The Marketing Strategist:

Three Lessons B2B Marketers Can Learn from Their B2C Counterparts

August 11, 2011

We hear it all the time: B2B marketing is way different from B2C marketing. In B2B, we sell complex solutions over excruciatingly long sales cycles and deal with multiple decision makers. In fact, we get a little haughty about our B2B marketing. It’s like the Head Boy vs. the star striker: sure, B2C Marketing is cool, but it’s not going to get you into Oxford! So what could B2B marketing geeks possibly learn from the cool kids in B2C marketing? Senior executives from ITSMA member companies, including SAP, TCS, Fujitsu, Nokia Siemens Networks, SITA, and Steria, met recently to discuss this. Richard Seymour, ITSMA EMEA Managing Director, hosted the London EMEA Inner Circle Meeting on June 16, and was joined by Laurie Young, marketing consultant, trainer, and author of several business marketing publications, and Drew Nicholson, Managing Director of DNX, an award-winning B2B and B2C creative agency. After reciting a litany of differences between B2B and B2C marketing, the group conceded that there were three things they could learn from B2C marketers:
  • Know your customers better than your customers know themselves. While a deep understanding of your customers and their needs is fundamental in both B2C and B2B business models, major B2C players continually research their customers and know more about their decision-making process, what influences it today, and what is likely to influence it tomorrow. In an environment where even the smallest increase in market share is a success (and, conversely, the minutest decrease a major issue), there is no room for error. Knowing customers intimately and anticipating their next move will help B2C marketers ensure that the product, the channel, and the messaging stay relevant in a crowded marketplace.
The lesson here: Do more research. Do all kinds of research, segment your audience, and then use that knowledge to target your marketing and make your offers relevant. This is what B2B marketers don’t do well and need to learn.
  • To build a brand, you have to build trust. Branding is key to B2C marketing. Look at the B2C brands that have been around for more than 100 years—Imperial Leather, Coca-Cola, and Bass, to name a few—and you’ll see that they are always building brand loyalty and an emotional connection to the customer. Yes, B2C has it easier. Consumer brands such as coffee are tangible products. We can hold them, we can smell them, we can see the results they produce. But is one soft drink really any better than the next? Or do we buy based on the trust we have in the brand—the brand’s knowledge of who we are, our knowledge of who the brand is, and our emotional connection to it?
The lesson here: Build your brand. You need to consistently and persistently invest in building your brand, communicate your promise to the marketplace, and deliver on that promise. Over and over. And don’t forget about your employees—you need to build your brand internally as well as externally. B2B marketers don’t do either very well.
  • Patience is more than a virtue; it’s a matter of survival. We often hear about how fast the technology and services industry changes, especially in comparison to a small number of consumer brands that have been around for a long time, such as Coca-Cola or Bass. This suggests that the competitive landscapes in which the B2C companies operate is in some way different from B2B and ignores the hundreds of consumer brands that have been lost by the wayside as these select few brands have grown stronger.
The lesson here: Be consistent. The truth is, the survivor B2C brands have been patient and consistent, listening to their customers and ensuring that their product, channel, and messaging remain relevant. B2B brands tend to jump into campaigns and jump out again without maintaining a consistent branding effort. The B2B companies that do it well—IBM, for instance—never waver from keeping their logo front and center, building campaigns around that. More B2B marketers need to do this.
B2B marketers needn’t feel bad about themselves, because the cool kids can learn from the geeks in the tweed jackets, too. One thing we B2B marketers do much better than our B2C counterparts is build long-term relationships. And with our long sales cycle, complex offerings, and multiple decision makers, it is these long-term relationships that will make the difference in the end.

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