Many say that business-to-business (B2B) marketing and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing are completely different, even diametrically opposed, the Red Sox v. Yankees of branding. But in truth, they’re relationship is subtler, more like yin and yang. They share much and are even, in many cases, composed of the same stuff. Yet the prevailing wisdom insists that B2B is strictly relational and focused on logical function-based purchasing decisions, while B2C deals only in transaction and emotion.
This might be a sound analysis in the general, but it’s nonsense in the particulars. Though few would suggest that the two worlds of marketing are exactly the same, they do actually share quite a bit in common, and certainly enough that the twin disciplines can learn from each other.
In that spirit, here are 5 B2C directives that B2Bers can use to energize their marketing game and win in tough B2B markets.
- Lead with Purpose
Customers increasingly want to buy from brands they believe share their values. On the consumer side, brands like Tom’s and North Face have built their values into their marketing efforts with great success. But many B2B companies shy away from taking a stance on issues that matter for fear of offending current and prospective customers. But taking a stand doesn’t have to be controversial. A medical device company taking a stance against cancer is likely not to offend anyone—and if used correctly (meaning it’s truly authentic) it can create a point of distinction. When you’re marketing to CEOs, you can use this idea to impart a sense of strong and committed leadership, and therefore make a stronger impression with your branding.
- Use Influencers
When people hear “influencer,” they often think of celebrities like Selena Gomez, Logan Paul, Kim Kardashian, or even Grumpy Cat. Each of these has a following in the millions online and is trusted (read: paid) to sway brand perception based on their sheer celebrity power. In B2B, celebrity influencers are likely not the right choice for your product (excepting in a few choice markets), but that doesn’t mean using influencers—or some form of social influence, such as word of mouth—can’t make sense for you. In B2B marketing, it’s all about finding relevant and trusted people who can advocate for a product or service based on their expertise. Some companies play it safe, finding experts who have used the product for a long time and are able to speak to the strengths of the product. Others will risk a bad review by placing the products with prospective new users and in return ask for an honest evaluation. All of this amounts to available forms of influence that can and should be used by B2B marketers.
- Inspire with Compelling Story
Story telling is one of the more important components of building a marketing campaign. It connects customers to the brand in a human way, allowing the relationship to progress beyond transactions. But B2B marketers will tell you that business marketing is all about the head while consumer marketing is about the heart. This mindset relegates B2B marketing to product-focused messaging. While there is value in demonstrating the functionality of your products, a 2013 study sponsored by Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council found that 50% of B2B buyers were more likely to buy if they had an emotional connection to the brand. That was huge news in the world of marketing—but it was ignored. My advice? Don’t ignore it. Find ways to inspire your B2B audience in the same way B2C marketers do.
- Show Off Your Brand Personality
Marketing is all about connecting with a target audience, using a message that will motivate people to behave differently (buy more, buy more often, etc.). Humor and personality are central to campaigns run by B2C brands. But, again, the B2B marketing people tend to play it much safer—and because of this they’re missing out on wide open opportunities to establish personal relationship with their customers. And, yes, even customers who are CEOS need and want to know who you are and that you’re not some stick in the mud. Don’t be afraid to show some personality. There is always a possibility that some will dislike that, but it’s equally as likely that many will like you even more and will do more business with your brand.
- Put Customer First, Product Second
As I mentioned, B2B marketers tend to focus more on product attributes rather than end user benefits. I call that “inside out marketing.” This is when marketers present attributes and benefits of their product to the market and hope buyers can connect the dots between their own needs and the product itself. This is a suboptimal way to market, and B2Bers fall for it a lot. Consumer marketers are more adept at understanding the functional and emotional needs of their consumer, instinctually understanding how important it is to make the customer the hero. They easily adjust marketing messaging and positioning to reflect their market. B2B marketers would be wise to take inspiration from this and start with the market rather than their offering. Who are you speaking to and what are their desires? These things are more important in B2B than we are currently willing to acknowledge.
It’s pretty simple. B2B marketers do operate in a different world than their B2C counterparts—but difference doesn’t mean there’s no relationship. Some might still dismiss B2C marketing as wholly inappropriate for a consumer audience composed of busy CEOs, but they must insist on this while ignoring some pretty strong evidence to the contrary.
So while it’s true that there are distinct differences between these audiences, there are critical areas in B2C branding where B2B people can learn and start using some pretty effective tactics. To deny this is to subject yourself to unnecessary struggle in a marketplace that could be a boon for your brand.
If you’re interested in more analysis on B2B, please message Chris Weissman on LinkedIn or follow Dave Sutton on twitter @toprightpartner. If you want even more, grab a copy of Dave’s new book, Marketing, Interrupted.