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May 29, 2023

The Consumer Marketing Paradox

Where B2C Tactics Have Led B2B Companies to Failure - and What to Do Instead

There’s a common refrain among some marketing types when the question arises about the differences between business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) marketing. They say, “it’s all business to human (B2H) in the end, isn’t it?” It’s the trade show version of “can’t we all just get along?” 

But actually, no. Maybe we can’t. 

While there are some parallels between the two disciplines, there are far more differences, and neglecting that certainty in an effort to make marketing easier has done us a great disservice. The effort to apply B2C tactics to the B2B sale has hurt B2B marketing significantly, created false expectations, and underserved our customers. 

In this post, we’ll explore: 

  1. The similarities between B2C and B2B marketing
  2. The differences between B2C and B2B marketing
  3. The consequences of drawing false parallels between B2C and B2B marketing
  4. Where B2B marketers should be putting their time and energy to see real results

How are B2C and B2B Marketing Similar? 

While the idea that all marketing is business to human doesn’t erase the clear differences between these types of marketing, it is not entirely wrong. But some purchases are going to involve committees or organizations of humans while others require a decision from just one. 

There are other similarities too. 

  • Reliance on Influencers

    Consumer and B2B marketing brands also share an understanding of the role that a well-known or highly respected influencer can have on product or company adoption. In prior years, celebrities tended to appear next to consumer brands as an endorsement of the brand, not necessarily as an expert on the product being advertised. Today, however, celebrities are often engaged to talk about brands in a medium and format that portrays them as actual users of the products they endorse (like Jennifer Garner and Virtue Labs hair products). 

B2B is less likely to rely on a recognizable face, and more apt to use a credible testimonial from a business leader or industry thought leader audiences will trust. Influencers and endorsers in B2B don’t even need to be famous in most cases, as this type of marketing relies more on their professional credibility than on name recognition. 

How are B2C and B2B Marketing Different? 

Both types of marketing have specific goals, which influence the strategies brands will employ. The end objective of most consumer-targeted advertising is to convert a single person into a buyer. And while certainly, there are long-term plays in consumer marketing (no one buys a Rivian after seeing just one ad, do they?), for our purposes, let’s focus on simple consumer goods. Things like shampoo and soup. 

There’s nothing complex or confusing about shampoo or soup for most adults. And despite what consumer marketers for these products might like you to think, there is little difference between most of the soups and shampoos that line the grocery store shelves. 

  • B2C Marketers Appeal to Emotion. B2B Marketers Appeal to Logic 

    The goal in a soup or shampoo ad, then, is to inspire some kind of impulse or emotion, or to appeal to a specific (if illogical) belief:
    I should eat more kale! I should probably use a product with collagen! 

    In B2B sales, emotion still plays a part, especially when we’re speaking directly to a customer’s pain points (This software could save my finance team hours of work, and then they’d stop complaining to me every week, and I’d get to finally take a peaceful lunch break.) 

    But the real heart of effective B2B marketing appeals to logic instead. (The finance team will save hours of work each week, saving us money in the long run since they can take on additional tasking and we won’t need to hire.)
  • Measuring Attribution Is Not the Same in B2B Marketing

    In consumer marketing, there are many ways to track the effectiveness of a single ad or piece of content. Everything from installing a pixel on your site to measure traffic from a post on Facebook to the amount of purchases made on a landing page created for a specific multi-channel marketing campaign will give you a way to directly measure ROI. The increasing ability to track consumer behavior across devices and properties has allowed B2C marketers to pull more metrics than ever before, and when a product price point is low enough that one click often means conversion, attribution is a smart way to evaluate campaigns. 

    But the same can’t be said for B2B. When a purchase takes weeks, months, or maybe years, and is often decided upon by a committee of several people, the buyers’ journey looks very different, and is much more difficult to measure. No one buys a $100k enterprise software product after clicking an ad on social media and arriving on a landing page. 

    The B2B buyers’ journey is not linear, and has multiple touchpoints along the way. So what might be a simple metric in B2C necessitates something else entirely to accurately measure the effectiveness of B2B marketing, and this is why we emphasize the increasing importance of composite metrics

    There is no single piece of content or particular posts that can be held up as “the one” that led to conversion after a buyer has engaged with different types of information over different channels for months. Instead, smart B2B marketers are finding ways to provide content to meet their buyers at various points in their circuitous journey, and tracking things like LinkedIn follows on the company page, website traffic from LinkedIn, and product page engagement. There is not one single number to point to, but over time, these combined numbers paint a clear picture of buyers moving in the correct direction. 
  • Paid Advertising Doesn’t Work the Same for B2C and B2B

    The past ten years have seen an incredible increase in the ability for marketers to track and target individual consumers based on their activities online. This enabled direct advertising and retargeting that pushed conversion and personalized the advertising experience. Consumers, however, have proven less bullish on this than marketers, and the recent limitations placed through platforms and legislation have taken away some of that targeting capability.

    Still, consumer marketers can target groups easily using demographic information. If we’re looking to sell shampoo to women over the age of thirty who have a certain level of income, that is still possible. What’s harder–and one of the reasons why B2B marketers have a tougher time with paid advertising–is figuring out which of those shampoo buyers might also be CFOs at technology companies in the market for a SaaS accounting solution. 

    Even when paid advertising does reach its intended audience, a click is unlikely to convert to a sale unless the ad has caught that person at exactly the right point in the extensive B2B buyer’s journey. 

What are the Consequences of the False Parallels Between B2C and B2B Marketing? 

Most of the consequences we’ll discuss next relate to the misconceptions and expectations that executives carry into their roles in B2B organizations. These false expectations can lead to ineffective marketing departments, slower sales cycles, increasing animosity between sales and marketing, and high turnover in marketing departments. 

  • The Attribution Mirage

    Because metrics have been so accessible over the last ten years, marketers on both sides have become punch drunk with the ability to follow one person from site to site to site, and eventually to a soup purchase. This omniscient ability to measure everything relating to low barrier to entry sales has created a generation of marketers reliant on numbers over all else. And for a C-suite steeped in this kind of attribution addiction, it has built an expectation that all marketing activities should be measurable. 

    The unfortunate result of our reliance on metrics has several consequences: 
  1. Executives do not understand the real benefit of content marketing through a complex, considered purchase and drive marketers to produce metrics, even though these numbers may be essentially meaningless. 
  2. The belief that data analytics is the holy grail of marketing has created a generation of marketers so focused on the numbers that we are building programs to produce metrics instead of creating programs that produce value for customers
  3. Over-reliance on lead generation has driven large quantities of low-value leads into sales departments instead of lower quantities of high-quality leads, since marketing has been incentivized to force the collection of email addresses over all else
  • The Increasing Divide Between Sales and Marketing

    Many organizations have witnessed increasing animosity and division between sales and marketing departments. Thanks to the ongoing pressure for marketing to provide “conversion” and therefore drive lead generation, there is an ongoing argument about whose responsibility lead generation really is. 

    Both departments have their role, but in many cases, neither understands the role of the other. In the best businesses, sales and marketing align around a common goal, and have an ongoing sync cadence that creates a feedback loop to help both departments. Sales brings in the objections they’re hearing in the field, and marketing creates materials to help sales defeat those objections. 
  • The Movement Toward Using Marketers as an Outbound Sales Team

    It’s unlikely that most organizations have outbound sales listed in the job descriptions they use when hiring a marketing team. But these same organizations often rely on marketing to fill the top of the sales funnel, something most marketers are not uniquely qualified to do. 

    Driving leads is a poor use of a good marketer’s time, and will frustrate not just the marketer, but the sales team in the end. Let marketing drive awareness and bring in qualified leads over time by creating value-laden content informed by the sales team’s understanding of their unique customer problems. By working together in a consistent feedback loop, sales and marketing will drive higher quality leads and reduce conversion time in the long run. 

Where Should B2B Marketers Be Focusing?

In order to support the long and circuitous buyer’s journey inherent in most B2B sales, marketers should be creating content and then working to distribute it across as many channels as possible. 

What does that look like? 

  1. Interview a subject matter expert inside the organization about a unique problem in the industry they serve. 
  2. That interview can then be supplemented with research and turned into a long-form blog post. 
  3. The video from the interview can be chopped into clips and produced into short-form video and audio content for the company’s LinkedIn page and the subject matter expert’s personal profile on LinkedIn. 
  4. The same video can be posted on the company’s YouTube channel, while the shortest clips can be repackaged for YouTube shorts (or Facebook reels or TikTok, depending on your preferred channels.)
  5. Any relevant content can be pulled from the blog post and repurposed into LinkedIn carousels and graphic posts.

While content creation can seem like a heavy lift, it is the single most effective way for B2B marketers to meet their customers where they are, welcome them into each step of the buyer’s journey and eventually build the trust and loyalty required to gain the sale. 

About the author

Nancy Smay

Nancy is the managing editor and head of content strategy at Notable.

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