Traditionally, there has been a distinct difference between marketing to a business and marketing to a consumer audience. Communicating previously involved a strong contrast in tone, with the business tone focusing more on technical language and rationality, and consumer marketing able to adopt a more colloquial tone.
However, with new channels joining the marketing mix and changes in buying behaviour over recent years, differences between the two styles of communication have become blurred. Whereas marketing to consumers was once a case of broadcasting generic messages to a mass audience, digital channels, social media, artificial intelligence, and predictive marketing now enable highly personalised communication. Digital channels and social media are now much more relevant in a B2B scenario than in the past, when engagement was direct, often through a personal one to one relationship between supplier and customer.
To better understand how best to engage these two audiences, let’s examine some of the key similarities and differences.
One key difference is that the motives for purchase are generally very different.
The B2B audience generally buys products or services based on the needs of a team, group or organisation as a whole. The customer is usually purchasing on behalf of this body, so the approach to sale needs to be rational in that it must successfully communicate the business benefit to the buyer. The B2B decision making unit involves multiple stakeholders across different functions, each with a different viewpoint and motivations. Communication needs to take account of that complexity and present the benefits of the proposition that address the needs and interests of each stakeholder group.
A consumer, by contrast, is likely to be purchasing for their own benefit and motivated by needs, aspirations and desires. Depending on the product/service, the decision might be based more on ‘want’ than ‘need’ and that individual in most cases will have the power to make the decision independently. Thus, the message is tailored to appeal to the consumer’s emotions and aspirations, rather than presenting a logical rationale in favour of purchase. That said, in both B2B and B2C, the purchase is being made by a human being and all human beings are emotionally driven, so emotion cannot be totally ignored when dealing with a business audience.
It is all about the brand
Today’s consumers are more much more discerning and have the power to hold brands accountable for their behaviour through social media, reviews and other feedback mechanisms. The internet has created a level playing field where consumers can shop around and compare price across different products. Buyers are no longer loyal and price is no longer the key differentiator; organisations need other ways to stand out by consistently communicating a strong identity and brand values.
This is true for both B2B and B2C where brands may create an identity based on ‘human’ qualities, which their audience can relate to, representing values such as 'creativity', 'integrity' and 'authenticity'. In a B2C context, this is likely to include qualities that inspire an emotional connection or have aspirational appeal such as 'fun', 'spontaneity' or qualities that align with a particular lifestyle. What’s more, today’s consumers are well educated and may value other qualities above price. For example, they have higher expectations that goods are sourced ethically and sustainably, and it is therefore critical for brands to communicate integrity.
In a business to business context, given the level of investment involved, price will always be significant, but trust and brand reputation are increasingly important for a successful, profitable business. Any business working with suppliers whose practices are not ethical or responsible is at risk of damaging its reputation and therefore its financial success. Moreover, organisations known to be responsible are able to charge, on average, 58% more for their products, so having and communicating ethical values is actually good for the bottom line.
Long-term vs. short-term cycles
The sales and marketing cycle for business and consumer audiences tends to be very different. Winning new clients or generating leads in a B2B environment, with higher value sales and more complexity in the buying process, requires greater lead time. There are generally more touchpoints within a B2B cycle and more sustained engagement to build trust and understanding, with a drip feed of relevant information to nurture interest over time. Consumer campaigns focused on a single end user generally require less contact to secure sales.
Interestingly, with the dominance of e-commerce and social media, B2B buyers are adopting consumer behaviours, doing their research ahead of any point of contact, and engaging directly with the supplier much later in the customer journey. This may be true, but it is a risk for marketers to stand back and leave prospects to ‘self-serve’, only engaging in the later stages of the customer journey. In B2B, it is crucial to connect early and build the trust and rapport that is so essential to secure purchase - averting the risk of competitors intercepting your prospect and leading them away.
Whether B2B or B2C, gone are the days when buyers make decisions based on the brands they have grown up with. The ability to shop around prior to making any sort of contact applies to both the business and consumer purchaser, giving them higher purchasing and bargaining power. Today’s markets are fast-paced and ever changing, so marketers need to adapt their marketing accordingly and continue to test new approaches. Recent research suggests some 71% of B2B buyers say they want to hear from vendors early in the buying process. A proactive marketing approach that establishes a connection based on a true understanding of requirements not only creates a competitive advantage, it is welcomed by prospects overwhelmed by options and struggling to find the right solution.
Telemarketing is a flexible channel that can bring valuable human engagement and a compelling, tailored proposition to any stage of the sales and marketing process. At The Telemarketing Company, we have over 28 years’ experience providing specialist B2B telemarketing and telesales, as well as telephone research, to our clients. If you’d like to speak to a member of the team to discuss how we can support your needs, get in touch today.