Are B2B and B2C Marketing Really All That Different?


You’ve heard the adage 1,000 times: People don’t buy from companies, they buy from people. Well, yes and no. In some cases—especially in the digital world where customers may never interact with an employee of the company they’re buying from—people buy brands; in other words, they purchase not just a product or service, but also the image and need of fulfillment those brands represent. In other cases people buy from people; in the simplest terms, they buy based on rapport and trust.

These buying scenarios apply to both B2B and B2C companies. In fact, consumers’ and business buyers’ purchase habits continue to evolve and take on more of each other’s characteristics. “Technology—in particular mobile—has resulted in most of us living integrated lives, where our work and non-work lives are intertwined throughout any given day,” says Lesley Bielby, chief strategy officer of agency DiMassimo Goldstein.

Considering this, it’s more apparent than ever that B2B and B2C marketers can learn from each other’s approaches to improve their marketing performance. “While the practical solutions presented by a business may be different than those presented in the consumer world, the ultimate benefits are usually the same: to save money, time, face, energy, sanity, etc.,” Bielby adds. “It’s important to dig into and unearth these insights in the B2B world, as this approach has typically been reserved for the world of the ‘consumer.’ Why [should B2B marketers do so]? We’re no less human when we’re in the corporate world. We’re human 24 hours a day.”

Certainly, B2B marketers have the analytics capability needed to take that more emotional approach often reserved for B2C companies. At that same time, B2C marketers could improve, say, householding and related segmentation by taking a lesson from their B2B counterparts. What else can the two learn from each other? We asked marketers representing both sides of the industry. Here, B2B and B2C marketers lend each other advice.

-Ginger Conlon

Mike Chaney, CEO, Piston

As companies begin to merge B2B and B2C strategies, it is more important than ever to have a solid, in-depth understanding of what the perfect balance is in selling emotional relevance versus hardcore functional benefits. B2C can get away with selling against an impulse, which is based primarily in emotion. B2B, on the other hand, will fail quickly if it can’t immediately connect how a product makes you feel with what the product actually does for you. The gray area is significantly decreased and is the reason most B2B marketers have yet to bridge the gap.

Our number one task in B2B is to effectively communicate the functional benefits of a product—the icing on the cake is emotional relevance woven in to create a perfect end-to-end customer journey. When you understand the perfect balance, that’s when you achieve great results regardless of who your end customer is.

Jeremy Epstein, VP marketing, Sprinklr

The vast majority (85%) of B2B buyers use social media when [researching a purchase], and some studies suggest that upwards of 70% of the buying decision is made before a potential customer ever visits your website.

In the Age of Social, what others say about you is more important than anything you can say about yourself. You have to zero-in on your audience, what they say, when they say it, how they say it. Then you spring into action, connecting with those who already know you [with prospects] and giving them reasons to speak on your behalf. 

But not just you, everyone in the company, no matter where they sit must know these key community members and understand the relationship, as well as hear and act on the voice of the customer. That way, when the customer speaks, she speaks favorably about you and will inspire those who haven’t made up their mind to think favorably of you, too.

Chris Zane, founder and president, Zane’s Cycles

The important thing to remember is that the business customer is simply a customer—and you need to serve them and treat them the way you would a B2C customer. B2B customers all have reasons for buying. You need to know what each buyer’s specific reason is so you can show them not only the benefit to them personally and their company of your product or service, but also the benefit of adding you to their vendor list. Many B2B buyers are gray suits against gray walls trying not to get figured out. How do you get them to take the risk of buying from you? They don’t want to get fired for making the wrong decision, and can just as easily keep doing business or expand their business with an existing vendor. If they change a vendor or add a new one and it goes badly, they’ll get the heat, so you need to give them the assurances as to why they should take the risk. It’s not about budget; they have that. Overcoming the risk is the thing to focus on.

I have a retail business, but I also serve corporate clients who purchase bikes as incentives. Years ago, when meeting one particular prospect for the first time, he said, “Why do I want another bike vendor? You all stink.” I replied that I’d be so much better that he’d eliminate the others. It took three meetings and a year to get him to try out SKU with the caveat that if the test didn’t work out, “They’d drop us like a hot rock”; now I’m a top-five supplier in multiple categories. We’ve grown because they know we care about the relationship.

So, always keep in mind that a corporate customer is a person. Get them and keep them the same way you would a consumer.


Kurt Andersen, EVP marketing and sales enablement, SAVO 

Imagine this scenario. You’re a sales rep tasked with selling a new product line of brilliantly designed, but seasonal products. You have no trouble securing verbal agreements from potential customers, but by the time you’ve spun up all the necessary paperwork to make the deal official, the season has shifted and a new product is now the focus of your customer’s attention. Now multiply this by your entire sales team. That’s a lot of potential revenue being lost, and you can’t blame a competitor or a bad product. But you can blame a lack of resources for expediting deals to close.

B2B organizations are rapidly acting to mobilize sales teams by equipping them with tablets and applications that support rapid turnaround on deals in the field. Having access to just-in-time assets, coaching, and resources to finalize deals make the difference in hitting your number this quarter, and B2C marketers should take note.

Marissa Pick, direct of social media, Euromoney Institutional Investor

Remember to always put the customer first when building a strategy; understand who your buyer is and what influences him. It’s also important to build a memorable brand perception while finding an efficient way to distribute content and messaging to key decision makers, influencers, and peers with the end goal of executing a memorable campaign and moving the needle.

In B2B people often say we’re limited to boring and stale campaigns; however, with the rise of social media these lines of division are totally blurred. We’re able to leverage specific social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to execute our campaigns. 

My advice would be to continually test and think outside the box without writing all B2B marketing campaigns as behind, old, and stale. I often look to B2C campaigns for inspiration and try to adapt best practices for my business’s needs. Give us a chance and look to us, as many B2B campaigns and businesses are doing excellent and inspirational marketing campaigns.

Dan Thorpe, vice president of enterprise analytics, Lowes

How can B2B marketers think more like B2C marketers? That’s an easy one: Understand the end user or customer. It’s marketing 101. But a lot of times B2B marketers focus on the business needs like on-time delivery, as opposed to actually understanding the end usage of the product or service. Focusing on the business requirements is important, but it’s short term and easier for a competitor to potentially gain a foothold. Understand and focus on the end users—on how customers actually use a product or service—that’s where it’s sustainable and where you’ll gain long-term success.

Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer, Corporate Visions

B2B marketers constantly work with the written word, and are increasingly looking for more effective ways for their text-based content and communications to successfully stand out against their competitors. But what they forget is that the part of the brain that makes a decision to change (aka, the “old brain”) does not have the capacity for language and is instead most influenced by visuals, which is what the B2C world excels in. By using simple, contrasting visuals in campaigns, B2B marketers can better engage prospects with relevant content that addresses the challenges they face to generate more leads.

Brian Kardon, CMO, Lattice Engines

Years of B2B marketing experience has taught me the valuable lesson of personalization. Our research shows that personalization leads to higher levels of engagement and conversion. I think B2B organizations are years ahead of B2C. For example, the B2B sales rep personalizes messages that are aligned with the buyer’s unique circumstances. B2B marketers use lead scoring, lead nurturing, and a variety of Web personalization technologies to facilitate a more tailored buyers’ journey of relevant content. Increasingly, “predictive personalization” is emerging to identify specific customer needs, and then creating communications around those needs. This personalization revolution is powered by the world’s most potent, booming, unnatural resource: data. The battle for consumer attention will increasingly be won by the marketer most adept at personalization. 

Aaron Cano, VP, marketing planning, analysis, and operations, FreshDirect

On the surface all traditional marketing principles apply to both B2C and B2B. The more relevant the communications with customers, the more engaged the customer will be–leading to a more profitable relationship. The major difference is the information that might be available for the B2B relationship to further enhance those communications. Identifying and storing information such as the different contacts and buyers within an organization, their different preferences, and the basic understanding of the end consumer and their habit’s will be beneficial. Once stored, marketers can leverage this information to truly enhance every engagement. For example, multiple clients within an organization each may receive different communications while maintaining a relevancy across the client (a Boston rep and New York rep may get the same message, but personalized with a relevant local element). Additionally, similar to traditional B2C, understanding the relationship and behaviors of one customer will allow you to transform that knowledge into finding similar new customers.
In the end it’s all about understanding who your customers are and leveraging that knowledge to build a more informed relationship.


The Emotional Side of B2B Marketing

When marketers at Intuit Professional Tax Group were contemplating its next campaign, they wanted to highlight all the benefits of using the cloud-based tax software—business and personal. So, working with agency Piston, Intuit took an emotionally driven B2C approach.

“Our goal is to apply marketing best practices rooted in customer insights to help tax professionals understand the benefits of moving their tax practice to Intuit Tax Online,” says Amber Pick Zable, senior marketing manager, Intuit Tax Online. “Tax software is a considered purchase as it is the primary tool our customers use to earn their living. Changing is a risky and time-consuming proposition.” 

The initial ads, which ran in January and February, show how using Intuit can help tax professionals create and maintain a life balance, even during the overwhelmingly busy tax season. Results were positive: According to a ReadEx study, 64% of respondents had unaided recall for Intuit Tax Online, which equated to a 23% lift against the control group; 79% said they were interested to learn more as a result of viewing the ad (a 55% lift over the control group); and 43% stated an intent to research the product within 30 days.

“Accountants and tax pros are just like all other consumers, and are consuming more content and advertising each day. Our job as marketers is to help tax pros quickly understand how Intuit Tax Online can benefit their practice so they can decide whether or not to take the next step,” Pick Zable says. “We have learned through testing and research that our target audience responds to emotion and a story as part of our messaging. Then we must quickly pay off the higher-order benefits with many more details, facts, and numbers than you would expect to see in a typical B2C collateral or website.”

Based on the success of the initial ads, last month Intuit rolled out an integrated campaign comprising digital, direct mail, and print element. “Since we’ve taken a more emotional, benefit-oriented, insight-driven approach,” Pick Zable says, “we’re standing out from the competition that often leads with price or features but doesn’t connect the dots as to how these features really help the tax pro get more out of their day.


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