Appreciating Face to Face for B2B: what history shows us about marketing.

In the contemporary business landscape, "networking" is a powerful buzzword.And for good reason.“Networking” encapsulates a human phenomenon as old as time - building connections and fostering collaborations between individuals and businesses more broadly.Albeit less relied upon than ever before in human history, Face-to-Face (F2F) marketing remains a timeless cornerstone of human dealings and while it has undergone significant transformations over the years, the fundamental concept of human connectivity is still deeply rooted in business interactions.That said, I believe that the business world of today stands at a fork in the road.With incredible technological advancements and remote connectivity capabilities, there’s nothing that would prevent us as a collective from leaving behind the practice of Face-to-Face marketing and going all in on the digital businessworld from here on out.The question is, should we?While all of these new technologies and virtual business capabilities are powerful and convenient – and certainly have their role to play in commerce going forward – it’s important that business practise doesn’t just all-in default to what’s new, “just because”.That means that there is no easy answer.So, to shed some light on the path moving forward, I believe it’s necessary to first look back on the long and rich history of face-to-face marketing to understand how, and more importantly why it became such a staple in our business societies.Is face-to-face marketing a necessity? Or was it simply the best option that we had until technology came along and superseded it?I truly believe that without taking a deep dive into the past, there is no way to answer that question in good faith for the future.So, before we decide to tear down a rich history of face-to-face marketing, let us first ask: why did it exist in the first place?Join me in this reflective journey as I work to unravel the threads that weave together the past, present, and future of business relationships, and seek to discover the role and relevance of face-to-face interactions in the modern B2B landscape.Face-to-face communication: the ancient thread of human connection.Putting marketing aside for a moment, it’s important to recognise that face-to-face interactions are encoded in the very fabric of our human existence.Much more than a mere communication tool, face-to-face interactions are an integral part of the human story; so much so that there may be no human story at all without an ability to communicate interpersonally.From the earliest days of human history, survival was intricately tied to the ability to form personal connections, manage relationships, tell stories and form ordered tribes and societies.In the primeval world, direct, in-person communication was not just a choice; it was a survival tool borne out of necessity.Seated around the communal fire, our ancestors thrived through shared stories and developed an innate ability to:

  • read facial expressions,
  • interpret body language, and
  • exchange information,

all to facilitate cooperation and ensure the collective well-being of the community.In essence, face-to-face interactions and communication have been the cornerstone of human evolution, shaping the very social fabric that continues to bind us together.Both then, as it does now, face-to-face communication played a pivotal role in the development of culture, empathy and understanding, and without it, none of us would be here today.[Photo]Face-to-face commerce: a defining feature of the Medieval era.Over time, the ancient world of communicating tribes and hunter-gatherers morphed into the Medieval Period (500 CE to 1500 CE). As enormous civilisations emerged, the marketplace became a bustling hub for face-to-face exchanges, where:

  • merchants negotiated deals,
  • artisans showcased their crafts, and
  • communities converged around the basis of trade.

In the bustling marketplaces of this era, the exchange of goods was not just a simple series of transactions; it was a collection of human interactions and face-to-face communication was right at the very centre.During this time, markets served as the epicentres of commerce.These markets were a vibrant social arena where buyers and sellers navigated the intricacies of commerce through spoken words and visible gestures. Attributes of:

  • trust,
  • deceit,
  • charisma, and
  • persuasion

continued to develop and eventually became catalysts for the evolution of medieval marketing strategies, branding, and market regulation.Ultimately, as these medieval market squares became bustling hubs of information and goods exchange, face-to-face communication played an essential role in developing reputations, forging alliances, and sustaining economic relationships just as it does today.And it was when communication failed that disaster struck.

  • War
  • Poverty
  • Violence
  • Conquest
  • Civil Unrest

all emerged.This is to say that in a far less regulated, far more chaotic, and perhaps even barbarous time, the most important factor in maintaining not just market order but social order was our innate ability as humans to communicate productively face-to-face – and nothing has changed.As the consequences of miscommunication became increasingly devastating, our ancestors’ time around the communal fire developing the basics of human connection and conversation became increasingly more important.Face-to-face communication during the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution.From the Medieval era emerged the Renaissance or “rebirth” era which spanned from the 14th to the 17th century. A period of transition from a Medieval to a Modern World, this time was marked by a revival of classical learning and wisdom, particularly in Italy and surrounding European countries.In the Renaissance, merchants and artisans continued to rely heavily on personal interactions to promote their goods and services just as they did in the medieval period; only, business interactions became increasingly globalised and developed.Face-to-face interactions also allowed the spreading of culture and ideas across Europe and other developed parts of the world.The central marketplace continued as a vibrant social hub where individuals engaged in direct negotiations, fostered relationships and built trust through in-person interactions until all of this cooperation and innovation culminated into an incredible phenomenon…The Industrial Revolution.As the Industrial Revolution unfolded in the 18th and 19th centuries, face-to-face marketing became more vital than ever.And so did business more broadly.In this era of rapid technological advancement that was not unlike our world today, the invention of factories and mass production lines brought about a surge in goods, and with it, face-to-face business interactions became instrumental in navigating an increasingly competitive marketplace.Salesmanship and interpersonal skills became highly sought after as businesses pursued new ways to:

  • market their ideas,
  • differentiate their products, and
  • establish brand loyalty.

Amidst this hyper-competitive landscape, the businesses that could best manage their people and their human interactions soared while those that isolated themselves were left out of the market.While the invention of the printing press and other forms of media did begin to ease humanity's reliance on in-person conversations, face-to-face marketing remained a cornerstone for the exchange of ideas, innovation, and commerce during this time.Ultimately, the connections forged through direct interpersonal engagement were the real drivers behind economic growth during this time fostering a sense of connectivity and community.The importance of face-to-face marketing during these hyper-transformative periods demonstrates the enduring significance of human connection in shaping the course of history and the development of business and commerce.So, as business owners who find themselves amidst the new revolution of today – the Technological Revolution – it’s important to consider…What have we learned from the past that can tell us about the future of marketing?It’s never been easier to escape face-to-face interactions.Thanks to the advancement of digital technologies over a few short decades, the need to be in earshot of another human being to communicate with them has become unnecessary, at least in the sense of a scientific or first principle.However, I firmly believe that in a practical and functional sense, face-to-face marketing and business communications are more required than ever before.Yep, that’s even despite the rise of AI.For thousands of years, humans had no choice but to interact face-to-face.While that is no longer technically a necessity, it’s worth noting that, like it or not, we humans have evolved to suit these forms of interactions and are perhaps even reliant on the nuances they provide.Whether it’s:

  • Body language (which accounts for 55% of communications)
  • Vocal tone and nuance (which accounts for 38% of communications)

We social creatures thrive best when we are in the presence of other humans and so do our businesses.So, to those who say “out with the old” I disagree.And to those who say “out with the new” I also disagree. Instead, I believe we must find and pursue a balance between age-old face-to-face interactions and the new technological advancements that have helped us become more interconnected than ever before.Think of like more holistic marketing approach.One day, you post on LinkedIn, the next, you’re at a local business event. The following, you send an email, the next, you’re attending an industry conference.If you agree with me (or even disagree), I’d like to invite you to read my next article in this two-part series, “How to Thrive in the Golden Age of Today’s Marketing”, where I dive deeper into this point and explore the need for harmony between the old and the new.

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