I’m told that people look for easy-to-scan lists in a blog. With that in mind, here is my take on the major differences in approach between B2B and B2C advertising creative.
That’s right. Not. A. Thing.
Regardless of audience, the best advertising creative has always been focused on an individual – on his or her needs, interests, behaviors. On his or her preferred methods and vehicles of communication. It's highly personal communication designed to be more like a one-to-one conversation than an announcement to the masses.
In this regard, the best B2B advertising is just like the best B2C advertising. It speaks to one individual. It doesn’t matter whether that individual is a busy knowledge worker, a hard-working tradesperson, a young mother, an aspiring athlete or a new homeowner -- the creative approach to communicating with that person will be exactly the same. It will speak to the individual and aim to trigger an emotional response.
Okay, 2,3,4 and 5 are just for emphasis. But it’s a point that needs emphasizing. Because in point of fact, much B2B advertising creative ends up looking and feeling quite different from B2C.
Three primary reasons:
1. Marketing communications that’s driven by something other than marketing. In B2C environments, the conversation generally takes place directly between the brand and the buyer. This means that marketing directly drives sales, which leaves the marketing function in a very powerful position. But in B2B environments, the conversation may take place between the brand and distribution channels, or the brand and an influencer (such as an architect or designer) who does not directly purchase the product. In fact, in B2B sometimes the conversation may not involve the actual buyer at all. As well, the purchase cycles for many B2B products can be much, much longer than B2C purchase cycles. All of this means that a B2B marketing may not directly influence sales and is much more likely than a B2C organization to drive audience actions that (eventually) lead to sales opportunities, such as requests for information.
In this scenario, marketing may be much more influenced by internal audiences such as product development and/or engineering. Because each of these groups is highly influential and has their own agenda it can be difficult for B2B marketers to balance the demands and pressure that come from them, making it quite challenging to develop focused, personal communication to an end-audience.
2. Technical information that weakens the emotional appeal. B2C advertising often features very simple products. Peanut butter is pretty much peanut butter -- not much that needs to be explained, which may be why peanut butter advertising so often taps into the emotions of busy parents looking for quick and healthy foods. On the other hand, B2B marketing can involve highly complex and technical products, equipment or software. In some cases, understanding the technical nature of these products is vital to driving further engagement. In other cases, a marketing influencer such as product development may fall under the spell of the technical features. In these kinds of situations, B2B marketers may be tempted to let the emotional needs of the audience take a back seat to the more straightforward presentation of information (aka product features and benefits).
3. Audience myopia. In the broad B2C world, there are segments upon segments of customers, and knowing all of them well can be challenging for any marketer. So B2C marketers have to be attuned to constant learning. But when you make a product that is sold to one particular audience – say, hospital administrators – it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you know your customer so well that reaching them becomes habitual and reflexive, and you become less conditioned to continual learning.
The best B2B marketers understand that beneath their buyer is a person. A person with challenges, wishes, fears and hopes. A good creative B2B marketing agency will develop creative that appeals to that person at those levels and is every bit as engaging as the best of B2C advertising. And doing so is only going to become more important. Because B2B buyers today are in full revolt and are acting more and more like B2C buyers – demanding a different level of engagement and a deeper understanding of their needs. As researchers in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review state, "People now expect companies to understand what type of relationships they want and to respond appropriately—they want firms to hold up their end of the bargain."
That last point opens up a whole new world of opportunity that marketing has available now more than ever.
But that’s the subject for another blog post.