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B2B vs. B2C Marketing: They Are More Similar Than Different

"The truth of my experience is that we are all a lot more alike

than we are different."

- Anne Lamott

We’re over-blowing the differences between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing. There, I said it. I imagine I may get skewered for that statement. After all, think of all the ways the business dynamics differ. Marketing in a B2C company normally involves casting a wide net, building a well-oiled growth marketing machine to optimize LTV:CAC, and bringing an iconic brand to life. B2B, on the other hand, often requires a narrow-cast approach to demand generation, lead nurture, and account-based communications vehicles aimed at targeted personas.

The Risk of a Silo Mentality in Marketing

I get it, one size doesn’t fit all — and it shouldn’t. And yet, I’d argue that we’ve run so far in the direction of differentiating these two worlds that we’re missing the fundamental truth that, in several areas, they overlap. As a result, we’re under-valuing the ways that skills in one type of business can be valuable to another business with a very different go-to-market model. We’ve gotten to the point where many B2B businesses often don’t want to consider hiring B2C marketers, and vice-versa. As a result, companies are overlooking chances to inject divergent thinking and complementary tactical experience into their marketing strategies and teams.

Critical Success Factors for B2B and B2C

Let’s examine the four common marketing needs that sit at the intersection of B2B and B2C:

  1. Define the target market – Any successful marketing team should build its plans through the prism of who they are targeting. Developing deep market insights and honing in on a limited number of high priority customer segments become critical exercises before making any meaningful investment in demand creation. Whether the buyer is a parent shopping for baby food or a benefits manager building a health plan for her company, precise targeting becomes critical. What do the buyers care about? Where can we reach them? What are their pain points? Which messages will resonate?

  2. Fill the funnel – The marketing team on any business with an eye toward growth has a mandate to generate awareness and convert that interest into paying customers, all in a financially scalable way. While budget allocation across tactics may differ based on business model (e.g., B2B businesses often attach a higher priority than B2C companies to events and trade shows in order to feed leads to their sales team), the range of marketing levers is often quite similar across business models. Both B2B and B2C marketers work to harvest existing demand via performance marketing vehicles, conversion optimization, and effective lead nurture. Further, marketing organizations will use a variety of channels to build top-of-funnel awareness, including PR, brand advertising, community-building, and robust content strategies to educate prospects and generate contextually relevant exposure to their main messages.

  3. Optimize engagement – Regardless of business model or target customer, the long term viability of a company relies not just on its ability to attract new customers, but primarily on its capacity to retain them. A sustainable growth trajectory requires a strong CAC:LTV relationship – and is often critical to attract new sources of funding. Optimizing unit economics should be a high priority regardless of business model. While a B2C business needs to minimize churn to improve retention and word-of-mouth virality, a B2B company will want to drive similar levels of loyalty in order to maximize sales efficiency and upsell customers to higher value offerings. In both types of businesses, a “leaky bucket” can be problematic.

  4. Know your brand’s “why” – Careful attention to defining a brand’s positioning, personality, and messaging are essential to building a differentiated, long-lasting business. As I’ve written previously, the most iconic brands align their internal mission, purpose, and values with the customer-facing representation of their brands. Look no further than consumer brands like Allbirds and REI – and B2B brands like Shopify and Slack. As these examples illustrate, the importance of brand clarity isn’t limited to the consumer space alone. It’s essential for any product or service to offer a clear benefit to the customer that does more than just appeal to rational thinking. Speaking to the buyer’s gut acknowledges that there is a real human—even in a B2B scenario—on the other end of the relationship and dramatically increases the chances of breaking through.

Rethinking Marketing Orgs

Looking at the list above, it’s striking how many opportunities exist for creative approaches to building high-performing marketing teams. Let’s examine this further.

Applying B2C Thinking to B2B

For example, B2B companies can lose sight of translating their sophisticated product into simple, digestible terms with a clear customer benefit. No matter how many bells and whistles their product has, if they forget that the target persona is a real human being inside a company with pain points in their day to day job, they will likely miss the mark. Those companies would benefit from integrating some consumer DNA to help them understand their core buyer, distill their brand into simple messaging, and devise strategies to bring that brand to life.

Applying B2B Thinking to B2C

Similarly, B2C companies can err in two ways that B2B ones often don’t. First, B2B organizations tend to be more disciplined about going deep into a limited number of verticals and adapting their story to those industries. Look no further than at the increasing prevalence of account-based marketing (ABM) in many of the best B2B companies. In their quest for universal appeal, B2C businesses may resist going for depth first and breadth later, but some of the world’s most valuable consumer brands have demonstrated the effectiveness of honing in on a single target demographic, finding success, and then scaling. For example, Amazon built a dominant book-selling business before adding new categories of merchandise and entirely new businesses, while Facebook built a cult following at Harvard before expanding to other schools.

Further, many consumer companies get so focused on new user acquisition that they forget to invest in the downstream exercise of cultivating prospects with targeted CRM strategies and nurturing existing customers into loyal, highly-engaged, long-term advocates. Successful B2B companies, on the other hand, are adept at finding targeted ways to keep top of mind with leads and customers alike as part of their lead nurture motio.

In conclusion, I think we need to shift away from treating the B2B and B2C worlds as two civilizations speaking entirely separate languages. Each would benefit greatly from ensuring it has a mix of both B2B and B2C skillsets on its marketing team. What’s more, the companies that can bridge the divide and adapt their marketing to leverage the best of both disciplines will be the ones who win.

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