18.01.2022

To B2B or not to be? Why I’m calling time on the B2C/B2B marketing divide

Some years back, when a much younger, fresher version of myself started life in B2B marketing, one of the first things I was taught is that B2B audiences are fundamentally different from their B2C counterparts. With their business caps firmly donned, C-Suite leaders, executives and line-of-business managers are charged with making rational business decisions that have to be properly costed and justified.

Consumer buyers, on the other hand are led by emotion, fear of missing out (FOMO) and the dopamine rush of needing THE LATEST THING RIGHT NOW. A good B2B marketer, or so I was told, knows the difference between the two and should target their messages accordingly.

I wasn’t convinced then, and I’m still pretty sceptical now. In the years since, I’ve encountered the story in a few different guises. Generally, it suggests that our buyers are grounded in decent, rational decision-making with clear business objectives and ROI – or something like that. Likewise, our marketing, unlike the flashy, superficial gunk of the consumer world, encourages sensible, informed decision making.

If you work in B2B marketing, it’s certainly a nice story to tell yourself. But as anybody who’s ever found themselves writing the dreaded B2B buzzphrase “stay ahead of the curve ” will tell you – there’s nothing uniquely B2C about FOMO. Trust me when I say “get the latest thing because it’s the latest thing” is as pervasive in the B2B world as it is anywhere else.

A narrative without a cause

Much has changed in the world of B2B tech since I first started, most strikingly the fact that I’m writing this at my kitchen table rather than in a flashy office in Central London. But this old fable about the B2B buyer has proved frustratingly difficult to shift – even in a world where the line between our work and home lives is blurrier than ever. It’s always bothered me because it feels implicitly quite patronising to consumers. But more pertinently, the mindset leads to a sloppy understanding of what compels B2B buyers. In my opinion, a lot of terrible B2B marketing can be traced back to this basic mindset.

The thing is, people are people, whether they’re at work or at home. Good marketing needs to engage people on a human level if it has any hope of doing its job effectively. The issue with the old B2B mindset is it quickly leads us down a rabbit hole of thinking there’s a right and a wrong way to do marketing. Add in a little confirmation bias and a hefty dose of group think, and before long the content you’re creating starts to speak an entirely different language from your audience.

As a B2B writer, I’ve certainly written enough drudgy, jargony and downright boring catchphrases in my time to know that, once adopted, it’s a tricky mindset to shift. [Urgent message to my past self: “driving real business value” just really doesn’t mean anything.]

If you too have found yourself stuck in the “driving value” shaped marketer’s rut, I hope you’ll agree that there’s a lot we can learn from the world of B2C.

What B2B marketing can learn from B2C

What I love about B2C marketing is that it’s utterly unpretentious. At its best, it always seeks the clearest and most direct format to target a customer, whether that’s a YouTube ad or a Tweet. B2C marketing knows how to get to the point, prioritises clarity and understands that a visual message can be at least as compelling, if not more so, than a written one.

Ultimately, good marketing is about communication, speaking your audience’s language and not taking a second of your readers’ attention span for granted. And the absolute best marketing does exactly that – whether it’s B2C or B2B. It treats people like people and grounds the marketing messages in the very real ambitions, hopes and concerns that motivate them.

For me, the biggest thing I’ve learned from the B2C world is to always imagine my target audience as a real person. Are they a HR worker, a salesperson or an IT leader? Maybe even give them a name – it helps to bring them to life. What are they trying to achieve and what’s standing in their way? It might seem obvious but plenty of marketing fails at this first hurdle.

Let’s pretend we’re promoting a HR workflow platform called FloWr. Consider, for instance the difference between these two lines:

  • “FloWr helps optimise your business and improve the productivity of you and your team.”
  • “FloWr gives you instant visibility over your team’s timesheets, so you can spend less time reminding everyone to complete them and more time doing the work you enjoy.”

At its core, the two phrases are saying fairly similar things. But I find the second so much more effective, because it takes the time to imagine the audience as real people with tangible goals – rather than faceless business-y automatons who’s only goal is to optimise.

For me, that’s the secret to making marketing engaging, effective and interesting – whether you’re selling the new iPhone or HR collaboration software.

Matt Rooke

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