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How the Best B2B Marketers Think Like B2C Marketers: Five Strategies to Emulate

by Russell Glass  |  
September 5, 2012

Business-to-business (B2B) marketers have one of the most difficult and underappreciated jobs on the planet. Their mission is to create memorable brands out of some downright "unsexy" products. (Have you ever tried making software, manufacturing widgets, or chemicals look interesting?)

B2B marketers must educate extremely smart potential buyers, ensure that influencers are knowledgeable about their products, and ultimately convince people they should bet their jobs on choosing their products over those of competitors. Moreover, even while sticking to a limited marketing budget, B2B marketers must provide a hungry sales team with enough qualified leads to keep their pipelines full and their families fed.

How do they do it? The best B2B marketers are successful because they start with building a brand. In other words, the best B2B marketers think like business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers.

Think Like a B2C Marketer

The first step toward thinking like a B2C marketer is to create great brand recall. Let's say you're thirsty and you walk into a store that carries Coke and DMG-Cola. You immediately reach for the Coke because you know exactly how it will taste; it is the safe choice. However, if earlier that day you'd seen a banner ad that said "DMG-Cola—Tastes Like Coke, but 100% Organic!" you may well have tried the DMG-Cola. The DMG marketer who bought that banner ad had a simple goal—not to drive someone to make an immediate purchase but, rather, to create brand recall that would influence purchase decisions in the future.

Of course, applying this method to B2B marketing is more challenging, but it can work. First, to illustrate how much more complex the B2B marketer's challenge is, let's use the same example—but in a B2B context.

Your boss asked you to buy soda for a company party, so you go to the store and spot Coke and DMG-Cola on the shelf. Even if you had seen the banner ad marketing DMG-Cola, you'd still choose the Coke. Why? Simply because Coke is the less risky decision, and many purchase decisions in a business environment are made with the goal of minimizing risk. Nobody ever ruined a party by buying Coke, but if you showed up with DMG-Cola and your coworkers didn't like it, you'd take the blame for making a poor decision that had a negative impact on the company party.

So, what would the DMG marketer have to do to convince you, as the business buyer, to choose DMG-Cola instead of Coke?

  • First, she would have to build awareness of the DMG-Cola brand as in the above example.
  • Then, she would have to provide examples and testimonials of others who had thrown successful company parties with DMG-Cola. She might create whitepapers and host webinars highlighting the advantages of DMG-Cola vs. Coke and other competitors.
  • She would also have to influence executives at your company and your trusted peers outside the company, so they would recommend DMG-Cola around the water cooler.
  • Finally, she would have to ensure this information stayed top of mind, so you wouldn't fall back on the "safer path" of reaching for Coke next time you were tasked with planning a company party.

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Russell Glass is a co-founder and the CEO of (Bizo), a B2B-audience-targeting platform and advertising network.

LinkedIn: Russell Glass

Twitter: @glassruss

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  • by Gail Onat Wed Sep 5, 2012 via web

    Great insight, I also would like to add that one of the most important criteria in B2B marketing that makes it successful and sets it apart from B2C is about knowing your customers' customers. Very important! The days of asking our customers what they want is long gone...We are expected to know their expectations proactively and in B2B everything we sell directly impacts their business directly so knowledge about their business and their customers is paramount.

  • by Ken Wed Sep 5, 2012 via web

    Gail Onat's comment about customers' customers is very well taken. Only addition I have is that the ultimate goal for B2C and B2B marketers is the same: Make a compelling case, supported by evidence, that our offering is different from and better than any alternative solution our customer can find.

  • by Gerald Wed Sep 5, 2012 via mobile

    Brilliant article. It was spot on I like that you mention the relationship part there too. Its hard to make a sale with no relationship.

  • by Anand Thu Sep 6, 2012 via web

    This is an excellent article that explains in simple words why companies need to outsource their B2B digital marketing to experts in their industry. We at Valve Solutions have built a B2B platform and audience around the oil and gas, energy, petrochemicals industry and are offering SME's in the flow, control, process, industrial and automation sector an opportunity to leverage the power of digital marketing.

  • by Nick Stamoulis Thu Sep 6, 2012 via web

    " Your audience is made up of business professionals looking to make the most economical, risk-averse, and high-value purchases for their companies."

    And most B2B buying decisions are so much more complicated than Coke or DMG-Cola. You're asking your audience to make, usually, a major financial investment. It's a complicated decision that usually involves several tiers of business and command.

  • by Anthony Shore Thu Sep 6, 2012 via web

    Great article! Thanks for writing and sharing it. Building on this topic, I wrote "Business People are People" about brand names for B2B audiences. If that type of thing interests you,you'll find it here:

    - Anth

  • by Paul Tobey Thu Sep 6, 2012 via web

    Good stuff, thanks! I agree with you that brand recall is important as you stated in number one, I like to call things what they are which really helps people remember the brand. Products like Kleenex, Mr. clean, and even Swiffer are absolute proof that you should call things what they are. I even called my company Training Business Pros, is there any doubt what the company does?

    I'd like to add to the list if I could...

    6. Build your mailing list and communicate with it often.
    7. Use suggestology and hypnotic copywriting to grab people's attention.
    8. Decipher Google's search engine algorithm.
    9. Build your brand by life presentations.
    10. Get LinkedIn working for you.

  • by Samantha Shah Thu Sep 6, 2012 via web

    Great article. You've really hit the nail on the head. Working in B2B environments it can be difficult to build that emotional connection to your audience, as you mentioned risk-adverse decision making is key. And as Nick mentioned, many of these decisions are far more complex than which pop to purchase, making it a difficult code to crack.

    The other thing I would add is the importance of a great marketing automation system to track the points of influence you mentioned, so that you can adjust your campaigns for peak effectiveness.

  • by Juan Thu Sep 6, 2012 via mobile

    Intereting Article, one must also be aware of the entire value chain so that we don't miss anything.

  • by Chris Markham Thu Sep 6, 2012 via web

    Russell, thanks for this thought provoking article. Yes agreed that it is hard to make widgets or software sound sexy, but what they can do for you, the value they bring to customers well that can be sexy as hell.

    What's missing from this discussion is the idea of high quality data - marketers live or die by their ability to gather, interpret and use data on client behaviours, and that works whether you are B2B or B2C

  • by FSWA Fri Sep 7, 2012 via web

    Outstanding breakdown and comments. I really believe that knowing the clients customers is addressing a need upfront. It has really empowered me and impressed prospective clients.

  • by Ted Wlazlowski Fri Sep 7, 2012 via web

    At Splash Media we recognize this at P2P, or person to person, marketing. Everyone is an individual in the social sphere, and traditional boundaries are being eroded. We're not marketing to businesses, but PEOPLE in businesses.

  • by Gary Brooks Fri Sep 7, 2012 via web

    Great article! I would like to point to another page in B2C marketing playbook from which B2B marketers can learn a great lession. Purchase Behavior---what a company buys and how that behavior changes over time-- is a great indicator of a prospect's propensity to buy your product. As with consumers, the manner in which your B2B prospects and customers spend their money speaks volumes about their priorities and direction. Fortunately, access to a company's purchase behavior is now available.

  • by Gail Onat Fri Sep 7, 2012 via web

    @Ted, good point however, in B2B, personal relationships are not as important. The ultimate decisions are ALWAYS based on what "your" technology/service does for my business and how it impacts my customers. There are multiple buyers in multiple business units and the people we deal with are not always the decision makers.Stakes are high, the risks are strategic and the contracts are long term. Negotiations take a long time, competition is complicated. We DO market to businesses. And what we need to proactively understand is the business itself rather than the people we deal with.

  • by Kelly Martinez Mon Sep 10, 2012 via mobile

    "...always be branding! Creating brand recall isn't a single campaign—it's an always-on tactic."

    Yes! And not just in formal pitches, but in every interaction. I think it's essential to remember that every customer engagement is branding. Brand is what the customer thinks of us, and that develops with every thoughtful strategic marketing piece, as well as every costumer engagement.

  • by Wendy Marx Mon Sep 10, 2012 via web

    Good article and nice to see all the helpful comments. I would add "thought leadership." We find that helping to differentiate the executives of our clients through insightful articles and other content can make a big difference in branding both a B2B company and B2B executives. Not to mention lead generation. The "Who" is as important as the "What."

  • by Alyona Thu Sep 13, 2012 via web

    Good article. Yes, B2B business must be with b2c face. However I also agree with Gail Onat "The ultimate decisions are ALWAYS based on what "your" technology/service does for my business and how it impacts my customers." It is very important point. It's right the people we deal with are not always the decision makers, but we must try to contact with decision makers exactly. So I think we have to make b2b marketing with some b2c features.

  • by Alyona Thu Sep 13, 2012 via web

    One more question: Is it possible to create a memorable brand if you think that it's unsexy?:)

  • by Brian Gossett Fri Sep 21, 2012 via web

    Great post. When developing marketing plans, there is no secret formula for choosing the right B2B marketing program for every situation. Our job is to weigh the potential value of each program, predict which will produce the best results and maximize your investment by choosing the mix that best meets the needs of your organization.

  • by Patrick Willis Tue Dec 10, 2013 via web

    Hi Russell. The example you have given is extremely helpful to understand how B2C marketing strategy influence B2B. Check out this website b2bmarketingarchives it is really helpful

  • by john mcode Wed Dec 11, 2013 via web

    Excellent post, B2C have a given some wonderful ideas to B2B. “Five lessons for B2B service should learn from the B2C” is truly great. Thanks for sharing… To know visit elisthunter

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