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6 min read

What can B2B learn from B2C?


Does anyone remember those old “‘I’m a Mac.’ ‘I’m a PC.’” ads? The ones where PCs were nerdy, not very fun, unexciting dweebs, and Macs were cool, laidback dudes (the term hipster hadn’t developed its current popular definition, but we’d totally call the Mac character a hipster). Well if we’re gonna play around with these stereotypes, there’s always been a sort of similar vibe of how B2C and B2B marketing is perceived. B2B are nerds, B2C are the cool kids.

Before all you B2B marketers get riled up and tell us how fun and super cool you all are, let's make one thing clear: we know you’re cool. If we didn’t think B2B marketers and marketing could be cool, we wouldn’t be bothering with this community and its content.

But while B2B marketers are just as cool as, if not cooler than, their B2C cousins 😉, let’s be honest: B2C gets a lot more fun things to play with. B2C marketing encourages outside-the-box thinking, trying out new strategies and methods, while B2B marketing seems to be a tad slower on the uptake.

B2B marketing tends to settle into refining and perfecting the same methods. But if every B2B marketer is using the same tactics, then it can be tough to stand out from the crowd. So where can we draw inspiration for something new in the B2B marketing scene?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. B2C marketing has many tried and true strategies that haven’t yet received widespread adoption in the B2B marketing world, which could just be the shot in the arm your B2B marketing strategy needs.

Influencer marketing

Like it or loathe it, influencer marketing is here to stay in the B2C world. Pretty much every consumer industry engages in influencer marketing, and it’s down to one important psychological constant: people are more likely to buy things they see people they trust and admire use.

The same concept applies when it comes to B2B, perhaps to an even greater degree. B2B purchases are much less likely to be spontaneous, due to the twin factors of purchases tending to be more costly, and the implications of poor purchasing can be much more dire. If an entire company’s ability to operate is on the line, B2B purchasers want to make sure they’re investing in a sure thing.

One way to show your products or services have that degree of certainty is to have people or businesses who are trusted in your target market’s industry using them.

But how can you do this without selling it to those people first? Well, that’s where influencer marketing strategies come in.

When we talk about influencer marketing, we aren’t talking about the current beast it’s become, the one where brands pay a Kardashian/Jenner millions of dollars for a single social media post. We’re talking about how it originally started out (and to some degree still exists in the sphere of “micro-influencers”), where a brand would provide their products or access to their services for free, in exchange for coverage on their social media channels.

This requires a deep degree of trust in your product. If it doesn’t do as advertised, then these influencers are likely to tell people about it, even if you’ve given it to them for free. But getting content from the right sources is well worth it if you can do it well. Third-party content and user-generated sources have been cited as the most credible content by B2B buyers.

Another way of going about this is to just be so dang good that your customers want to tell others about you. This should already be your goal with customers, but there are ways you can encourage your customers to become your ambassadors.

Affiliate programs can be an effective way of encouraging and rewarding your customers for being your cheerleaders. Giving them access to exclusive content, deals, or even products based on how much they spread the gospel of your awesomeness can be much more effective than relying on their loyalty and goodwill. Incentivize to galvanize and more customers will be your prize.

You can also be proactive about it. Reach out for case studies and quotes directly from customers you know to have been particularly pleased about the good work you’ve done. And if case studies have been cited as the most valuable type of content to B2B buyers, then this one’s a bit of a no-brainer.

If you’re still not sure about pitching an “influencer marketing” campaign to your super-serious-Kardashian-hating-boss, just call it something else, like a “brand ambassador program”, which doesn’t have the same connotations.

User-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is basically content that customers post online about brands and B2C marketers LOVE IT. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. It shows a deep level of brand loyalty. If a customer is willing to put their own social media reputation on the line by posting about a product, then it shows a good level of commitment to that brand.
  2. It expands your reach organically. UGC gives you access to all of that user’s followers, without having to do any kind of paid ad placements.
  3. It’s outside-the-box ideas. If you’ve got enough users out there generating content for you, the laws of probability are that there could be something brilliant that goes viral. Not to make any kind of comparison to your average social media user, but it’s similar to the infinite monkey theorem: give enough monkeys with typewriters enough time, and eventually, they’ll create the entire works of Shakespeare. UGC can be like that on a large enough scale.
  4. It’s other people doing your job for you. Provide the spark for a good UGC campaign and you’ve got ample content to keep your social channels ticking over for a while, allowing you to devote yourself to other marketing activities (or chillax).

A great example of a B2C UGC campaign is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. These personalized bottles and cans, along with the encouragement to share the images of the products online were huge for Coca-Cola, reversing a 10-year decline in sales in the US, and generating millions of posts across various social media platforms.

What Coca-Cola did right is emblematic of all great UGC campaigns: give your customers the tools and encouragement to create branded content for you.

So why don’t we see much UGC in the B2B marketing world? All you need to do is provide your customers with the tools. As Coca-Cola has shown, personalization can be a great step. Along with that, everyone loves swag, so why not throw in some free, personalized swag with your products? Odds are your customers will post about it on their social media.

Your customers are likely to be as desperate for content as you are, so if you give them the tools to make that content, they’ll use it and you’ll be rewarded in turn.

Market to people, not businesses

What runs on data, and relies on logical facts and figures? A computer.

What makes decisions based on emotion and gets distracted by videos of cats on the internet? A person.

Now out of people and computers, which ones currently run businesses and decide what purchases they make?

It’s people of course, so why do many B2B marketers still tend to make all of their marketing about sharing facts and figures? Forming an emotional connection with your customers creates more valuable, dedicated customers.

Speak to the people behind the business with your copy and content, don’t just hit them with facts and figures.

“We will increase your efficiency by 24%” is never going to get people emotionally invested. You’re much better off with something along the lines of “We’ll save you time and money so you can put your efforts into more important things”.

One method for this is by being funny. Some of the most memorable and effective B2C advertisements of all time have been rooted in humor, and yet B2B marketing seems weirdly resistant in getting its audience to laugh.

Lets take the above example that next step: “We’ll save you time and money so you can put your efforts into more important things (or not, maybe you want more Netflix time)”. We’ll admit it’s not a joke that’s going to win any awards (and we've used something similar ourselves earlier in the article), but it adds that little extra touch to make it a bit more personal and memorable.

We’ve already extolled the virtues of fun and humorous B2B branding here, so we won’t spend much more time on it here.

Another method is to build a sense of community with your customers and leads. Interact with them, get them interacting with each other. You can do this with things like events, or even something as simple as speaking to them on social media. Get a fun conversation started between them and you’ll be showing customers what they’ll be missing out on if they leave you, and get your leads excited to be involved with you.

None of these are beyond a good B2B marketer. So why are they expected in B2C brands, but absent from so much B2B marketing? Most of it just requires some slight tweaks to existing strategies, not a clean slate, or even diving into uncharted territory.

What successes have you had bringing B2C strategies into B2B? Let us know!

Written by:

Will Whitham

Will Whitham

Will has written copy and content both in-house and agency-side for a broad variety of brands, industries, and international audiences. He's the host of the CMO Alliance podcast, CMO Convo.

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What can B2B learn from B2C?