B2B vs. B2C Marketing: is there really a divide? (Script)

Note. The post below is the script of my presentation at #UtilitiesSocialMedia Conference. It’s nothing more than a collection of articles, posts, reports – and some personal thoughts. I have listed some of the original resources at the bottom of this post.

It’s clear that there are some significant differences to be addressed in the way (content) marketing changes for B2B versus B2C target audiences. Understanding these distinctions and applying them to your campaigns gives you the best possible chances of reaching your prospects in a meaningful, engaging way. Below are a few ways in which B2B and B2C marketing differs.

Intent

One of the first areas where B2B content marketing diverges from B2C campaigns is in the overall intent of the initiative’s messaging.

If you’re a B2B content creator, you’re likely one of the 85% using content to build your brand and establish thought leadership. If prospective customers recognize your business’s name and acknowledge your authority in your field, they can skip the Initial Research stage of the consumer buying process – moving directly from Recognition of a Need to Evaluation of Alternatives with your business at the top of that list.

But while thought leadership is great, it just isn’t as important in B2C industries. Did you choose a Coke over a Pepsi because you believe Coca Cola’s depth of knowledge of the industry exceeds Pepsi’s? Did you enjoy a bowl of Nutella because of Ferrero’s perceived authority when it comes to chocolate cream?

B2C buyers are driven by different motivations – usually feeling safe, secure and informed –  than B2B purchasers. As a result, both the intent and the messaging of your content marketing campaigns must be different.

Basic need plays a part, but so does emotion, status, and brand appeal. Branded and sponsored content can positively impact one’s perception of a brand. The product sometimes makes an appearance in content marketing, but it’s the emotional impact that counts.

In B2B, the more popular approach highlights a product’s features in an entertaining way. For corporate customers, purchasing decisions are grounded in reason, and brands must get creative to exhibit the complexities of their products in an engaging way.

Setting Goals

The difference between content marketing in B2B and B2C industries becomes apparent at a very early stage: when you’re setting goals and objectives.  That said, pretty much all businesses – whoever they’re trying to target with their content – have one goal in common: to build awareness of their brand. This is a pretty universal goal since, whatever the target market, consumers respond best to brands they know and trust.

B2B Goals. Recent data from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute showed that the primary objectives for B2B companies who are investing in content marketing are raising brand awareness, generating leads, and boosting engagement.

Consequently, B2B brands should aim to create content that informs and educates – that demonstrates they are one of the best, if not the best, at what they do.

B2B transactions are often completed after a long, multi-stage sales process. If you want to win this type of business, it really helps to have a background as a thought leader and innovator in your industry. Not only will this help generate leads, but it should help to speed up the sales process, too.

B2C Goals. The stats show that on the surface, the goals for marketers in B2C industries aren’t all that different than those set out by B2B marketers. While their number one goal differed, both B2B and B2C brands think building brand awareness and getting consumers to engage with their content are pretty damn important.

However, while B2B companies tend towards building brand awareness by showcasing their knowledge and industry expertise, B2C brands are more likely to be concerned with creating excitement around their products. About pushing their products as “aspirational”.

Messaging

The way you craft the messaging of your content marketing campaigns depends heavily on your target audience – and that’s true whether you’re reaching out to B2B or B2C buyers.

Interestingly, though, some research suggests that B2B buyers will, as a whole, engage more strongly with certain types of messages, while B2C customers will respond more positively to campaigns that target different benefits.

Different marketing tactics are used in B2B and B2C, although the methods of advertising, promotions, and publicity are the same. If the final customer is a business, the marketing message is based on value, service, and trust. B2C marketing is focused on price and the emotional satisfaction of obtaining the product.

Obviously, these benefits aren’t exclusive to either B2B or B2C companies. An auto repair shop’s messaging will likely appeal to both value and trust, while a cloud provider might market based on price as a way to differentiate itself in a crowded market.

That said, it’s still important to keep these competing principles in mind when drafting your campaign strategy and creating content. Begin with these benefits and then customize your messaging to hone in on the elements that are most likely to appeal to your target audience.

Subject Matter

As we’ve already touched on, businesses and consumers buy for very different reasons.

Businesses buy because the product or service fulfils a specific need. Whatever the product or service is offering, this need will usually boil down to one (or more) of three things: saving money, saving time, making more money. Businesses don’t buy for frivolous reasons. They buy out of necessity. Their purchases are usually data-driven.

Consumers sometimes buy out of necessity, too. If our fridge breaks down, we don’t buy a replacement for the sheer thrill of it. We also need to eat, keep a roof over our head, and provide healthcare for our families.

However, a lot of what we buy as consumers do count as “luxuries”. Computer games, meals out, music, television packages, movie tickets, holidays, gifts… Even clothes, which are by all accounts, a necessity, are often bought in excess of what we need and so become “luxuries”. The purchases we make as consumers are very often emotion-driven.

This massive disparity in the reasons we buy as businesses and the reasons we buy as consumers should play a huge part in dictating the subject matter of your content.

While rules are made to be broken, a pretty good guide to remember is that: B2B content should inform and educate, while B2C content should inspire.

Mailchimp

(Mailchimp resource site)

Channel

Channel is another aspect where B2B and B2C content marketing initiatives often diverge.

B2C companies are virtually unlimited when it comes to potential opportunities to reach prospective customers. Besides the social networks and popular websites that typically form the backbone of a traditional content campaign, B2C customers can be reached via more traditional mediums (such as advertising), geo-targeting apps (which allow content and promotions to be served up when a prospect nears a shop), and more.

B2B businesses, on the other hand, sometimes have a more limited scope of potential engagement opportunities. Posting a piece of native advertising to BuzzFeed, for example, might appeal to individual consumers, but is unlikely to attract larger groups of potential business buyers.

Format

The ideal format of the content to be created is another interesting area where B2B and B2C marketing campaigns tend to diverge.

B2B buyers prefer to read blogs and white papers during the pre-sales cycle. Additionally, those who identified as technology buyers who want to receive ongoing vendor content prefer white papers, case studies, and technology guides.

Further research from the Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 B2C Content Marketing Research Report for North America reveals that, compared with their B2B counterparts, B2C marketers use more user-generated and real-time marketing.

Again, this isn’t to say that B2B companies shouldn’t use user-generated content in their marketing campaigns, or that B2C businesses should avoid white papers or case studies. However, these recommendations do provide a starting point for deciding on the content formats that should be included in your campaigns. These guidelines can then be modified to suit the interests and needs of your unique target audience.

Is there really a divide?

It’s funny that we marketers are still debating against the B2B/B2C segmentation. Maybe it’s not the most meaningful way to segment brands. Maybe something like long sales cycle and short sales cycle is more meaningful. Eventually the distinction between simple and complex sales might bring to more significant and useful thoughts. The fact is that new marketing technologies, methodologies like content marketing and communication channels like social platforms are blurring the line between B2B and B2C.

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