferences, but the research presented there is usually several years old and maybe only covers a very specific topic. So, two years later I decided I would take matters into my own hands.

I spoke with almost 100 different marketers at companies like Google, Facebook and Booking.com. I spoke with marketing agency owners and professors at business schools all around the world. I was trying to find out, “Is this a problem only I’m having, or is it a widespread problem?” It turns out, it is a widespread problem. And that’s when I decided to launch Ariyh.

Ariyh is where I publish marketing recommendations based on the most useful and latest research. Each recommendation is a three-minute summary of the specific research paper, and it clearly explains what this means for you, how you can implement it to boost your business and cover some limitations, and maybe what other companies are doing in that field at the moment.

I launched it one month ago and the response has been amazing to date.

Consumer rituals in marketing

Samantha Post: That’s awesome. Before we dive too deep into the conversation today, this is purely just a curiosity question: What was the most surprising piece of information or research you found while you were doing your studying?

Thomas McKinlay: That’s a good question, it’s actually one of the ones that I read when I was still studying, and it’s about people who follow a ritual. Let’s say you’re pouring a Belgian beer. There’s a certain way to pour it: You need to pause depending on the glass and the bottle.

For products that have rituals that people perform before they consume them. People love that. They love the product much more. They’re willing to pay much more for that product. This doesn’t only happen for something that’s tasty, like beer or chocolate. It also happened for carrots.

The research found that people were enjoying carrots 30% more if they perform the ritual before eating a carrot. I think that’s pretty mind-blowing, to be honest.

Samantha Post: I wonder what the ritual of eating the carrot would be like. I wonder if it’s peeling it or whatever it might be, but that’s extremely interesting to me.

I’m going to have to take note of which products I gravitate toward to see if there’s something that has to be performed ahead of time as to why I’m attracted to it.

The importance of evidence-based marketing for B2B companies

Catharina Mensak: Let’s dive in more: What is the importance of evidence-based marketing for B2B companies?

Thomas McKinlay: I actually think that evidence-based marketing is even more important for B2B companies than B2C companies in many ways. That’s because, B2C companies tend to have the luxury of thousands of customers, millions of transactions. This gives them the sort of data that they can analyze, find insights quite rapidly and test things quite easily.

B2B companies don’t necessarily have that. You’ll have few customers, and you don’t have that volume of data. You could instead rely more on this research and on these insights that are produced by the best professors and scientists around the world, who go and study other companies or perform experiments to find out some inherent, consumer behaviors, which then you can apply to your company.

Catharina Mensak: Have you had any feedback from companies that are using your services yet? Or heard of the benefits it’s delivered to them so far?

Thomas McKinlay: I started only one month ago. For now, I’ve had a few people who are reading my tips who have also started testing there to see if they work for their company.

I do recommend always testing if possible before you implement. To B2B companies, as we were saying, testing might be a little bit more difficult. If it’s not a big deal of a change, you can risk it and just implement it. For now, I know that quite a few people are testing things, but I haven’t seen the results yet.

$0, at no cost or free?

Samantha Post: Speaking of your website and your tips: I saw that you use, or you have this idea of using, “$0” rather than the term “free.” Mainly because it has the potential to increase conversion rates regardless of what you’re attempting to convert.

So, could you maybe elaborate on that research a bit more and share some other potential insights that may be interesting to our listeners?

Thomas McKinlay: One hundred percent. That’s a really good example, Samantha. And that’s in small, easy tweak that drives impact for your business. This was actually a Korean study from last year.

They found that if you use “$0” or “€0” or even “at no cost” (instead of “free”) when you’re writing your ads, promotions or describing things on your website, people are more likely to choose that. For example, you could say to a customer sign up to a one-year exclusive contract and receive priority delivery and support at no cost, instead of “for free.”

They’ll be more likely to sign up to that, than the free version. You could also use it for lead generation. For example, “get this e-book about the top trends in your industry for €0.” Why does this work? It’s because of a human behavior that we have that’s called loss aversion.

Loss aversion means that we would rather not lose something than gain something. When you say, “at €0” or “no cost,” you are reminding people that they’re not going to lose money and that’s more powerful than gaining something, even if that something is for free.

Show your service employees on your website

Thomas McKinlay: There’s another example that is a small tweak but can be pretty powerful and this is: You should show your service employees on your website. This is especially important for B2B companies where your employees often interact one-to-one with your customers.

There was a study done at KEDGE Business School in France and the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. They found that when you show employees on your website who regularly interact with your customers, for example, your account managers or your delivery drivers, customers will think more highly of you.

Why does this happen? We actually don’t know a hundred percent for sure. We just know that it does. We know that the fact that the employees are on the website makes people think that they will be more competent. Customers expect that you will deliver a higher quality of service, so they’re more likely to choose you.

What should you do? Put pictures of real employees that work with customers, with their names and their descriptions on your website. Remove those stock photos that you probably have.

And, if you’re not using pictures at all on your website, please revamp as soon as possible. The research shows those really work in converting.

Samantha Post: I just find this extremely fascinating that the connotation of the word “free” makes us not gravitate toward it. That’s so interesting.

And I can certainly understand the human element of putting a face to a name. A lot of these people just want to buy from people, or they want to do business with people, not necessarily with the company. So that makes a hundred percent sense to me.

Catharina Mensak: This type of research is really useful to boost B2B companies’ business growth, right?

Thomas McKinlay: Yeah, one hundred percent. These are facts that are proven by some of the best marketing researchers in the world. You would need to spend a lot of money to hire a team of these people, but you’re getting it with your tax money for free. And these are things that you can easily implement and change, but there’s also more complex research that, that you could also try.

Zero-inventory experience stores

Thomas McKinlay: Another example was research from this summer from Harvard and Wharton Business School. They measured the effects of a physical, zero-inventory experience store on your online sales. A zero-inventory store tends to be a small experience store that customers can visit to view, touch or maybe even try your products.

It’s a flagship store, but smaller and you can’t actually buy anything right there and have it be delivered to you, making them cheaper to build and maintain. They found that people who visited such a store would later spend 60% more on average when they were buying online, and they bought 30% more often. They also tried products from more categories and they’re much less likely to return items.

If you’re thinking about whether to create a physical presence or already have one and you’re thinking of ways to modify it, definitely keep in mind using zero-inventory stores to boost your online sales.

Samantha Post: It’s like a try-before-you-buy kind of model, right?

Thomas McKinlay: Yeah, exactly. People will then be more comfortable buying. An example of this in B2C is people trying on clothes. But this idea also works in B2B. People can view and use the equipment to get the right feel for it. They can ask themselves “Would that fit?” Even just holding on to something makes you more attached to it. So, this can make people more comfortable with a brand.

Catharina Mensak: Would this also be useful for companies trying to launch a product to study if this product is even a fit for them?

Thomas McKinlay: Yeah, that’s a really good point as well. This could be another way to test people’s interest in the market.

Why don’t more B2B companies adopt evidence-based marketing?

Samantha Post: Clearly academic research is extremely useful as we’ve just talked about in a couple of different facets, but why do you think companies haven’t adopted it at such a high rate?

Thomas McKinlay: Great question and this is also something I’ve asked myself for a long time.

I think it boils down to two main things:

  1. The first reason is that academic research and marketing practice are two very different worlds. I found that only about 2% of the 10,000 marketing research papers that are published each year are really impactful for us.
    Marketers and researchers speak in different terms and words. Researchers often use 30 pages to explain one simple concept. On the one hand, this is great because it shows how strong and rigorous the research is. For example, if a different company publishes a survey, you may not really know why or where that data came from. Well, here you do. On the other hand, nobody has the time to read all that and interpret it — especially when they’re working on something else. This is something that I’m trying to change now with Ariyh.
  2. The second reason is a bias we have as people. In business, we tend to focus on insights that are very specific to our own company or industry. We tend to discard insights that are generalized across other industries and companies — even though that’s maybe the wrong thing to do because it could be applicable to us. We’re always looking for that data inside instead of outside. And this is something that is harder to change, but I’m hoping that over time perceptions will change and we’ll be more accepting of the research that is out there.

How to use evidence-based marketing for your B2B company

Samantha Post: With clients and people that you’ve worked with thus far, what are your tips for them in terms of getting started with utilizing this research for their company?

Thomas McKinlay: See what is out there. If you’re a big enough company you might want to hire a behavioral scientist or an actual researcher that is up-to-date with all the latest research. You could even try it on a consultancy basis and they’ll bring you up to speed.

If you’re a smaller company or you’re still not sure, you could try Ariyh, which I’m trying to make into a resource where you can easily find this sort of research. Of course, you can find some research Harvard Business Review as well.

Just try it, try testing it. You know, if you see something that works in another industry, instead of shutting it off right away and thinking “that will never work for me,” why not test it? That’s lower-hanging fruit than just going and trying out something that is a gut feeling or that your data science team will need to try and figure out in three months’ time. Just try it, especially if it’s an easy fix.

Catharina Mensak: You said that researchers always put everything in more complicated terms to understand. Are you also working together with researchers to make it easier?

Thomas McKinlay: That’s a good question. It’s something that, longer-term, maybe I could. I do see myself collaborating closer with researchers. But right now, I tend to translate it myself. For example, I use terms that I know we use in marketing and our day to day instead of using the acronyms that the researchers have created, which could be five different acronyms in a new paper. I’ll translate these terms or research papers into what it actually comes down to so that we can really understand it easily and apply it ourselves.

Samantha Post: Can you walk us through the process of how you go about translating or getting to this point for your company?

Thomas McKinlay: I went in and out of work and academia. I was also a research assistant at Erasmus University. That helped because even as a research assistant, I was helping professors translate the research into what would maybe become a Harvard Business Review article or a book. It’s something that over time becomes easier. I’ve been able to translate these into what we use in our day to day.

In terms of process, I go through all the research that comes out in different journals. I select the highest-ranked journals in marketing, psychology, various fields of behavioral science and neuroscience. I go through them and I see if that research could be applicable to us marketers and if it’s something practically useful for us.

Then I check to see if it is generalizable enough. For example, is it only for a very, very specific industry in Hong Kong? Maybe that’s a bit too limited, right? I try to find research that is more general. From here, I select a few papers, which I summarize and translate into short, bite-sized recommendations and publish them on Ariyh.

Consumer behavior amidst disruption

Samantha Post: Have you come across any research recently that due to the pandemic could help companies who have had to transition from a purely brick-and-mortar store to having to go fully digital right now?

Thomas McKinlay: In terms of the transition to digital, not necessarily at the moment. I’m sure it’s going to come out soon. I did find a very interesting research paper recently that tells us that customers, people, all of us we’re going through big changes right now that also happen normally. For example, say you lose your job or you change your home, you need to adapt your budget, right? If you lose your job temporarily, you’ll need to reduce the amount you spend and need to cut down on things. This piece of research found that when people downsize their budgets like this, you definitely want to try and be one of the brands that stay with these people.

When customers have undergone big changes, for example, start a new job and their budget returns to normal, they will stay with that limited subset of brands that they had chosen when they downsized. Not only that, but they will start spending more with these same brands, rather than going back to the old ones that they had abandoned or even spending with new ones again.

What does this mean especially for a B2B business? Let’s say that you have a contract right now with a hotel that is not doing well because tourism is obviously not in great shape right now. Maybe accept the fact that they’ll pay you less or suspend their payments to you. But you should still try to keep them as a customer, even though they’re not actively paying you for now.

This way, when their budget returns to normal, they will spend even more than they did before on you.

Using Facebook ads as a B2B company

Catharina Mensak: I recently saw research regarding what makes people share Facebook video ads. I think this is quite important now in B2B because people are getting more into Facebook ads due to the pandemic. The research showed that you need social-related elements in your ads to get people to click on them. Could you elaborate on that kind of research?

Thomas McKinlay: Yeah! So, this research only covers Facebook ads and organic posts from companies, not content that friends have posted. The research shows that people are unlikely to share Facebook ads in the first place. We kind of intuitively know this as well. One of the only ways that you can get them to share these is if there is a reason for them socially.

Prompts that spark users to share Facebook ads:

  • “Is this a way for me to make friends?”
  • “I’m part of this community and this video ad reminds me of that community: I can relate to this.”
  • “Can I send this to a friend and say, ‘Hey, this reminds me of you.’?”

Shareable Facebook ads could also be ads that are altruistic, meaning they make you think of the good in other people, and how you might want to help other people. Those types of ads also work well.

What’s interesting about this research, which was mainly in Japan, is that this would never have been discovered by a typical business because they used fMRI machines to do brain scans for this neuroscience-based research. One of these fMRI machines costs $5 million. Universities have these for medical research. Marketing departments get to use them whenever they want for their neuroscience experiments, and we can benefit from these findings.

But almost no company would be able to afford research like that, even a neuroscience research company.

Catharina Mensak: Wow. That’s really mind-blowing.

Samantha Post: I love the idea of tapping into the idea of neuroscience and how the brain works and then putting it toward marketing initiatives.

There’s also a part of me that feels non-ethical about it: You’re tapping into, somebody’s true way of being in order to sell them something. And that to me is, I don’t know, sometimes I question it.

Thomas McKinlay: Yeah, I admit that it can be a bit scary.

Catharina Mensak: That’s how they’ve made you eat cereal in the morning, Samantha — it’s all marketing!

Samantha Post: Everything is marketing, I’ve noticed. Well, Thomas, thank you so much for joining the show today and teaching our listeners about Ariyh and evidence-based marketing. If our listeners want to find out any more about you or your company, where can they go?

Thomas McKinlay: Thanks so much, Samantha and Catharina. It was a pleasure being here. Thanks for inviting me. If you want to know more, you can visit Ariyh.com. Ariyh stands for academic research in your hands. On the website, you can sign up to receive two new marketing tips in your inbox each week, at no cost. On a Tuesdays it’s research that was published a month before and on Thursdays it’s research that was published in the last several months or even years (kind of like “throwback Thursdays”). Thanks for listening, and have a great day!

Catharina Mensak: Thank you so much. You’ve definitely gained more people on your email list. Definitely me and Samantha for sure! Thank you.

As always, if you have any questions on today’s episode, or if you’d like to hear more from one of our speakers, feel free to reach out to us at ecommercetalk@sana-commerce.com. Don’t forget to subscribe to The E-Commerce Talk on Spotify or your podcast player of choice so you never miss an episode.

Samantha Post: Until next time!

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