I was reading this article (link below) about hotel distribution and revenue strategy. 3 words hit me like a bolt of lighting:

"...owning the customer." 

Wow. My first reaction - as a frequent hotel customer - was that this was highly offensive. Nobody owns me, but me. The very notion of it is sickening, because in my minds eye, it conjures up images of long, slimy tentacles reaching deep into my spending habits and travel preferences. It's all about the data isn't it?

But after I'd calmed down, I realised something interesting. We're always talking in terms of B2B and B2C. In this case, hotels (and airlines) often wish to save distribution costs by cutting out the middlemen and going straight to the customers. In other words, forget channel and distribution partner strategy, and try to obtain as much native traffic as possible onto our own sites and booking platforms.

Methinks - maybe we've got this all wrong? 

Instead of "B2B" and "B2C", why don't we simply focus on "B4C" - Business FOR Customers (not the chemical formula for Boron Carbide!)?

 It's not that radical an idea if you think about it (as a consumer at least...). After all, aren't the best businesses already supremely focused on their customers, their "tribe"? Think Apple, Starbucks, Google etc. At least they say they are.

The trouble with "B2B" and "B2C" is it dims the focus on what's important: the Customer. It primarily starts with the B (Business) and then talks about the process (to) work or collaborate with the next entity (another Business or the Customer). 

And this is precisely what gives rise to an often meaningless debate around who exactly "owns the customer". 

Nobody owns the customer, except the customer. In B2B, the other business is your customer. So isn't that B2C anyway?

If we instead looked at it in terms of B4C - Business for Customers - the focus shifts subtly, but importantly to your WHY: you are in business FOR your customer. 

Then maybe, just maybe, we might start to do the following: 

1. Prioritise social engagement efforts over advertising dollars.

Hundreds of millions distrust advertising and are tuned out, or using ad-blockers. Trust in advertising is in long-term decline. Social engagement is the equivalent of earned media - done well, it is permissioned marketing. And a whopping 92% of consumers say they trust earned media above all other forms of advertising.  

How's that for "owning the customer"?

2. Encourage sales, bizdev and marketing teams to "prospect", engage and add value over social media instead of cold-calling/emailing and writing meaningless whitepapers that are little more than advertising brochures;

Effective relationship builders HATE cold-calling. Effective sales and marketing folks are effective relationship builders.  Understanding your audience, empathising and being able to deliver value are the bedrock of building trust. Cold calling does not build trust. Cold calling makes you seem needy and desperate, and frankly it destroys your status as a business equal. You might get lucky and get a sale. But beware of buyers remorse.

Don't even get me started about whitepapers; stuffed with industry jargon (to prove you know what you know) and basically an advert barely masquerading as a research piece!

3. Embrace the power and reach of social media and put it at the core of your engagement strategy (because that's increasingly how customers want to be engaged and empowered);

66% of the world's population are unique mobile users. 67% of all mobile users are social media users. Do you see nearly everyone on the train and bus glued to their mobiles? 80% of internet users worldwide are on social media. 72% of all B2B buying decisions begin on Google. 67% of B2B buyers time is spent researching their needs and potential solutions digitally. 84% of C-level executives use social media to support purchase decisions! I could go on...

Do you really need more statistics to understand why you need to embrace social media in your business strategy for customer engagement? 

4. Encourage as many members of the company as possible to start developing a stronger (professionally) personal brand online and start creating authentic, relatable content about what your brand and their work in your company means to them.

Do you want to really "own" the customer? As in - ensure that the customer thinks of you first even before Google, or any other metasearch provider? 

The 1st thing you need to own is the hearts and minds of your customers. Low prices, discounts etc. can be a good selling point. But ultimately what you want is the customer to BUY from you and feel great about that decision forever more. People will always remember how you made them feel. This isn't likely to happen through interruption marketing (aka advertising) or a whitepaper that promises the moon but delivers a postcard instead. This happens when your customer identifies themselves and their values IN you. Customers are human beings, and they relate to other human beings. Authentic, relatable, personal stories from individuals in your team will accomplish this without a shadow of a doubt. 

The 2nd thing you need to do is realise that quality and quantity of content created in-house by your team and distributed on the right social channels will *always* trump paid advertising. And it will dominate SEO regardless of algorithmic changes. And it will be qualitatively far superior to anything you could commission from a 3rd party. And it will be a fraction of the cost your agency will charge. And...

Do I really need to go on?

I love rainy Friday afternoons, sitting on my sofa with my coffee and getting brainwaves like these. I'd love to hear back from you about your thoughts on B4C.

And remember, you read it here first. 

p.s. Now, go own your customer!