B2C vs B2B Marketing: Do the Differences Really Matter?

As a professional marketer, you have to know your customers and what motivates them to make a purchasing decision. But are the buyers of products and services in the B2C world really that much different from their counterparts in the B2B world?

The primary differences between B2C and B2B marketing are derived from the emotional perspectives of the buyers. Often, the consumer is focused on quality, comfort, and price, while the business buyer is concerned with increasing profits for his/her company.

“As a general rule, B2B marketing relies more heavily on rational–rather than emotional–product or service benefits,” said Kim Hennig, a B2C marketing veteran and principal of Kim Hennig Marketing, who has delivered record sales, award-winning advertising, and profitable marketing plans for some of the nation’s best-known brands, including McDonald’s, 1-800-Flowers, and Subway. “This is certainly not to say that the business buyer doesn’t have emotional connections to the brands he or she purchases, but there is a far greater need to justify how the features or benefits of a product will have a demonstrable impact on the company’s bottom line.”

B2C marketing typically:

  • Involves targeting a large audience of individuals
  • Focuses on products, services, and transactions
  • Creates brand awareness and loyalty through imagery and repetition
  • Drives single-step purchasing decisions using emotional decisions based on status, impulse, or price
  • Relies on merchandising and point-of-purchase activities
  • Requires cash, checks, or credit card payments

B2B marketing typically:

  • Involves targeting a small audience of groups or committees
  • Focuses on relationships
  • Creates brand awareness and loyalty through personal relationships
  • Drives lengthy, multi-step buying cycles using rational decisions based on bottom-line business value
  • Relies on educational and awareness-building activities
  • Requires credit lines or open orders paid each month

“One of the fundamental differences I see between B2C and B2B is the role that the sales professional plays in generating business,” said fellow The Social CMO Crew member Chris Herbert, the founder and CMO of mi6, a B2B marketing agency. “It seems that in B2C, the marketing organization leads, and the sales organization follows in terms of budget and priority. But in B2B marketing, the sales organization often leads, and marketing ends up being a support service. In B2B, the risk business owners take is that the sales reps start defining the brand based on what they say and end up just focusing on the things they want/can sell. The owner needs to use marketing strategically to ensure customers know why they buy from the company and not just the rep.”

“In my experience, targeting also differs between B2C and B2B,” added Herbert. “Consumers tend to be marketed to similarly based on geography, demographics, and in some cases, psychographics. The sale tends to be more emotional and focused on gratification. You’re targeting an individual, a couple, or a family. In B2B, your market can revolve around a problem you solve for a specific function, department, or industry. The targets within that market tend to be corporations, functional departments, and specific roles. Marketing to these people is about solving problems, improving their businesses, and reducing risk.”

But is the gap between B2C and B2B marketing narrowing or widening? “While much has been written about how today’s consumer is becoming more businesslike in his/her purchasing habits (the ‘new frugality’ trend, for instance), the fact is the consumer still responds powerfully to marketing messages that deliver promises of happiness, comfort, escape, and self-reward,” noted Hennig. “Recent upticks in dining out and luxury goods sales are great examples of how emotional messaging to consumers is still highly effective.”

Through tracking such differences and similarities, as well as the ongoing impact of social media evolution on both B2C and B2B marketing, potential specific approaches and methods can be identified for reciprocal crossover improvements as well as the identification and advancement of best practices.

17 thoughts on “B2C vs B2B Marketing: Do the Differences Really Matter?

  1. Excellent article!

    Another difference: B2C often requires very little explanation. You can run ads for perfume and jeans with no copy. B2B, however, often requires lots of copy to explain, educate and inform. You don’t see many white papers written about corn flakes.

  2. I’m going to have to disagree here. While there are different tactics to take with B2B and B2C customers, you’re still marketing to human beings, and human beings are emotional creatures. The importance of targeting the emotional core of why a prospect should purchase from you is absolutely critical. Just like consumers, businesses will spend lots of money on products and services to fulfill ego- and satisfaction-driven desires — even if it’s not critical to the bottom line. The trick when selling to B2B customers is knowing what their emotional needs are; discover that and you can make the sale.

  3. I agree with Alan, excellent article. I think one of the most important things to note is this quote “As a general rule, B2B marketing relies more heavily on rational–rather than emotional–product or service benefits.” To me, this is one of the largest differences between the two. Emotions and benefits are usually much more important to consumers than to fellow businesses.

  4. I agree with @brock. Business respond to an emotional value proposition, not a pure rational value proposition. They are people, they have certain goals, aspirations, fears, internal cycles, and a raft of things far beyond product. That’s precisely why the “best offer” does not win many times. The people in the decision chain buy your product, your company, and you – and all these things can be influenced by social media. This is because they increasingly don’t want your information, they get that from their networks, in their own time, and when they are ready to act.

    Walter Adamson @g2m

  5. Couldn’t have said it any better than Brock! Be it b2b or b2c: show sincere interest in what motivates people and their emotional and practical needs. Engage with your (potential) clients! Why would they want to buy from you instead of somebody else? What can you offer that others can’t? Why, objectively spoken, do you deserve the deal?

  6. Good points in the article and comments! Another challenge on the B2B side is the team nature of purchases. The decision team may consist of engineering teams, operations teams, purchasing, senior management, etc. especially for strategic, capital purchases.

    Each individual and represented group has their own issues and reasons for their decisions.

    The closest analogy in B2C is a group banding together to purchase something. The complexity of the buying process grows with the size of the group.

  7. This is so true — and very well said, “It seems that in B2C, the marketing organization leads, and the sales organization follows in terms of budget and priority. But in B2B marketing, the sales organization often leads, and marketing ends up being a support service.” Seems obvious in hindsight, but it’s one of those things that never occurs until someone spells it out. Nice post!

  8. Social media is a catalyst for encouraging b2b sales to be based on personality as much as the cold facts of the product/service. B2B consumers now have the advantage of using social media platforms to see the reputation, personalities and expertise of the provider. Now that we have social media, simply a great product/service isn’t going to cut it… For example, you are printer company in competition with another half a dozen in your area, what is it that makes you different? It is the people behind the product; the personalities, knowledge and expertise. Social media allows this to come across like never before, drifting away from the hard sell towards the lurking from afar, allowing you to gain insight into who exactly it is you might want to do business with.

  9. A fascinating article – thanks. I have a background covering both B2B and B2C, and set-up my own business offering marketing services to small businesses in 2008.

    In defining my target market, I’ve gone for what I describe as a ‘considered purchase’. If you think of a continuum from ‘simple’ to ‘complex’, or ‘low involvement’ to ‘high involvement’, then I think that it is possible to see more important bases for differentiating markets, than B2B vs B2C. We offer services to companies operating at the complex end of this line, usually by virtue of being high value, high status or high risk. I see more parallels between, say a family buying a car, and a small business buying a phone system, than I do between that same small business buying a phone system, or buying coffee for the staffroom.

    I find it much more useful to think about the buying process, and whether or not it is a considered one, than I do to think along B2B / B2C lines. Indeed, I also tutor for the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and use this idea with students, which has proved much more helpful for understanding the practical differences in marketing approach than the standard dividing line along B2B/B2C lines.

  10. Great article and thanks for the great documentation, Kent. Love these chats, but TweetChat went dead on me, so it was good to read your write-up.

    Love all the very smart folks who participate in these. Some CMOs I know should join in. They’d learn a lot.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    President, Find New Customers

  11. Kent,

    The gap is most certainly narrowing for one simple reason: for many B2B companies, their website and Google have become their best sales person.

    As far as the differences you listed above, you could say the same things about both B2B and B2C. Other than B2B having multiple decision-makers and implied career-risk involved in the purchase decision, the gap is quickly closing.

    My definition of B2B Marketing used to include “a human sales force,” but again, the Internet has removed that as a universal requirement.

    My current definition is posted here: http://www.marketing-playbook.com/sales-marketing-strategy/b2b-whats-it-mean

  12. I think that marketers shouldn’t discount the underlying emotional aspect of the B-to-B sale which is fear of making a purchasing mistake and/or praise of making a good one. While it may seem like the purchase is dictated by the rational need to enhance bottom-line results, we have to think about how the possibility of enhancing or not enhancing those results makes a purchaser feel.


  13. Excellent post and commentary. I agree with Brock, et. al.

    There is definitely emotion in the B2B purchase. Why? Because there is always some level of risk involved in a B2B purchase, thus emotion enters the picture. And this degree of risk will impact the degree of emotion at play in the B2B sale.

    I love Bryony’s thoughts — looking at the process as a continuum versus a black and white comparison.

    Both the level of risk as well as the emotion involved in a B2B sale should be viewed along a continuum.

    Discerning and addressing the level of rational versus emotional messaging (sell) to present, and at what stage in the sales process to do so (and to which target — buyers, influencers…) is vital.

    There’s alot to be shared on both sides of the house (between B2B and B2C). I believe you’re a richer marketer if you understand this and move the conversation to a push versus pull discussion coupled with the balance of emotion and rational messaging needed within each tactic and at each stage of the decision making process (and of course to which target).

    Thanks for the insightful post Kent. Great kick-off to the new year!

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