Why the shipping industry needs to lead the way in B2B marketing over the next decade

Account-Based Marketing
Lead Generation
B2B Market Research

When it comes to B2B marketing there are certain industries that take the limelight.

The likes of Fintech, Telco and Cyber Security have dominated the scene thanks to a raft of innovative and rapidly changing businesses who have a constant stream of new things to shout about.

Lurking in the shadows though is an industry that not only underpins the whole global economy, but is slowly turning into the most exciting sector of them all (and most importantly full of brands who should be doing the most interesting, groundbreaking marketing).

A change is in the sea air

Shipping, the industry that sits as the backbone of the global economy with its finger in the pie of 90% of global trade and responsible for moving 95% of goods that we use on a daily basis, is emerging as a rapidly changing sector - underpinned by innovation, technological change and a shift in attitude of its leaders.

It’s had a troubled recent history. During the first half of this decade, the vast majority of the big players were highly unprofitable - struggling to bounce back from the financial crisis, facing fierce pricing competition and feeling the painful hangover of over-supply with forecast demand failing to materialise.

But things are back on the up for the industry - not only has an increase in trade helped boost the coffers, leaders of large businesses are opening their minds to new technology and the need for innovation. This sentiment was reflected in a recent roundtable attended by Lloyd’s Register, the UK Chamber of Shipping and a number of emerging tech companies in which they discussed how Maritime cannot resist digital change any longer.

The healthy scepticism around digital transformation that has held thinking back for so long is fading away and, as the big players realise that technological change isn’t about cutting costs but about transforming business, an appetite for progression has emerged.

A quote from the roundtable, “I didn’t have to understand blockchain to understand its advantages”, reflects this shift in thinking within the shipping world.

The opportunities of a changing mind set

This change in perception has opened it up to becoming such a fascinating sector, one that’s bursting to life with new players that are leading the charge.

There are the likes of Blockfreight who has built an end-to-end blockchain solution for “bill of lading” access by all entities in the supply chain, Xeneta who is leading the way in promoting transparent ocean freight pricing through its crowdsourced price comparison service, and Kontainers who is being dubbed the “Expedia of shipping”.

And there’s more of a shake up coming round the corner. Thanks to commitments to make shipping greener, big players like Rolls-Royce have unveiled a concept fleet of self-driving drone ships which could be set to launch by 2020.

Which brings us back to why we think the shipping industry should be leading the way in B2B marketing in the next decade.

The shifting attitudes and influx of innovation and new technologies should be underpinned, supported and celebrated with some great B2B marketing.

New tech players entering the market will have to show differentiation in their product and get their story straight to show customers they can be central to changing their business model - while at the same time doing the tricky job of ditching jargon and being true to the tradition of the industry.

Traditional partners, including the likes of large insurers, will need to update their brands and websites to stay relevant and at the cutting edge, while also running campaigns that show them to be keeping up with the new players in the market.

And the big shipping companies, the likes of Maersk, Evergreen Marine and ONE will need to focus on communicating in the clearest and more creative way how they are the people who can add value, keep your cargo safe and be the real innovators in their space (who are leaps ahead of the competition).

On a more specific level, there is a huge opportunity to do something really interesting in this space, for example...

Own being the storytellers

As an industry that touches everyone in the world, there are endless stories of human interest just waiting to be told - from the journey on the seas (see Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George) to the businesses reliant on shipping to keep running. Some people are doing a great job - Maersk, for example, do this particularly well through their social channels but others need to follow suit.

Own simplifying the complex

Shipping is certainly a complex industry - made up of a huge number of suppliers in different parts of the supply chain. Digital experiences could be used to bring complex processes to life - for example an interactive website exploring the life of a cargo container or using VR to enable someone to explore the ins and outs of a ship at a trade show.

Own tackling the big issues

There are a number of hot topics in shipping at the moment that businesses could own and tackle - whether it’s a push to go green and show that shipping can help build the world economy without destroying the earth, through to the issue of mental health problems within some parts of the industry (more than a quarter of seafarers suffer from depression and nearly six per cent of deaths at sea are attributable to suicide) someone flying the flag for change will  be better placed to win hearts and minds.

Own best practice in customer experience (CX)

Shipping is an incredibly traditional (some might say old school) industry that is built and developed on personal relationships. Brands within the sector need to reflect and develop those traditions within their marketing and most importantly throughout their online experiences that shows they have one foot in the future with the other in the past.

Who’s up to the challenge?

It’s clear the whole industry is bursting with potential and calling out for creativity, especially at a time when more local production is threatening the size of the industry and the likes of Amazon is moving into the space to own the whole logistics chain. We can’t wait to see who steps up to the mark and joins the fintechs and telcos in showing us what great, effective B2B marketing looks like.

Chris Wilson is Managing Director of Earnest - the agency born to drive out the humdrum in B2B marketing