Sunday, September 23, 2018
The Differences Between B2B and B2C Marketing That Still Matter
In a recent column published at The Drum, Samuel Scott argued that the marketing industry has split into two distinct camps that have adopted and now advocate two very different approaches to the practice of marketing.
According to Samuel, the divide is between "online B2B marketers" who "want to gain and convert website traffic into leads" and "offline B2C marketers" who "want to build brands among mass audiences." He wrote: "The result is a new Cold War in which the two sides have different practices, read different publications, attend different conferences, follow different thought leaders, and view the other as outdated or uneducated."
Samuel contends that the big problem with this polarization of marketing is that people in both camps have an incomplete or distorted view of marketing. He wrote: "Both offline B2C and online B2B marketers can learn from the other's news outlets, conferences, and thought leaders - if only they would choose to do so by openly integrating everything into simply 'marcom.' Today, there is no 'offline marketing' and 'digital marketing.' There is only marketing."
Many of the observations in this column are absolutely on point, but I also think that some of the differences Samuel describes exist for valid business reasons. Recently, it's become popular to downplay the differences between B2B and B2C marketing. Some commentators even argue that all marketing should be viewed as "business-to-human" or "human-to-human."
It's certainly accurate to say that virtually all forms of marketing involve the communication of a message to a human being. It's equally true that business decision makers are also consumers, and that the attitudes and preferences they have as consumers don't disappear when they're acting in a professional capacity. This doesn't mean, however, that there are no important or meaningful differences between B2B and B2C marketing.
Samuel argued in his column that the current divide between B2C and B2B marketing is largely the result of longstanding assumptions, the main one being that "B2C is emotional and has short sales cycles while B2B is logical with long sales cycles." He then correctly points out that this assumption is, at best, an oversimplification of reality.
A more practical and meaningful difference between B2C and B2B marketing is that most B2C marketing involves the communication of a relatively simple message to a large or very large audience, while most B2B marketing requires the communication of more complex messages to a relatively small audience. This difference alone dictates the use of different marketing strategies, channels, and tactics.
The combination of simple message-large audience explains why many B2C marketers still emphasize advertising via offline mass media channels. Short ads (think 30 or 60 seconds) can be effective at communicating simple messages, and mass media channels are still an efficient way to reach large audiences.
And despite assertions to the contrary, several recent research studies have shown that advertising still has a significant impact on consumers. For example, in a 2017 survey of 1,030 U.S. consumers by Clutch, 90% of respondents said that advertisements influence their purchase decisions. The Clutch survey also found that TV is still the most influential medium for advertising. Sixty percent of the respondents said they are likely to make a purchase after seeing or hearing a TV ad.
Since many B2B marketers must communicate more complex messages to a relatively small audience of business decision makers, it shouldn't be surprising that they tend to emphasize the use of marketing channels (such as email) that can be more precisely targeted and marketing techniques (such as content marketing) that can accommodate longer communication formats.
So, is there a "Cold War" in marketing as Samuel Scott suggests? I agree that marketers who work in the various marketing disciplines tend to read many of the same publications, attend many of the same conferences, and follow many of the same thought leaders. To some extent, this kind of "tribalism" is inevitable. But it can also create echo chambers in which the particular and narrow perspectives of each marketing discipline are reinforced and amplified.
To combat the pernicious effects of these echo chambers, marketing leaders need to ensure that the members of their marketing teams are regularly exposed to information about the broader aspects of marketing. Such regular exposure helps reduce the impact of echo chambers and avoid the development of marketing silos.
Image courtesy of Vic via Flickr CC.