For decades, business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing strategies have largely been kept separate. However, with more access to detailed consumer data than ever before, and increased reliance on social experiences in consumer decision-making, B2B and B2C audience behaviors are converging, as are the marketing strategies used to reach them.
Perhaps it’s most important to understand and acknowledge that both B2B and B2C customers expect personalized sales experiences. B2C businesses understand this and have been hard at work on it for years, but B2B businesses, generally speaking, have been late to the party in realizing that there are emotion-driven human beings at the end of their customer journey touch points. Isolating how a professional behaves in their business role only tells half the story. Business professionals, last time I checked, do normal consumer things outside of the office, which is to say they engage in B2C media tactics as well. As a result, understanding B2C channels and the importance of each in reaching your purchase decision makers provides a more holistic view that will benefit businesses on both sides of the aisle.
So, where are B2B and B2C audience behaviors colliding?
A timely response to inbound inquiries is the difference between success and failure.
While everyone knows that having a clear digital presence is vital, responsiveness to online inquiries has never been more important because consumers have countless options at their fingertips. A solid engagement strategy builds good rapport and shows your customer that you are proactively thinking about their needs. In other words, responding to inquiries quickly builds brand confidence. In fact, according to an InsideSales.com study, up to 50% of sales go to the vendor that is the first to respond because the first to make contact is the best able to frame the conversation and define the value proposition.
They know you before you know them.
Customers are researching your company and your products well before they walk through your door. For B2C, social reviews and peer referrals are increasingly more meaningful and trusted than marketing campaigns. According to a report from marketing agency gyro (email required), a massive 97% of customers have a preferred vendor in mind before the purchase group is established. Further, they found that 84% of the time, the group has a champion for the winning vendor, 83% are more likely to buy from a business whose culture and personality matches their own — similar to consumers — and 89% stated that feeling their needs have been understood is the biggest driver for the group.
In both B2B and B2C, experiential marketing is the new black.
For B2C, pop-up experiences like the Rainbow Room’s pop-up rosé bar in New York City or Saved by the Max, the Saved by the Bell-themed pop-up diner, are prime examples of successful experiential marketing strategies that engage their customers with a real-life invitation to experience their brands. We’re also seeing experiential marketing more and more in the B2B world, as traditional trade shows are converted into a series of boutique brand experiences. The days of branded stress balls are over.
Social media is a staple.
In both B2B and B2C marketing mixes, social media reigns supreme. It’s easy to see how this is true for B2C — we see evidence every day, from branded filters in Snapchat while you’re at a concert to being served targeted ads in your newsfeed from stores as you walk through the mall. According to research by Omobono, social media is equally as important for B2B marketing. In a survey of marketing professionals in B2B roles, 79% rated social media as their most effective marketing channel.
Despite these similarities, B2B and B2C still vary in some specific and meaningful ways:
There are more hands in the kitchen.
In most B2C purchase decisions, a single consumer (and maybe a spouse) is all you need to convince. B2B purchases are far more complicated. The number of stakeholders involved in B2B purchase decisions has grown from 5.4 in 2015 to 6.8 in 2017, according to Harvard Business Review. This requires knowing the need state and purchase objections for several different stakeholders within an organization and weaving those together into one cohesive value proposition.
There is greater resistance to change.
Another meaningful difference is understanding that there is more inertia to overcome in getting a B2B buyer to switch from their current vendor. This means that the pain of switching must be significantly less than the perceived benefit. In B2C, on the other hand, changing trends and attitudes drive churn in brand loyalty at a much higher rate.
So, how do we move forward?
Whether you’re building marketing campaigns for B2B or B2C audiences, it’s important to acknowledge that the traditional behaviors of these audiences have evolved and your campaigns must evolve, too. Here are some tips you can adopt to help keep pace with this change:
• Understand the customer journey. Map the customer journey, identify barriers, prescribe a solution and then track customer progress.
• Agility matters. Test and learn, then improve and repeat. What worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow.
• Define success. As said best by Albert Einstein, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Every campaign you launch should have clear success metrics.
When B2B and B2C campaigns align, they can be incredibly powerful. The Fearless Girl campaign for State Street Global Advisors is a perfect example. The B2B purpose was investing in companies that had a significant percentage of women on their board, and the B2C result was that it generated hundreds of millions of impressions, all for a cost of $200,000. B2B marketing campaigns can be creative, too, and despite the evolution of technology, engaging both a business and consumer audience still goes back to basics: Understand your customer from a holistic perspective and reach them in the right place at the right time.