Consumer marketing is often seen as the leader when it comes to innovation and customer experience, with its staider B2B cousin lagging behind.
But an article in Marketing Week last week suggests there is much B2C marketers can learn from their B2B counterparts, particularly in the arena of customer experience.
B2B – the poor relation?
B2B has often been considered the less adventurous, blander cousin of experience-led, more exciting B2C marketing.
But the article points out that people measure brands by the same standards regardless of whether they are making a business or personal purchase. Blake Cahill, senior vice-president and global head of digital marketing and media at Philips, who oversees both its B2B and B2C marketing across 10 business groups, is quoted as saying that ‘B2B customers are still customers, so they expect the same frictionless experiences they would receive as a B2C customer’.
As a result, the distinction between B2B and B2C marketing is shrinking, which increases opportunities for consumer marketers to learn from their business peers.
This is a shift that Tim Buchanan, group head of digital at insurer Hiscox, recognises, saying that ‘Fifteen years ago, you looked at retailers and it felt like they were ahead of the game’. Today ‘B2B is beginning to steal the march’ due to firms’ investment in delivering services beyond the initial product offer.
Creating a consistent experience
Cahill cites one of the biggest challenges as the need to create consistent customer experiences, whether in B2B or B2C. Because Philips’ audiences are wide and varied across their many business streams, the audience personas and customer journeys can also vary widely.
In spite of these varied customer journeys, you need to create one cohesive brand. There is much you can learn here from the leading global brands. And with brand reputation even more important in financial services than in some other sectors, it’s worth reading up on why it’s so easy to destroy brand reputation and how you can avoid it.
Data is key
One of the differentiators between B2B and B2C is the use of data. Buchanan believes that business-focused brands ‘use data in a much more savvy way’, while Irvin Gray, head of marketing at start-up Chargifi, says that B2B brands are far more used to using ‘all kinds of customer intelligence that help us profile and create personalisation strategies at scale’.
While all firms’ data processing has been impacted by GDPR, it’s not just customer data that can be used to inform marketing strategies. Social media gives marketers a wealth of data they can use to fine-tune their content strategy – something that B2C marketers might benefit from.
Adrienne Gormley, vice-president of global customer experience at Dropbox says that ‘B2C push products out and hope people will go for it, but B2B can teach brands to be more targeted’.
Using the data at their disposal to create the most effective marketing content strategy helps marketers – whatever their audience – to maximise engagement with their content marketing. Vital in today’s content-driven world.
This can be easier in B2B, where smaller audiences can help marketers to gain a clearer understanding of their customers’ needs – but Cahill believes it is equally possible for B2C brands.
Learning from leading brands
The article cites a Brand Experience Index, published by agency Rufus Leonard, which finds that B2B brands are leading the way when it comes to customer experience. While experience and solving client problems are the biggest factors in the index’s rankings, communications also feature highly.
Know your audiences
B2B marketers have an added complexity in their role, in that the person tasked with finding a solution is often not the same person who will have to use it. This can make it difficult to communicate the benefits of products and services, as the advantages to the user may not be the same as those for the buyer.
The challenge of comparisons
The high level of personalisation of B2B solutions can also make it hard to compare – the article points out that ‘a list of specifications and how they compare in the market can prove meaningless’.
The difficulty of creating any document that delivers comparable information has been highlighted by the FCA’s need to address concerns around PRIIPs and KIDS.
Experience can be the answer, with B2B brands focusing on what the article calls their ‘emotional resonance’ to create differentiation in what can be a crowded and homogenous market.
Digital isn’t everything
Continuing this ‘experience’ theme, human interaction rather than a 100% digital experience is something that B2B marketers are recognising as important.
Hiscox’s Buchanan warns against getting carried away by ‘the tsunami of digital transformation’ and remembering that people, on the whole, want to interact with people. While digital – in terms of communications, customer experience and delivery – clearly has its place, and B2B is rapidly raising its game on innovation, an online-only experience is not always desirable.
B2B typically has more complex products and solutions than B2C, so it can be very difficult to manage all customers’ needs without human interaction. Using a number of channels to communicate with customers, before, during and after the buying cycle, is valuable.
Contrary, perhaps, to the general perception, there is much that B2C marketers can learn from their B2B counterparts.
And whether you market to business or consumers, there are some lessons that are applicable equally. Having a consistent brand in an increasingly crowded marketplace is one essential aspect of a high-quality customer experience. You can get suggestions on how to achieve this by downloading a copy of our 5 tips to ensure brand consistency. The tips are free and you can read a copy here.
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