B2B marketing lessons from Brexit

3rd July 2016

A few days after the EU referendum in the UK, I was in a taxi on my way to the airport. And as with every conversation over the past week, the cabbie and I talked about the vote and its aftermath. The cabbie told me that he had voted Leave, but would have been happy enough to remain as part of the EU. That his vote was more about a political establishment he felt was completely disconnected from what really mattered to him.

I’m just a humble marketer, not a political analyst, economist or historian. But of all the conversations I’ve had following the referendum, this one with the cabbie has stayed with me. Because I can’t help wondering if this referendum was more a vote against rather than a vote for something that was never quite defined.

Which, since my world revolves around marketing, made me look at both the Leave and Remain campaigns in the context of what I believe are 2 critical lessons:

Listen =>

Are we really listening to our customers?

I never believed that Leave would win the vote. And it appears that no one in the political establishment did either. Weren’t we listening? Or were we only hearing what we wanted to hear? Even those leading the Leave campaign were publicly quoted on the day of the vote that they expected to lose. For months, everyone has known the vote would be close, but it seems to me that no one really understood or even questioned the dynamic that was at work here. Long before the actual vote it should have been troubling that the country was effectively split down the middle.

Similarly, I attended a marketing roundtable last month that discussed how well we know our customers in B2B. And the consensus was ‘yes, we’re listening’, but:

  • Mostly to find out if our customers have heard what we’re saying, and/or
  • To validate our own point of view.

Furthermore, according to the B2B Marketing High Performance Benchmarking report which I commented on last month, up to half of high-performing marketers and fully 80% of the rest do not understand their target customer.

How can we achieve an outcome, whether in politics or business, unless we really understand what’s important to our stakeholders? And understanding involves listening.

Emotion =>

What really drives our decisions?

We are emotional beings. From my perspective, this referendum was less about facts and more to do with emotions, on both sides. Immigration versus the economy, both emotional hot buttons. And though it was close, the Leave campaign quite simply polarised their emotional territory far better than Remain. We can argue about veracity or ethics, but I believe it was emotion that swung the outcome of the vote.

In B2B we still haven’t really gotten to grips with emotion as driving the decision-making process. We get so caught up in what our organisations sell that we lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve, which is ultimately about engaging with our customers in meaningful ways. Emotion provides the foundation and the context for that meaning; and it’s not about the products or services we sell, but about the big issues that are important and personal to our customers.

What’s personal to me

There are other lessons, of course, that we can and should learn – about authenticity, about trust, about perception versus actuality. But that’s for another blog.

For now, as marketers do, I’ve used a current hot topic to reinforce a couple of points I want to make around B2B marketing. But, I certainly don’t want to imply that I am minimising the impact that Brexit will invariably have. I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next weeks, months and years. But beyond the outcome of the referendum and its resulting effects, I can’t help feeling that our politicians have let all of us down in some fundamental ways. As a country and as an economy, I have no choice but to believe we’ll be all right. It’s this nagging feeling of regret and sorrow that will continue to haunt me for some time to come.


Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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