B2B [business to business] and B2C [business to consumer] marketing can have its rewards and should always be considered when planning your strategic marketing objectives. Many retail shops owners only market to consumers and never consider marketing to other businesses, which can mean missing a profitable market.
There are some similarities and many differences when marketing to B2B and B2C. Let’s look at the differences first.
Generally, B2B purchases are typically much higher volume than consumer purchases, but they purchase less often. The initial purchase process is generally a long complex process with high stakes that most often require tangible results/benefits for the purchaser. Many times there are multiple individuals involved in the initial decision process.
B2C on the other hand is usually a single person decision that is often emotionally driven and only requires the consumer’s perception of satisfaction.
The columns below note the similarity and differences between the two markets.
Bottom-line value is the core of B2B marketing and tangible financial benefits must be delivered. For instance in the automotive aftermarket, a company must show its products can reduce operating costs, extend equipment life and/or increase performance disproportionately to product cost.
In B2C marketing, company and brand reputation and consumer emotion is infinitely more critical. The value of a product or service is largely a matter of brand symbolism and how a product is used and perceived by those within a consumer’s circle of influence.
· Small market segments
· Large volume purchases
· Complex, multi-layer purchase process
· Personnel intensive sales support
· Financial rationale needed for purchase
· Purchase process is relationship driven
· Research/Data intensive product review
· Early adopters typically entrepreneurial
· Large market segments
· Small volume purchases
· Simple, single step buying
· Merchandiseing and media intensive sales support
· Purchase typically based more on wants
· Purchase process is product driven
· Most product research is fairly limited
· Early adopters are influencers & heavy-media users.
Segment, Target and Position
Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning (STP) are some of the most fundamental activities in B2B and B2C marketing. STP is to identify customers who are most predisposed to purchase your products or services. Segmentation involves grouping together customers with similar needs who can be reached with similar marketing messages and approaches. In B2B markets, a segment may be as small as an individual company. While it’s not realistic for a small company with limited resources to allocate a great deal of time and money researching market segments, sales and marketing staff within a company should at least discuss and identify what they believe are the primary market segments.
Targeting is simply determining how marketing resources should be allocated to maximize profitability. For instance, a high performance lubricant manufacturer like Royal Purple would place a high priority on B2B market segments that value reliability. Businesses in this market segment are more likely to seek out products like Royal Purple that have been proven to improve equipment reliability. Closing rates are higher and fewer resources are needed to make the sale. Targeting, like segmentation, doesn’t require a dedicated marketing staff and a pile of research. Anecdotal input from any person that interacts with the company can provide valuable insights as to which segments are deliver the best ROI on marketing resources.
Once you’ve identified the most profitable market segments to target, the next step is crafting your message. What’s important to your potential business and consumer customers? A unique product feature only your product offers? Similar functionality as a competitor’s product at a lower price? A different combination of product features and/or a feature that’s particularly better than a competitor’s?
Certainly a company can and should use different message strategies for different segments. While there is something to be said for a consistent message strategy, few marketers are able to craft a perfect message to reach their target audience(s). Message strategies can (and likely should) change as a marketer gains more insights into their target audiences, as the target audiences, habits, media usage, etc. evolves. For instance, in the B2C market, we found that our ‘hands-on enthusiast’ target audience places much more importance on how Royal Purple increases horsepower and torque than it does on how Royal Purple saves fuel and reduces emissions. Certainly saving fuel and reducing emissions are great product benefits; however, it doesn’t make sense to stress those product attributes to a person who cares much more about horsepower.
Synergies are created whenever message strategies can be used for both B2B and B2C market segments. The focus of a uniform message strategy provides clarity to the target audiences and requires fewer marketing resources than creating and disseminating multiple message strategies. At the risk of stating the obvious, a uniform message strategy can only be used when the product benefits are the same for the target B2B segment and the target B2C segment.
Leverage B2B and B2C Markets
Name/brand recognition is important to both B2B and B2C markets. Businesses and consumers prefer to purchase brands they are familiar with. Typically the more familiarity or ‘top-of-mind awareness’ a person has with your brand/company, the more likely that person is to purchase your products. It’s important to mention that familiarity is not enough to drive sales; if that were the case, the company that spent the most on advertising and promotion would always have the most market share. Familiarity must be accompanied by a compelling reason to buy.
As previously mentioned, uniform message strategy is another way to leverage familiarity in both the B2B and B2C markets. It’s infinitely more effective and cost-effective to create a marketing message that can serve both markets. A tagline/slogan that can be used for both sides of the house can provide a verbal anchor to help reinforce your brand and what it represents. A lot of hand wringing frequently goes into to the creation of a slogan. Slogan creation is, and should be, simply creating the shortest phrase that encapsulates the unique attribute that makes your company’s product or service compelling. Communicating clearly is more important than being pithy. Wal-Mart’s slogan, “Always low prices” clearly communicates what Wal-Mart is all about to both businesses and consumers.
Advertising is one of the most effective ways to create familiarity; however, it is costly and advertising effectiveness has its limits. According to Fast Company, the average person is exposed to some sort of advertising message as many as 3,000 times per day. That many messages make it increasingly difficult to breakthrough the clutter. A full discussion on creating effective and cost effective advertising is undoubtedly beyond the scope of this article and there are numerous books and college degree programs dedicated to it.
There are a few points about advertising worth mentioning. First, advertising is most effective when a targeted message about specific product benefits is developed for a specific audience predisposed to wanting or needing the benefits your product offers. That can pose challenges if you are in a business that is highly competitive. An alternate approach is to identify the common psychographics and demographics of your target audiences and advertising in non-endemic venues. Second, it’s important to note a paradox related to advertising. While advertising legitimizes a company in the eyes of some (typically older adults), others (typically young adults) view advertising with disdain. Of course, there are many other venues outside the realm of advertising to help create familiarity. One of the best is public relations.
Public relations (PR) is typically defined as ‘the actions of a corporation, in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.’ Put simply, PR seeks to gain free editorial ‘news’ coverage about a company. PR has advantages over advertising in that it typically is more cost effective than advertising, and, editorial coverage of a company has a greater air of legitimacy than advertising. Like advertising, PR is far too broad to address in a single article, however, one particular component of PR should be noted-”third party endorsement.
When working to create familiarity, it’s best to create “cheerleaders” out of the people with influence on your target markets. Both B2B and B2C customers are highly influenced by expert third party endorsement. Third party endorsement is particularly important in the early stages of growing a new business or product as it adds a degree of legitimacy to your company. Magazines, websites, blogs and other media that your target markets regularly view are excellent resources for independent testing (and hopefully third part endorsement) of your product(s) or service(s). A good PR person or firm will have the contacts and ability to reach key influencers cost-effectively, and, assuming you have product or service with true performance advantage, the PR firm can help quickly generate positive endorsements of and growing word-of-mouth for your products.
Create a Compelling Reason to Buy
The ultimate purpose of any marketing effort is to foster sales. Certainly, creativity is fun and can increase the appeal of your marketing efforts; however, marketers need to focus their efforts on communicating a company’s unique product or service benefits. This is particularly important when a company is not yet a household name.
Whether marketing to B2B or B2C customers, you need to be able to clearly communicate how your product or service will benefit a potential customer. You can improve your likelihood of success by providing information about potential alternatives to your product or service, credible third party endorsement about your product or service, as well as customer testimonials and proof of a positive return on investment.