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There was B2B, and B2C. Now people are discussing H2H, or human-to-human. Is this legit, or just more buzzwords?

A lot of people on LinkedIn recently have been sharing different memes / blackboards / content around the idea of “H2H” marketing — meaning “human to human,” as opposed to the conventional ideas in the space, which have long included B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer). If you sit in any business school class for more than 12 minutes, you’ll hear one of those latter two terms tossed around like dough in an Italian kitchen. I went to a Land O’ Lakes recruiting event back in October 2012 and the guy running it says, “OK, so what are some different business aspects you might consider at Land O’ Lakes?” Floppy-haired MBA in the corner raises his hand and rattles ’em off: “B2B, B2C…” People nodded appreciatively.

Bryan Kramer is a thought leader in this space; his other primary job is running the PureMatter Social Agency. The basic idea is simple: B2B and B2C, as terms, have corrupted the vernacular to the point that no one is actually thinking about the end user — regardless of whether that’s another business (2B) or a consumer (2C). If you strip away all the garbage language and just think about setting up your brand, telling your story, and making a connection with your end user, that’s ideally H2H.

In general, I agree with this. I fervently believe that for all the ideas and automation software out there, marketing is really just storytelling. I also completely endorse the idea that effective communication is pretty much the key to everything — from relationships to business — and that humility is the hallmark of great leaders and communicators. I also generally believe there’s typically too many brands in a given space — not all, but most — and the only thing that can really make you stand out is (a) cost or (b) quality of service, regardless of the end user. So thinking about the “human elements” of the interaction are undoubtedly crucial.

The problem here is simple: you’re going to put this H2H toolkit in the hands of less-than-stellar managers, and the deliverables are likely to remain the same. It’s hard to measure the direct success of something as emotional-sounding as “human-to-human,” so the same conversion metrics will likely be in play, even for orgs that classify themselves as #H2H. That probably leads to more meetings and confusion about roles, responsibilities and Big Data, and the idea will return to a focus on process and product, not actually a focus on people. This is the same problem you see in attempting to develop employee engagement-type programs. If you really want to do H2H right, you need the types of people who can do H2H right — people with empathy, humility, and an ability to think beyond their specific role and deliverables. However, that’s not exactly how our recruiting system is set up, at least in America. 

My concern, then, is that while H2H is the model more organizations should be following — focus on actual people and the interactions therein, both internally and externally, will be crucially important as millennials become the dominant consumers and workers — but I’m worried it will become another buzzword-laden aspect of the business education community. Even the fact that it’s a letter-number-letter combo like B2B is setting it up for contextual failure. It needs to be presented in a different way for an average middle manager to be able to think about it in a different way. And, of course, what are the metrics that would define success in the H2H space? Would it be possible to remove the metrics from the normal quarterly focus in favor of really fostering that customer relationship?

It’s true that B2B to B2C aren’t necessarily relevant terms anymore — but it’s also true that the funnel isn’t necessarily a relevant term anymore either, and we’re still embracing that on the education side of the equation. What might need the most disruption is how we teach future business leaders to think about the core tenets of business. (News flash: it’s primarily about developing, and maintaining, strong relationships based on value-adds.)

In semi-positive news, it looks like major players such as GE are embracing it — but still defining it within previous contexts.

Ted Bauer

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