I was tempted to write a list of seven or so ideas on the differences between B2B and B2C marketing. Traditionally there’ve been several, but in 2013 (and soon 2014) I think there’s only one, albeit with seven or more consequences and considerations.
It’s important that we recognize the shift in how similar B2B and B2C have become. The method by which people find information has largely become the same, thanks to computing technology and of course Google’s drive to make vast information searchable on every level. Whereas B2C was traditionally led by outbound broadcast and press tactics — and B2B by outbound direct mail and sales calls — we’re seeing an always on consumer now searching online and leading the charge for information, creating an inbound approach from the perspective of both B2C and B2B marketers. This starts to reveal a common set of planning imperatives that we’ve outlined below.
What remains the real difference then?
It’s the number of decision makers and influencers involved in the sales and marketing process. The nature of influencing a purchase decision in an individual or household is of course more obvious and directed in B2C, whereas in B2B we have hierarchies and people in decision chains. Though the same B2B decision makers are as emotional and irrational as they are at home, it matters that there are so many of them in one chain. It sounds simple, but it’s not. The reality is that there’s not a uniform B2B hierarchy that we can expect either. These differ by market, and most of all by business size. It’s OK though, since it’s about employing key observations on strategic planning.
1. Product or service explanation
Some might say that B2B products and services require a lot more detail than B2C. I’d suggest the specific insight here is that those products and services require explanatory content in variable levels of detail and format for more audience types at different stages of the buying cycle. This makes it a longer planning process, with more variables to consider. For example, the requirements of a Finance Director at the closing stages of the sales process are wildly different to those of the Sales Director who becomes motivated to short-list the product initially.
2. B2B is naturally more targeted
Thankfully, there appears to be a little more common sense for customer targeting in B2B, something that we’d hope would exist in B2C, where the attention is more sporadic and possibly distracted with vague ideas of viral and a misplaced value on collecting fans and followers — only to underserve them afterwards. B2B companies, on the other hand, have a better handle on who they’re targeting and where they are, a natural inclination which is also easier to solve. After all, buyers of a particular chemical product or future technology are inherently more findable that 16-19 year old males interested in football.
3. Creative, marketed content fuels inbound
Placing excellent content where buyers already are, or likely to be, and amplifying that with paid media is good sense for targeted marketing. It’s never been more important for B2B and B2C marketers alike to invest heavily in content that solves the problems of the prospective buyer. For B2B that’s also handling content that the potential buyer may need to manage influencers, too. Especially those holding the purse strings.
4. Content strategy
Related to the above is recognizing that our content exists in an eco-system with our own content hub at the center of that. We must appreciate the difference between content requirements around a sales funnel on owned media platforms, whilst at the same time promoting content to an audience away from owned web properties. The quality of process and planning needed to do this well, and affordably, can’t be over-stated — targeted content can be re-shaped, re-purposed and re-created in multiple formats, for multiple applications. Considering long-form content first, and planning the process of atomizing it, can save time and money. Is it here that B2B marketers can seek inspiration from their arguably more creative B2C cousins? After all, all buyers are people, and entertainment and inspiration does not have to come at the expense of credibility, does it?
5. Integrating email and social media
It’s easy to abuse both social media and email, with poorly targeted ‘blasts’ of information that matter to a hungry sales division. This is something that B2B marketers have been notoriously bad at. Planning how to nurture those vaguely interested enquiries to qualified leads is something different again — and there have never been so many tools and strategies to make this affordable for even the smallest of businesses. Returning to the question of “how do I serve the needs of [the target audience],” at every stage of the buying cycle, will enable prospective customers to take the next step towards purchase by showing intent and re-engagement, not one giant and unrealistic leap. Both B2C and B2B marketers are still learning how to enter the conversational, and in the moment, nature of social media, the power and genuine one-to-one potential for slow and steady relationship building — using the networks, portals and platforms for what they are, catalysts for connection, rather than the be and end all.
The key remains to plan appropriately– to plan to succeed through a combination of targeted, integrated marketing that works in the service of the audience first and foremost.