Bridging the Gap Between B2B and B2C
B2B and B2C – While just one letter separates the two; each discipline has distinct characteristics. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t common ground between the two. B2B and B2C practitioners may think that they look at the advertising and marketing landscape with contrasting and conflicting views, but there is a lot we can learn from each other. We know this first hand as our B2B team is made up of professionals from both areas. The dialogue between our team members has allowed us to play to our points of difference and parity. More importantly, it has enabled us to better serve our clients by envisioning what obstacles or opportunities the future may hold for them.
At the most basic level, marketing to enterprise and business entities consists of similar principles as B2C: you have a product, you want to put the product in front of your target audience, and you want the customer to purchase it. How does that work, though, when your target customer is a group of employees huddled around a conference table and a whiteboard, and your product can cost up to thousands of dollars?
When catering to this special kind of business customer, the typical audience targeting methods used in B2B marketing are:
Other than Paid Search, the most popular platforms to digitally target these audience segments are through:
Publication Partnerships (Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Forbes, etc.)
Tech Vendor Partnerships (MadisonLogic, Bombora, etc.)
Niche Vendor Partnerships
Additionally, technology has gotten sophisticated enough that many vendors are now able to target an audience by:
Intent signals for companies who are in-market to buy
Researchers interested in solutions offered by your company
A specific list of organizations your company wants to target
Besides working with a body of decision makers instead of a single consumer, B2B marketing is unique in its path-to-purchase cycle and reliance on educational content marketing. For example, whereas the decision to purchase an office suite of applications for personal use may consist of a few hours comparing reviews online before ultimately clicking “Add to Cart,” the path to finding a software solution for a business can take between 6 – 12 months.
In order to influence the persons involved in the purchase decision, companies syndicate whitepapers, ebooks, infographics, and webinars across a multitude of platforms to educate their audiences on resolvable pain-points and curate discussions for their department teams. Creating multiple pieces of content which speak to different prospective buyers (wherever they may be in the funnel to purchase) works best for B2B marketers. Finding the right channels is the tricky part. It is critical to ask:
Where is your target audience going to do their research?
Where are they getting their latest news?
Which sites do they assign the most value to?
Do these sites align with my brand integrity?
What sites are your competitors leveraging?
These audiences are often broken down to narrow, specific categories for the sake of efficiency. This means that it is easy to fall into the habit of thinking that a company, rather than a human being, is buying a product or service. How can we break outside of our audience check mark boxes and retarget to our SVP of Manufacturing when he is buying a new garden hose or even personalize a message based on recent online activity? Fortunately, we have our B2C colleagues to help us out.
Consumer demographics really depend on the client, or the product being sold. The full spectrum of segments can make sense depending on the product you are advertising for. When it comes to B2C marketing, it is usually more important to get the ad in front of the consumer at the right time, staying top of mind and hitting them when they are most likely to complete a transaction (not unlike B2B, just on a shorter/smaller time frame). Think of it this way. If you are trying to sell a car, you might serve more ads on the weekend when most people are more likely to make a big purchase. If you are selling an enterprise-level, business software, you are more likely to serve ads during the week, when the user is thinking about work.
Ideal consumer demographics:
Higher economic status
Either male or female
Other than Paid Search, the most popular B2C platforms are social media. In particular:
B2C Consumer Characteristics:
More impulse driven
Drawn to more seamless transactions
Convenience usually wins
As mentioned previously, one of the biggest delineators between B2B and B2C marketing is the length of time it takes to make a purchase. B2B buyers are nowhere near as impulsive as consumers. Not to mention, many consumers are using mobile devices to make quick and easy transactions. The world we live in is constantly plugged in. Nine people out of ten have a smartphone in their possession. As a result, there is a huge focus on mobile usage in B2C. B2C marketers want consumers to complete a transaction ASAP. Furthermore, this focus on mobile in B2C isn’t going to let up either.
For the last several years, consumer based marketing has continued to see the percent of mobile transactions skyrocket. The digital marketing community has claimed every year is the “year of mobile” since 2012. B2B, on the other hand, maintains that the majority of transactions are being made on a desktop computer. Who’s to say this won’t change?
If you boil it down to the most basic level, everyone is a consumer. To be a savvy marketer, you must place the right ad in front of the right person at the right time. In other words, salience is key. This is true for both, B2C and B2B marketing.
As the saying goes, “Business is personal.” While data and product features are important when marketing to an enterprise or small/medium-sized business, it is critical to consider the less logical factors that play into a business purchase.
As stated before, in B2B, there is often a group of decision makers involved in a business purchase. With more people come more opinions and emotions. It is important to remember the needs of business decision makers, just as it is important to remember the needs of your audiences when marketing to consumers. Many different people can influence the decision to purchase. B2C is always trying to tap into the personal dynamics of the consumer and B2B should tap into this as well. This isn’t to say that B2B should cast a wide net and see what works. However, in some cases, B2B could use this tactic to feed the top of the funnel.
B2C can learn from B2B as well, especially when it comes to targeting. Rather than a “spray n’ pray” approach, B2C can learn to better target its true audience. Moreover, in B2B there is a deep regard for nurture streams due to the average length of transactions. While a B2C nurture stream won’t look the exact same, it could certainly help drive demand in the same manner. More importantly, a nurture stream could be used to increase the number of strong advocates for a brand and its products.
B2B and B2C audiences are both composed of information seekers. 93% of consumers find user generated content helpful when making purchase decisions. Just as consumers trust other consumers, company decision makers look to peers and colleagues when making a purchase decision. This is even more so the case with Millennials. Research shows that Millennials are influenced most by friends’ posts on social media, and as they become decision makers, their business purchases could look very similar to how they go about making personal purchase decisions – talking to peers, following influencers, and reading reviews. So, why is this important? The percentage of Millennials becoming key decision makers grows every year, whereas the key decision makers in the Gen X category decreases.
Millennial habits, especially spending, are much different from their Gen X counterparts. It is going to be important to cater to these habits. Disruptive media and a constantly connected state are native to Millennials. Shifting marketing platforms to cater to the media consumption habits of Millennials and focusing on their specific influence and trends will keep B2B marketers ahead of the game and provide greater opportunity to get in front of their audience.
Another factor that is bound to play a role as Millennials rise in the business ranks is CSR, or corporate social responsibility. According to Sarah Landrum, “Millennials prefer to do business with corporations and brands with pro-social messages, sustainable manufacturing methods and ethical business standards (Forbes, 2017). While B2B enterprises have typically leveraged their product or service attributes, consumer brands have been leveraging their contributions to society for years.
While it wouldn’t make sense for an enterprise selling business software to totally shift from product attributes to CSR initiatives, it could be useful to at least highlight your company’s values and culture as this could create opportunities for alignment. For example, if key decision makers want their enterprise to be seen as agile and innovative, they are likely to purchase a product from a business that values and promotes agility and innovation as well. Furthermore, alignment is a powerful way to not only attract attention from potential customers, but an excellent way to retain your customers as well. Having a common set of values builds a strong foundation which could ultimately lead to trust and a long-standing business relationship or partnership.
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In summary, there is a lot at stake, as well as a lot to gain, from a changing marketing landscape. However, by keeping the discourse open between B2B and B2C, both marketers and brands can be well equipped for what the future holds.