B2B is Dead – Long Live B2P

B2B vs B2C vs B2P.

The terms B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) are essential, elementary for a person beginning the journey into the professional world.

Each acronym provides the building block at a company’s inception to describe their mission statement, target market, and product.

Sales and marketing departments live and die by their ability to grasp these concepts, and a company’s success hinges on identifying the target market within each audience.

For the past 25 years, such denominations have ruled business and professional thought processes. With the advent of the internet and its exponential rise to dominance in every aspect of life, it’s difficult escaping these terms. Seasoned vets may remember a time when such terms weren’t the status quo.

The Millennial generation in the workforce – the largest generation since the Baby Boomers – has never lived without this framework. But it’s inevitable to begin questioning convention in the modern sales and marketing landscape.

While B2C enjoys its continual evolution of character and color as companies market to an ever-sophisticated internet audience on social media apps, B2B stands in a completely different light.

B2B sales and marketing – stuck in a cage

By its very nature, B2B necessitates a style of communication that is more risk-averse, one that has the potential to cater to all types of people and avoid alienating or offending anyone. In particular, it relies on communicating a message central to one’s job role rather than the individual themselves.

B2B sales professional buyer personaWhile both camps grapple with an ever-changing landscape, a key difference remains in the style of each herd. Consumers generally evolve and conform to the “beat of the brand drum.”

Larger B2C corporations have the major advantage of in-depth market research on shifting trends of consumers, and even small businesses can keep their ear to the ground and forge their own voice all the more to stand out. In either sense, whether it’s through big budget research or social media presence, consumers are generally easier to track in B2C.

Bigger B2C companies have been trying break down corporate stereotypes in recent years by forming more grass-roots style messaging with personalized branding, social media, and connection to the consumer, compared to the pre-2000s.

B2B, on the other hand, is generally dictated by a misguided understanding of prospective customers. For clarity’s sake, both B2B and B2C are influenced by customers, but that’s not the point. B2B is inherently trapped into the box of corporate safety and bland messaging because B2B buyers are so often associated with risk-aversion.

Specifically, the number of buyers involved in a B2B decision is 5-7, far more than the 1 involved in a B2C decision. As such, the timeline for a sale is typically much longer, requires a finessed sales approach and formality that conforms to traditional business standards.

Most clear is the link between emotion and logic – while one customer can be captured through a whimsical interest (B2C), the other makes far more calculated decisions (B2B).

But even this is changing.

Consumers on both ends are doing far more research than ever before prior to making a purchase.

Sales intelligence doesn’t lie

Consider the following B2B stats, which begin to paint a harsh reality for the state of B2B messaging and brand perception:

  • 64% of people cite shared values as the main reason they have a relationship with a brand. Harvard Business Review
  • B2B brands that connect with their buyers on an emotional level earn twice the impact over marketers who are still trying to sell business or functional value. LinkedIn
  • “Professional, social, and emotional benefits” marketing has a 42% lift in perceived brand benefits, as opposed to traditional messaging. LinkedIn
  • 75% of B2B buyers want branded content that helps them to research business ideas, but 93% of brands focus their content on marketing their own products and services. MarketingCharts
  • B2B customers are more than 2x as likely to consider a brand that shows personal value over business value, because they perceive little difference in the business value between suppliers. Marketing Week
  • B2B brands fare better with customers when they use emotive rather than rational marketing messages. MarketingWeek
  • B2B companies with brands that are perceived as strong generate a higher EBIT margin than others. Forbes

The question then remains, what cues can B2B brands take from the B2C world to stand out and more than the same boring B2B marketing we’ve all become accustomed to?

For a deep-dive into the B2B Buyer persona, get our extensive, free study.

B2B branding falls short

b2p means people firstIf you cover up your brand’s logo/identity, is your brand itself still recognizable? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you use the same verbiage as competitors?
  2. Is your tone of voice the same as others in your industry?
  3. What story does your brand imagery say about your brand?
  4. Are you using the same stock photos as everyone else?
  5. What about stock video (especially of people)?
  6. What does your style say about your customers and, your target market?
  7. Is your message brand-centric or customer-centric?

All of the above boils down into one bigger, broader question:

Is your brand storytelling (read: story-doing)?

This term gets thrown around a lot, partly for its eyebrow-raising qualities at conferences, and partly for its trendiness. But it’s not without merit this term exists, and here’s why most companies fail miserably at storytelling:

  • Generally copying what other brands are doing in the same space
  • Using the same imagery as others
  • Resorting to quick and easy brand tricks (*cough* free stock photos *cough*)
  • General miseducation (or lack of education) about buyer personas
  • Focused in other areas like lead generation (even though these are completely related)
  • Muting a unique company voice
  • Being the hero of content, not the curator
  • Failure to capture the buyer’s journey and make a connection

It’s incumbent on marketers in the B2B brand space to form a brand that conveys sincerity, personality, and a form of advanced empathy. The stronger marketers get to know their client base – and actually integrate those cues into the brand – the more relatable the company will become.

Brand voice is especially key here, as this trickles down into nearly every piece of collateral produced for the company.

Ultimately, nobody cares about your company or brand unless you give them value. And value isn’t just endless amounts of content which bear no relevance to your customer’s needs, but producing quality that is finely tuned just for that.

Value manifests in the form of speaking to buyer pain points, knowing what they care about and sharing that commonality, and a general sense of empathy. Value is not your features and a list of recent hot patches to the product.

 

Leads aren’t generated by risk aversion

Ironically enough, the same entrepreneurial spirit that shapes thriving U.S. companies is the same spirit we should be taking cues from to be bold and brave when it comes to the formulation of the brand. Even political memos have become a trendy pseudo-branding technique.

Who’s getting this right? Volvo Trucks hit it out of the park with their Jean-Claude Van Damme split video, as well as this other one detailing a 4-year old named Sophie remote-controlling a full-size Volvo truck:

Maersk, a Danish shipping company, began using social in 2011 to raise brand awareness, gain insights into the market, increase employee satisfaction, and form a relationship with customers. They focus on telling stories that emerge from within its business, such as helping spur a boom in the sale of Kenyan avocados, and where its staff comes from.

Maersk now has over 63K Twitter followers and 2.45M likes on Facebook.

As marketers and salespeople, we can not afford to be bandwagoners in such a fast-paced world. As Ann Handley has so rightly said, smart companies lead conversations, not just join them.

Business-to-person (B2P) trumps it all

People – not businesses – make decisions.

This simple statement has the power to dramatically affect every action one makes as a marketer or salesperson. Whether you’re selling to a handful of people in the world’s most niche market, or selling software solutions to an enterprise, it’s helpful to remember that you’re selling to people who have unique values and needs. B2P removes the barriers created by the B2B mentality by placing the emphasis back on what people really care about and the stories that drive us.

The idea of B2P (business-to-person) has been thrown around throughout the years, but consider this a stake in the ground, a dedication to a more genuine way of conveying value outside the box of B2B-centrism.

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Preston Zeller

Preston's experience has produced a combination of creative and analytical skillsets where he now focuses on Conversion ..read more