B2B and B2C: Two nations divided by a common language
B2B and B2C aren’t the same thing.
We think they are candy-hawking detergent-vending snake oil-selling charlatans, who are all about late nights, liquid lunches and cheating good honest people out of their hard-earned dollar with exaggeration, selective information and outright lies.
They think we are stuffy suit-wearing dull-as-ditchwater nine-to-fiving technobabble nerds, all corporate jargon, working-for-the-man, ready to burst with excitement over a particularly juicy eBook and with no idea about how ‘real people’ think.
It seemed to me from conversations on both sides of the divide—and unburdened by awkward complications like hard evidence—that people in B2B and B2C saw remarkably little in common between their jobs. My sister—an advertising B2C gal through and through—was dismissive of the ‘dry’ (her words) stuff I write compared to the ‘pointless bullshit’ (my words) that she deals in.
Well, it turns out that we have more in common than you might think (much like me and my sister), according to ‘The 5 Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing’, a report from marketing legends Les Binet and Peter Field, in conjunction with LinkedIn and the B2B Institute.
Like, a lot more.
Being louder works everywhere.
In B2C marketing, there is a well-known relationship between a brand’s share of voice and its rate of growth. Brands that set their SOV above their SOM (share of market) tend to grow, all other factors being equal, and those that set SOV below SOM tend to shrink.
B2C marketers have known this rule since the late 1960s—and despite all the shenanigans of the last 5 decades, it still holds true.
And that makes sense. The brand everyone is talking about ends up winning proportionally more of the market share. That’s how it works, and intuitively that feels right—not the other way round, where a massive surge in sales suddenly gets everyone talking.
If that’s the B2C case, why not B2B as well? It could be that it’s not the case in B2B…or it could simply be that so few B2B brands have tried to make it the case that we hardly know.
Let’s look at the one rock solid example we do have: Epic Split.
We’ve all seen it (95 million views and counting—you’ve definitely seen it), so I won’t dwell. Hopefully we’ve all read about it, too, and considered stealing from it.
While Volvo didn’t release exact sales figures, in a survey of 2,200 truck owners at the time, half of those who saw the video said they were more likely to choose Volvo (a third had already contacted a dealer), according to AdWeek.
That suggests the same rule definitely applies in B2B—and the Binet and Field report backs this up. Not just vaguely, but exactly; if anything the rule applies more in B2B.
For consumer brands, 10% extra share of voice causes market share to rise by 0.6 % points per annum, all else being equal; for B2B, the corresponding figure is 0.7%.
Maybe markets are just…markets. And they respond to market forces in familiar, predictable ways. Whether they’re selling PIM software or hair gel is incidental.
So why don’t B2B brands try and make more noise? Why don’t we do loud, brave, ambitious campaigns, brash activations and publicity stunts with A-list influencers instead of, I don’t know, another email nurture campaign?
Why is it that most B2B brands—and agencies—fail to see the value in spreading the word, in a powerful, attention-grabbing way, whoever it happens to reach?
Don’t ask me—I’m still relatively new to this game. But it seems like there’s a huge opportunity for B2B brands who are willing to go against the grain, cast off conventional wisdom and be bold enough to invest in making their voices louder.
And the similarities don’t end there.
B2B and B2C markets both need to balance short-term and long-term marketing strategy.
This notion of balancing marketing efforts between long-term (brand building) and short-term (sales activation) is key to Binet and Field’s research—their theories, arguments and why they’re so highly regarded in the industry.
And despite a significant discrepancy in the amount of research conducted, their report confirmed that balancing long and short-term marketing strategies is just as important in B2B as in B2C.
It’s just that the balance itself is slightly different.
B2B or B2C, it doesn’t matter: to neglect either brand or sales while lavishing attention on the other is a recipe for long-term failure—even if it may bring some short-term success.
When the balance is right, each enhances the other, and Papa Long-Term Growth (Lady Luck’s other half) is gently watching over you, with a warm smile and wink of the eye.
Efficiency in B2B appears to be maximised when around 46% of the budget is allocated to brand, with around 54% allocated to activation, but the optimal mix varies by category, price point, brand size and so on.
Of course it does. This ratio is an art not a science—at best it allows for a rough estimate: it’s based on limited data and will fluctuate significantly depending on any given brand’s industry and context.
However, the average B2B vs B2C differential is 16%, and that’s not insignificant. It speaks to something of a difference between B2B and B2C. I mean, there had to be one.
It strikes me that with expensive multimedia ad campaigns, celebrity/influencers endorsements and lavish activations, it follows that B2C companies would proportionally spend more on brand to stay ahead of the competition in the public consciousness.
And because B2B companies generally have a more limited pool of buyers (and lengthier sales cycles) than B2C, it makes sense that they feel the need to spend more on sales activation and encouraging return buyers.
But if the other B2B/B2C similarities are as stark as they appear, maybe it wouldn’t hurt some B2B brands to flip this script, and experiment with more ambitious brand-building to see if it doesn’t suddenly give sales a boost and widen the buyer pool, while cutting the sales activation spend.
Maybe reaching out and connecting with potential buyers right at the top of the funnel with an emotional, brand-building campaign wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Just a thought, considering that…
B2B people have emotions too.
As a person with thoughts, feelings, whims and whimsies—who happens to be in B2B—this obviously came as a huge shock to me.
Compared to other types of marketer, in B2B we can be petrified of appealing to emotions, if that means ignoring the product/service features-oriented marketing approach designed to communicate differentiation proof points.
But wait a second. How goddamn boring does that sound?
‘The product/service features-oriented marketing approach designed to communicate differentiation proof points.’
Eugh! Really living up to our drier-than-Gandhi’s-sandal B2B rep there, my dudes.
Among the ludicrously talented B2B marketers that make up our writing team, and from whom I’ve learnt a huge amount these past few months, I’ve still noticed a reticence to overindulge in emotional appeal.
Often, there’s every reason to follow that instinct (nervous clients being a significant one). But we may be missing a trick.
Quick example: Big Ass Fans. They make fans (large ones) primarily for industrial, commercial and agricultural spaces. And they have a great logo.
Originally called HVLS Fans (‘high-volume low-speed’), they changed the name when customers repeatedly enquired if they’re the people that make ‘those big-ass fans.’
One name pithily sets out why the product will be efficient and effective, highlighting a business case and differentiation points in a mere four letters. Impressive.
The other name speaks straight to the heart, reaching deep into the soul of anyone who has ever really wanted a giant fucking fan in their life.
That’s B2B marketing.
We love big ass fans.
And the stats back it up.
In the battle of emotional vs rational marketing, conventional wisdom dictates B2B brands very much err towards the latter. It is automatically assumed we are steely automatons and B2C companies are gushy divas.
But when B2B agencies and their clients assessed emotional vs rational decision-making when making purchase decisions, the distinction was less than dramatic. Way less.
- 43% of B2C responders thought emotion was more important rationality, compared to 35% for B2B
- 30% of B2B responders thought rationality was more important, just 4% more than in B2C (26%)
- 32% of B2C responders thought they were equally important – 35% in B2B
Turns out it’s less ‘steely automatons and gushy divas.’ And more ‘well-rounded individuals and their similar but slightly more capricious siblings.’ (Coincidentally, another fitting analogue for me and my sister.)
These marginal differences suggest that whichever field you’re in, if you fail to appeal to buyers emotionally you’re missing a huge opportunity and could be hemorrhaging market share.
While rational persuasion works well for short-term sales, when it comes to long-term brand building and bringing in new business, emotional appeal carries much more weight. (Just ask Big Ass Fans).*
Maybe we’re not so different after all.
The truth is, these last few months, I’ve actually had a lot more to talk about with my siblings and
dumbass charlatan buddies in B2C. We’re not divided by a common language—we’re all saying more or less the same thing just with slightly different accents.
And having spoken to them, I’ve grown to believe that we’re not just ‘not so different’ but are in fact ‘pretty much the same.’
It’s almost like we’re all just people, who share a passion for communicating ideas and an underlying set of beliefs about how other people understand the world.
When you look at the sheer variety of clients any agency covers, it can seem ridiculous that they’re being represented by the same group of people.
That’s certainly the case at Velocity, where the content, tone and style of work we produce for different clients can differ so radically it seems absurd they’re working with the same people, and connected by the nebulous ‘B2B’ label.
And if a B2C company approached us *sharp intake of breath* I’ve no doubt we’d be able to produce some kickass work for them. Vice versa for B2B brands approaching B2C agencies (once their creatives had, like, read up on the niche data farming software they didn’t understand cause they’d been up to their necks in KitKats and anti-dandruff conditioner).
I suspect anyone with B2B experience could make the move to B2C and be producing fantastic work within a few months. Similarly, and I mean it
begrudgingly sincerely, I think a lot of B2C marketers could find a happy home in B2B.
‘The 5 Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing’—and I can’t overstress how much it’s worth reading Binet and Field’s full report, in all its richness, detail and nuance—emphasises that whether you’re in B2B or B2C, the fundamental ingredients for effectiveness in both worlds don’t change:
- High share of voice
- Broad reach
- High mental availability
- Broadly similar mixes of emotional brand building and rational activation
- Very similar responses to changes in spend.
Every marketer can build strategies and make better work by taking all of this into account.
And those that do will have much happier clients.
*According to Wikipedia, ‘The Big Ass Fans Facebook page includes a gallery of letters complaining about the company’s name, and in 2012, it began a YouTube channel featuring customer voicemail complaints styled as music videos .’ I love these guys. Why aren’t more brands like this!?