B2B vs. B2C Marketing: is there really a divide? (Script)

Note. The post below is the script of my presentation at #UtilitiesSocialMedia Conference. It’s nothing more than a collection of articles, posts, reports – and some personal thoughts. I have listed some of the original resources at the bottom of this post.

It’s clear that there are some significant differences to be addressed in the way (content) marketing changes for B2B versus B2C target audiences. Understanding these distinctions and applying them to your campaigns gives you the best possible chances of reaching your prospects in a meaningful, engaging way. Below are a few ways in which B2B and B2C marketing differs.

Intent

One of the first areas where B2B content marketing diverges from B2C campaigns is in the overall intent of the initiative’s messaging.

If you’re a B2B content creator, you’re likely one of the 85% using content to build your brand and establish thought leadership. If prospective customers recognize your business’s name and acknowledge your authority in your field, they can skip the Initial Research stage of the consumer buying process – moving directly from Recognition of a Need to Evaluation of Alternatives with your business at the top of that list.

But while thought leadership is great, it just isn’t as important in B2C industries. Did you choose a Coke over a Pepsi because you believe Coca Cola’s depth of knowledge of the industry exceeds Pepsi’s? Did you enjoy a bowl of Nutella because of Ferrero’s perceived authority when it comes to chocolate cream?

B2C buyers are driven by different motivations – usually feeling safe, secure and informed –  than B2B purchasers. As a result, both the intent and the messaging of your content marketing campaigns must be different.

Basic need plays a part, but so does emotion, status, and brand appeal. Branded and sponsored content can positively impact one’s perception of a brand. The product sometimes makes an appearance in content marketing, but it’s the emotional impact that counts.

In B2B, the more popular approach highlights a product’s features in an entertaining way. For corporate customers, purchasing decisions are grounded in reason, and brands must get creative to exhibit the complexities of their products in an engaging way.

Setting Goals

The difference between content marketing in B2B and B2C industries becomes apparent at a very early stage: when you’re setting goals and objectives.  That said, pretty much all businesses – whoever they’re trying to target with their content – have one goal in common: to build awareness of their brand. This is a pretty universal goal since, whatever the target market, consumers respond best to brands they know and trust.

B2B Goals. Recent data from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute showed that the primary objectives for B2B companies who are investing in content marketing are raising brand awareness, generating leads, and boosting engagement.

Consequently, B2B brands should aim to create content that informs and educates – that demonstrates they are one of the best, if not the best, at what they do.

B2B transactions are often completed after a long, multi-stage sales process. If you want to win this type of business, it really helps to have a background as a thought leader and innovator in your industry. Not only will this help generate leads, but it should help to speed up the sales process, too.

B2C Goals. The stats show that on the surface, the goals for marketers in B2C industries aren’t all that different than those set out by B2B marketers. While their number one goal differed, both B2B and B2C brands think building brand awareness and getting consumers to engage with their content are pretty damn important.

However, while B2B companies tend towards building brand awareness by showcasing their knowledge and industry expertise, B2C brands are more likely to be concerned with creating excitement around their products. About pushing their products as “aspirational”.

Messaging

The way you craft the messaging of your content marketing campaigns depends heavily on your target audience – and that’s true whether you’re reaching out to B2B or B2C buyers.

Interestingly, though, some research suggests that B2B buyers will, as a whole, engage more strongly with certain types of messages, while B2C customers will respond more positively to campaigns that target different benefits.

Different marketing tactics are used in B2B and B2C, although the methods of advertising, promotions, and publicity are the same. If the final customer is a business, the marketing message is based on value, service, and trust. B2C marketing is focused on price and the emotional satisfaction of obtaining the product.

Obviously, these benefits aren’t exclusive to either B2B or B2C companies. An auto repair shop’s messaging will likely appeal to both value and trust, while a cloud provider might market based on price as a way to differentiate itself in a crowded market.

That said, it’s still important to keep these competing principles in mind when drafting your campaign strategy and creating content. Begin with these benefits and then customize your messaging to hone in on the elements that are most likely to appeal to your target audience.

Subject Matter

As we’ve already touched on, businesses and consumers buy for very different reasons.

Businesses buy because the product or service fulfils a specific need. Whatever the product or service is offering, this need will usually boil down to one (or more) of three things: saving money, saving time, making more money. Businesses don’t buy for frivolous reasons. They buy out of necessity. Their purchases are usually data-driven.

Consumers sometimes buy out of necessity, too. If our fridge breaks down, we don’t buy a replacement for the sheer thrill of it. We also need to eat, keep a roof over our head, and provide healthcare for our families.

However, a lot of what we buy as consumers do count as “luxuries”. Computer games, meals out, music, television packages, movie tickets, holidays, gifts… Even clothes, which are by all accounts, a necessity, are often bought in excess of what we need and so become “luxuries”. The purchases we make as consumers are very often emotion-driven.

This massive disparity in the reasons we buy as businesses and the reasons we buy as consumers should play a huge part in dictating the subject matter of your content.

While rules are made to be broken, a pretty good guide to remember is that: B2B content should inform and educate, while B2C content should inspire.

Mailchimp

(Mailchimp resource site)

Channel

Channel is another aspect where B2B and B2C content marketing initiatives often diverge.

B2C companies are virtually unlimited when it comes to potential opportunities to reach prospective customers. Besides the social networks and popular websites that typically form the backbone of a traditional content campaign, B2C customers can be reached via more traditional mediums (such as advertising), geo-targeting apps (which allow content and promotions to be served up when a prospect nears a shop), and more.

B2B businesses, on the other hand, sometimes have a more limited scope of potential engagement opportunities. Posting a piece of native advertising to BuzzFeed, for example, might appeal to individual consumers, but is unlikely to attract larger groups of potential business buyers.

Format

The ideal format of the content to be created is another interesting area where B2B and B2C marketing campaigns tend to diverge.

B2B buyers prefer to read blogs and white papers during the pre-sales cycle. Additionally, those who identified as technology buyers who want to receive ongoing vendor content prefer white papers, case studies, and technology guides.

Further research from the Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 B2C Content Marketing Research Report for North America reveals that, compared with their B2B counterparts, B2C marketers use more user-generated and real-time marketing.

Again, this isn’t to say that B2B companies shouldn’t use user-generated content in their marketing campaigns, or that B2C businesses should avoid white papers or case studies. However, these recommendations do provide a starting point for deciding on the content formats that should be included in your campaigns. These guidelines can then be modified to suit the interests and needs of your unique target audience.

Is there really a divide?

It’s funny that we marketers are still debating against the B2B/B2C segmentation. Maybe it’s not the most meaningful way to segment brands. Maybe something like long sales cycle and short sales cycle is more meaningful. Eventually the distinction between simple and complex sales might bring to more significant and useful thoughts. The fact is that new marketing technologies, methodologies like content marketing and communication channels like social platforms are blurring the line between B2B and B2C.

Resources:

My Opening Remarks for #UtilitiesSocialMedia: the Script

Social Media For Utilities Is Becoming Indispensable.

If your favourite fries aren’t crisp enough, social media offers ways to lodge a complaint to your favourite fast-food – and get a response – while  you’re still in the shop. If the fashion site wants you to know that blue is the new black, it can flood your favourite social media with the news. Important as fries and fashion are, they’re not quite as important as power outages and service restoration. It just makes sense for your local utility to be as present, expert and available in social media as fast food chains and e-commerce sites.

For utilities, social media is apparently blurring the line between communications and customer service.

For the utility industry too the shift in consumer behaviour and the preference for social media is increasingly becoming apparent. Utility customers agree, and their social media appetite is growing.

  • Two years ago, an Accenture study found 30% of customers were open to interacting with utilities through social media, up from just 1% in 2010
  • 54% of respondents say local utilities should use social media channels to share real time information and warnings on approaching storms, power outages and time until service will be restored
  • 50% say that in addition to receiving information from their electric utility about emergency situations, outages and repairs, they want to communicate with their utility through social media to ask questions, express opinions and add localized information that would help other customers in their communityLet’s not forget that Social Media is a content distribution channel. You should not work on a Social Media strategy if Content Strategy has not been finalised and documented. Content strategy comes first, channel strategy follows.

Also, for business Social Media isn’t just a broadcasting platform. Instead, is a way to communicate to the right people at the right time.

Build Consumer Connect
Social Media has become a primary source of contact for many utility companies, and it’s increasingly important for improving customer satisfaction. More people are using Twitter or Facebook now to share their views or inquire about their utility service or to report an outage.

Customers often take to social media when traditional channels haven’t solved their problem, and utilities have a public opportunity to recover that customer and put their best foot forward. Clearly, social media is not a stand-alone activity and it needs to be aligned with the broader customer interaction strategy to ensure a consistent approach across all channels, be it through the contact center, Twitter, Facebook or in-person interaction.

Using Social Media for Reputation Management/Brand Awareness
Don’t think that if you don’t have a presence on social media people won’t share their views – they will establish a reputation for you even if you aren’t on there to share the facts.

A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is. This thinking manifests itself most strongly in social media than anywhere else. Customers are increasingly using social media to build or destroy the reputation of their service providers. Social media presents utility providers with an opportunity to manage brand perception and map customer sentiments towards the brand.

Customer to Utility comms
Customers can post photos of downed power lines (as long as they stay at a safe distance) so utilities will know exactly what caused the outage and how to repair it fastest.

Monitoring and analysing social media
Monitoring and analysing social media, utilities could pinpoint outages people are tweeting about, even if those tweets aren’t being sent directly to the utility. Following social media trends by geography could alert utilities when certain neighbourhoods are likely to adopt plug-in electric vehicles or rooftop solar, allowing the utilities to develop appropriate programs before they’re needed.

Create Customer Awareness/Nudging customers to do the right thing
Utilities currently struggle to enrol customers in energy efficiency and demand response programs. Just promoting the programs on websites is too passive. The awareness level among customers is far from what utilities would like it to be. Many customers are only partially aware of what their smart meters can actually do. Utility companies are using YouTube and Facebook to educate customers on topics such as energy management, advantages of smart meters and industry trends. Social media is also being utilized to generate user-specific awareness regarding changes in pricing, billing or even allowing customers to design their bills.

That’s the real power of social media. It’s a whole new level of customer service – very fast, very immediate. You could never reach that number of people through conventional means. It’s just not possible.

Social Media in the Utilities Sector

The program has been released and guess what? Here you go. I will be the Chairman of the main session day 1! The Conference will take place in London on 11-12th of April. And it will provide an interesting and unique perspective, because, as the overview clarifies:

We will discuss investment in digital marketing and explore how businesses should shape their online presence and develop strategies to harness online technologies. A key focus of this conference will be assessing how to make social media the centre of operations, not just a useful tool.

Pretty interesting.

Sprinklr

Interesting piece from Forbes about Sprinklr, promising social media company. Interesting ’cause I’m directly involved with some the stuff that the article mention…

But that’s sometimes what it takes to land an account. Sprinklr nabbed manufacturer Schneider Electric from Salesforce in late 2015 by proving itself more nimble. It got Schneider up and running on WeChat, a hugely influential social network in China, in a matter of weeks.

Interesting also the fact that most of the content marketing companies we’re in contact with consider Sprinklr as a potential competitor (space between content and social media players is significantly blur). And for this reason the integration between platforms is still a nightmare.

Speaking at Mktg Conferences in 2016

Finally taking some time to finalise my participation to some of next year Marketing Conferences as a speaker. Here is the updated list. With the exception of the event in Amsterdam, where I will discuss marketing role in post-acquisitions, I will focus on Content Marketing & Social Media.

Content Marketing Strategy

The new content and social marketing strategy is ready. It ill change the face of one of the four business units of the company I work for. We are transforming a traditional marketing model to a new, modern, content-focused model.

Social, content and PR will be integrated. Jason Miller wrote on his book:

The most innovative, forward-thinking companies have merged social, content and PR. By doing so, they can capitalize on the synergies between these three

I am in Boston to present the new plan. It will simplify the current process. It will introduce elements of uniqueness, like the BU editorial board and the BU editorial calendar. It will integrate content, social media and PR. It will link dashboards and analytic. I am in contact with experts like NewsCred and Contently to understand how to improve the process.

At the same time, I am received new invitations as a speaker of Global Marketing Conferences. The last one is the Energy Branding Conference. It will take place in Iceland at the end of 2016. It’s the first world conference focused on marketing for the Energy sector. And it’s a wonderful location. I am pleased to be part of the speaker pool.

So, ready to spend an inspiring weekend. Preparing the workshops and all presentations for next week. And writing posts documenting the content marketing project.

Writing is the best medicine.