Bridging the Gap: Unveiling B2C Strategies That Can Revolutionize B2B Success

By Josh Tilley, Brand Strategy Director, Initials CX

Through the years, marketing has been divided into B2B and B2C – with good reason. We act differently when seeking a software vendor for the next five years compared to when we’re choosing our next pair of trainers.

B2B marketing tactics have traditionally been seen as a poor relation of B2C. Part of that is due to the subject matter: it’s easier to sell a pair of trainers, than a HR software platform. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. There’s a lot that B2B marketers can learn from their consumer counterparts about effective strategy.

B2B has traditionally relied on building one-to-one relationships necessitating a heavily targeted and well-timed approach, often reflecting the niche buyer of products and services. After all, if you’re marketing office supplies there are only a few people at a single organisation in charge of buying pens and paper.

It’s also a massive oversimplification to suggest that brand isn’t important for B2B marketing. In its most literal definition, a brand is the reputation, value and experience that your offering represents.

Being front of mind in those critical moments – whether you are buying something from Tesco, booking a flight or upgrading your HR system – is the same whether you have a narrow B2B audience or huge consumer target audience. But it has always been assumed that the specific utility of many B2B brands makes being instantly recalled by the buyer, via building brand awareness, less relevant.

However, times are changing. The channels that B2B businesses can use, the data they have available and the way they can communicate with consumers has shifted for good.

Times are changing 

Not long ago, B2B firms only appeared where customers would be looking for them. Small ads in the trade press or FT, and pop-ups at exhibitions and conventions.

While buying a mass analogue TV ad to reach only a few relevant people might have been overkill for a specialist B2B company, firms can now use data to identify and target potential customers across digital channels.

That makes it possible to build a relationship with customers that extends beyond functional into the emotional – just like consumer brands.

This isn’t an opportunity: it’s a necessity. As technology has levelled the playing field so businesses can speak to anyone, a distinctive B2B offering that can be discerned among the growing noise is now critical. Communication can be at a functional level in terms of product superiority or lower price point but, generally, B2B brands must also elicit emotion or the sale will be lost.

This is where they can learn from their B2C counterparts like Dyson, Apple and Ryanair. What brings all those brands together isn’t a creative treatment a tone of voice or even brand personality: it’s their clear brand idea, ambition, and the quality and value they stand for.

Their brand stays consistent and their functional offer is clear. If you asked anyone on the street to describe what Ryanair offers, they would nail it with very little hesitation.

The ability to deliver a proposition and set of values consistently over time can make your business a credible choice even if a prospect hadn’t heard of your company before.

Experience is key 

Technology has changed the game for B2B marketing, with customers no longer reliant on recommendations. B2B brands must now be found more easily, in any moment, and need a strategic online presence to match that demand.

In this respect, technology has caused customer expectations of B2B brands to evolve, just as they have for consumer brands. We are conditioned as consumers to think about our experience being important. If you book a holiday, you expect all the touchpoints you engage with to work seamlessly together. If it’s clunky, you’d drop out and try another provider in future.

Because we can access brands all the time and the channels we use to find them are the same – whether seeking a business loan or a holiday – our expectations of B2B have increased dramatically. People no longer distinguish between consumer and business brands when it comes to customer or user experience. They might be wearing their work rather than consumer hat, but how they see and judge all types of brands is the same.

If your target market doesn’t distinguish between B2B and B2C, B2B firms shouldn’t either. So, as B2C experiences get better, B2B brands need to keep up.

Don’t take it too far

It’s an overstatement to say every aspect of consumer and business marketing is interchangeable.

In B2B, the mindset and role of the brand in the decision-making process is different to B2C. If we think about fashion or consumer tech, we often buy brands that say something about us – aligning with our identity and values. In B2B, buyers often look for different qualities. Above all, they require value, reliability and functional capability. Our tastes are rarely in the mix – unless we insist on the utility of a specific brand’s products for work purposes, such as Apple devices.

You won’t see many insurance companies outsourcing their IT contract to an upstart, start-up tech company. The firm doesn’t care about looking cool; it wants the business to not fall apart.

In general, we make longer-term and higher-consideration purchases in B2B, compared to buying a pair of trainers. As such, B2B brands must convey reassurance and credibility, rather than flashiness and rebellion.

When considering excellence in B2B marketing the famous strapline, “Nobody got fired for buying IBM” always springs to mind. In B2C a measure of edgy difference can propel sales. For now at least, quality, utility and value are the foundations of B2B brands that business buyers trust to support the pillars of their organisation. But they must be articulated, easily understood, and allow consumers to differentiate them from competitors.

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