B2B marketing has traditionally been viewed (correctly) as much different from the promotion of consumer products. Buyers were different, sales cycles were different, messaging was different, and media was different. While there were some small areas of overlap, the disciplines were, for the most part, treated as distinct.
That may be changing. Driven by shifting customer expectations and demands, “B2B vendors clearly feel that they need to evolve to more closely resemble their B2C counterparts,” according to recent research reported on by MarketingCharts.
Much of the study focused on online commerce, where changes in b2b offerings indeed make sense. There’s no reason corporate purchasing professionals shouldn’t be able to buy office supplies, chairs, filing cabinets, commodity technology items and other frequently purchased, generally low value items online as easily as they’d buy a book, a pair of shoes or music in their personal lives.
The study suggested however that the emulation of B2C marketing practices by their B2B counterparts may go beyond ecommerce, however. So, are B2B marketers really adopting B2C practices? Yes and no. While creative B2B marketing professionals have always adopted certain consumer marketing practices to their needs, significant differences remain—and likely will for a long time.
4 Areas Where the Consumerization of B2B Marketing Applies…
Entertaining content. B2B content doesn’t have to be boring (at least not all of it). While certain types of information, such as technical product specifications, need to be delivered as straightforwardly and succinctly as possible, many types of B2B content could use a bit more life. Show off your brand’s personality. Don’t be afraid to use (appropriate) humor. Tell stories; inspire prospective buyers with tales of what your current customers have achieved.
Multimedia content, including video. While text (such as blog posts and white papers) will continue to play a significant role in B2B marketing, messages and concepts can often be delivered in a more compelling manner through infographics, online slide presentations, and video. B2B C-level executives are watching an increasing amount of online video, with 75% of executives telling Forbes they watch work-related videos on business websites at least once per week, according to statistics provided by b2b video expert Bob Leonard.
A focus on personal benefits. B2B buyers are people too. While it’s essential to provide information about product capabilities, benefits, and financial justification—traditional B2B content—it can also help to talk about the personal benefits of a B2B purchasing choice to a buyer, such as job security (being the safe choice), career enhancement (helping the buyer be a hero, get a raise or promotion), and work-life balance (make the buyer’s job easier, get home earlier in the evening).
Capitalizing on trade shows. Despite the growth in digital marketing channels, physical tradeshows and conferences remain one of the most effective lead generation tactics for B2B marketers. Of course, B2C marketers use such events as well, with car shows, boat shows, and home-and-garden shows being among the most popular. B2B marketers can increase the impact of tradeshow attendance by borrowing B2C event promotion tactics, such as selective use of outdoor and local radio advertising.
…And Four Areas Where B2B Marketing Remains Distinct
Roles trump demographics. While other factors have gained in importance over the years, demographic metrics remain a key focus in B2C marketing; consider the differences, not just in the products promoted, but in the style and tone of messages between the TV advertisements shown on, for example, 60 Minutes, and the NFL game that precedes it throughout autumn.
In B2B marketing, work roles play a far larger role than demographics. Information targeted to the CFO is different from technical product specifications designed for engineering, but each of those messages remain essentially the same regardless of the age, gender or ethnicity of the financial executive or technical decision maker.
Information trumps image. In many if not most cases, B2B products and services are more complex (and expensive) than consumer goods. B2B messaging is therefore of necessity more detailed and information based; buyers need larger quantities of information to determine how a purchase may impact current business practices, how it will integrate with existing systems, what impact it will have on staffing, and other considerations absent in consumer purchases.
Committees make decisions. The vast majority of consumer purchases are individual decisions. In complex B2B sales, group decisions are the norm. Rather than targeting an individual buyer, therefore, B2B marketers need to develop content for all of the people likely to be involved in the vendor selection process, frequently encompassing at a minimum a business buyer (how will this increase sales or reduce costs?), a financial buyer (cost, financing, ROI), and a technical buyer (specifications, compatibility with existing systems or platforms, integration points and requirements).
Services are a major component of sales. B2B sales often combine services with products, one factor increasing the cost and complexity noted above. Unlike consumer purchases, B2B product acquisitions often include services not just to implement but also optimize the use of those items. When buying applications like marketing automation, multi-channel marketing metrics, or customer relationship management (CRM), for example, the quality of the consulting services is every bit as important as the functionality of the software itself.
While the consumerization of B2B marketing is an interesting concept, it clearly has its limits. Or does it? What do you think?