What does B2B and B2C even mean? How does the method of marketing differ?

Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers aim to capture the attention of two distinct audiences. And although there are many similarities between these types of marketing, how they engage audiences on each channel is actually quite different.

First, let's clarify what B2B and B2C is.

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What is B2B vs B2C?

B2B

B2B stands for business-to-business. It describes businesses whose customers are other businesses, and therefore all of their marketing is dedicated to the needs, interests, and challenges of customers who are making purchases on behalf of their organization -- rather for themselves. Here are a few examples of B2B in action:

  • A recruitment software service that sells hiring tools to HR departments.
  • An interior design agency that specializes in designing office spaces.
  • A marketing software service that sells content strategy, SEO, social media, lead-generation, and related tools to marketing departments (sounds like a product we know ...)

B2C

B2C stands for business-to-consumer. It describes businesses whose customers are individual consumers, rather than professional buyers. Therefore, all of the businesses' marketing is dedicated to the needs, interests, and challenges of people in their everyday lives. Here are a few examples of B2C in action:

  • An oral care company that sells toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouthwash to individuals.
  • A real estate agency that rents and sells residential property to individuals, families, and students.
  • A music platform that sells premium music-streaming subscriptions to individuals.

Where They Intersect

Of course, the lines between B2B and B2C can intersect at times. In fact, the same company might have both B2B and B2C initiatives happening at once.

For example, an interior design agency that designs office spaces for businesses (a B2B service) might also design certain rooms of houses for homebuyers (a B2C service). An oral care company that sells toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouthwash to individuals (a B2C service) might also sell its products to dentist offices (a B2B service).

When the differences between a B2B company and a B2C company are less clear, as they are in the examples above, it's best to look at their respective marketing strategies. And they can differ in a number of ways.

What does this difference look like in practice? Check out the items below to learn the distinct goals of B2B and B2C marketing, and how you can steer your own strategy in the right direction.

B2B Marketing 

ROI matters in B2B marketing.

B2B audiences are seeking efficiency and expertise, while the consumer audience is more likely to be seeking deals and entertainment. Accordingly, the B2B purchase process tends to be driven more by logic and financial incentive. In other words, what's the product's return on investment (ROI)? How will the business profit as a result of this purchase? After all, employees only buy things that will make their business money.

B2B customers want to be educated.

B2B customers often want to look like the workplace heroes thanks to their excellent decisions. In order for them to make good decisions, however, they need to have the right knowledge of the products they're browsing. This is where B2B content marketing comes in: If you can help your audience think critically about the industry, and make them more skilled professionals in the process, you'll ensure they make a purchase decision they don't regret later.

Detailed content is required.

Unlike a B2C audience, B2B customers expect to be "catered to" by sales and marketing teams. So, to build on the third tip, above, feel free to add details to your content that a B2C buyer might find trivial or unimportant. Get in the weeds of your product: What can it do for a business? What can't it do for a business? What does the customer need to know to be successful with your product?

B2B marketers have a much longer chain of command to deal with.

Procurement, accounting, and department heads often need to approve purchases in B2B situations. While an individual B2C customer typically makes their own speedy purchase choices -- admittedly with the growing influence of their friends and family -- B2B customers need to escalate every decision to someone else before any money changes hands. This means you're not just marketing to one person; you're marketing to everyone who has a say in the buy.

The B2B buying cycle is often much longer than the B2C decision process.

B2B marketing requires more lead nurturing and close attention to the user experience. Because these decisions are meant to complete long-term goals for a company, the process that company goes through when evaluating your product is much more complex. Have patience when marketing to other businesses, and create content for them that addresses the various stages of their buying cycle.

A contract for a B2B purchase tends to last months or even years.

B2B purchases are often ongoing relationships with the vendor -- the business can't just dispose of the product if they don't like it. This makes it a much more significant decision for a client, and B2B marketers need to be mindful of that. Consider the long-term projects for which your audience will want to use the product. When will the product's various features kick in? How will the user's needs evolve over time?

B2C Marketing

A B2C consumer following your brand isn't necessarily looking to build a close relationship with it.

The B2B crowd wants information and the ability to build a close relationship with brands. B2C customers, well ... let's just say, they're just not that into you. B2C buyers can be just as loyal to your brand as a business customer, of course, but their investment in you is likely not as deep as your investment in them. With that in mind, be careful how much content you deliver to your past B2C customers, and be okay with the ones who might follow you on Twitter but don't subscribe to your blog.

Marketers can't throw around industry jargon.

When it comes to brand voice, the simpler the better. Brands must be at their most relatable in the B2C community -- meaning fewer buzzwords and (usually) a less formal attitude. The industry lingo you throw around among your colleagues might demonstrate expertise to a business customer, but it's a major turnoff to an individual. In fact, 83% of consumers specifically prefer an informal tone in video content.

B2C purchases are more emotionally driven.

All purchases are, to some extent, emotional decisions. Nowadays, people buy with the hearts more often than their minds. But B2B customers still have to think in terms of business impact -- there's only so much emotion they can let influence their actions. B2C customers, on the other hand, are much more dependent on their gut when deciding to buy something. Because these people don't answer to someone else when making a purchase, a brand that tells an uplifting story about someone who benefited from the product can be all the persuasion they need.

You need a fun factor.

B2C customers are highly invested in their own enjoyment when buying for themselves rather than a business they work for. Sure, everyone wants products that make their lives easier, but the average B2C audience is far more interested in fun than the average B2B audience. Use marketing to educate your business audience, but use it to entertain your consumer audience.

Bottom line? B2B and B2B marketers have distinctive problems.

Often, the largest problem that B2B marketers have is a lack of content and time to create it. This differs from B2C marketers who would rather have a bigger advertising budget and other ways to spread the word about their products. Naturally, this has a significant effect on tactical executions.

It is essential for marketing professionals to understand that efforts designed to take advantage of the difference between B2B and B2C marketing will find more success when reaching leads. However, at the end of the day, no matter which side of the B2B or B2C divide a marketer works on, all marketing is P2P -- person to person -- despite the external differences.

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Originally published May 8, 2019 10:05:00 PM, updated May 09 2019