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September 7, 2015 // 8:00 AM

B2B vs. B2C: How Content Marketing Changes by Target Audience

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When discussing content marketing, industry insiders tend to speak more to the experiences of B2C companies that are targeting consumers directly. They talk about things like how to get a branded entertainment video to go viral or how to reach consumers across different channels to increase the odds of a purchase decision -- but these two considerations are not always relevant to people in B2B marketing.

A company trying to reach decision-makers at another company requires a different mindset and strategy. Seeing Jean Claude Van Damme perform his epic split on a set of Volvo trucks isn’t enough to persuade commercial truck buyers to choose the brand when compared to other variables such as pricing and warranties. Neither will making sure Volvo ads appear concurrently on the buyer’s smartphone, desktop web browser, TV, and trade magazine. That path to purchase is much more complex, often requiring a combination of the above tactics (and more). 

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 pour a bowl of Wheaties for breakfast because of General Mills’ perceived authority when it comes to cereal?

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.

Key takeaway: Those creating B2B content should keep the imperative of building thought leadership in mind. Those who are more active with B2C content should consider other goals, such as establishing exclusivity or cost effectiveness.

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. According to Katie Rosehill, writing for Chron’s Small Business page:

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 storage 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.

Key takeaway: If you’re a B2B content creator, begin with a message of value, service, or trust underpinning your content, and then adjust your voice as needed to serve your target market. If you reach a B2C audience, on the other hand, focus on proving your price and demonstrating emotional satisfaction first.

Channel

Channel is another campaign 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 sway larger groups of potential business buyers. 

That isn’t to say that opportunities for B2B advertising are inherently worse; indeed, plenty of great channels exist that are specific to B2B advertisers. LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates, for example, give B2B content marketers an opportunity to get their messages in front of highly-targeted business buyers. 

HubSpot's seen these results firsthand. They've generated 400% more leads within their target audience using LinkedIn Sponsored Updates than lead generation efforts on other platforms.

Pretty impressive, right? Although the bulk of the content marketing conversation is centered around B2C buyers, it’s clear that B2B companies can make their mark as well with the promotion strategy.

Key takeaway: While B2B marketers might have more limited promotional channels than B2C, they should look for highly targeted, relevant channels for their content promotion efforts to be successful. 

Format

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

  • According to the Eccolo Media Technology Content Survey, 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 (98%), case studies (66%), and technology guides (37%).
  • 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.

Key takeaway: B2B publishers should focus the format of their content on blogs, white papers, case studies, and product guides. B2C content creators will appeal more to their target audiences by crafting user-generated content and real-time marketing (especially on social media).

Is There Really a Divide Between B2B & B2C?

This last point highlights an important trend to consider when developing and implementing a content marketing campaign: the increasingly blurred lines between B2B and B2C buyers.

Consider the following comment left by Doug Kessler on a Content Marketing Institute blog post on the subject:

Sometimes I wonder if the B2B vs. B2C thing is a dead end. It's funny that we marketers -- the experts on segmentation -- are still banging our heads against the B2B/B2C segmentation. Maybe it's not the most meaningful way to segment brands.

Maybe something like 'long sales cycle'/'short sales cycle' is more meaningful. Some B2B brands sell off the web page (anti-virus software, say) and some B2C brands have sales cycles that last for months (cars, mortgages). So maybe it's so hard to nail the differences between B2B and B2C is because they have a fair amount of overlap.”

Take, for example, a company selling medical devices. This single company may sell to both organizations (such as hospitals and clinics) and to individual consumers, who will use the devices at home. How then, should this company develop a strategy that appeals to both B2B and B2C buyers, given the differences described above?

It all comes down to developing an innate understanding of your target audience. Developing buyer personas is helpful to this process. However you go about developing an awareness of your customers, keep in mind that the knowledge you gain about their interests, fears, activities, and preferences should be the factor that ultimately guides your decisions on your content marketing campaigns’ intent, messaging, channel, and format.

If you’ve worked with both B2B and B2C audiences in the past, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment describing how you approached each group -- and how similar or different your approaches were -- in the comments below!

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Topics: Content Marketing

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