B2B and B2C content marketing: Are they really that different?

In 2016, 76 percent of B2B marketers and 77 percent of B2C marketers expect to produce more content than they did last year, according to the Content Marketing Institute. But do the similarities in their approaches to content marketing end there? Without a doubt, content marketing strategies and tactics differ greatly between B2B and B2C marketing organizations, but one key principle unites them: At its core, content marketing is all about delivering value to the target audience.

While B2B and B2C companies rightfully take different approaches to content marketing, they also have a lot to learn from one another. Let's examine the key differences between the two types of marketing approaches, as well as the strategic imperative that unites them.

B2C versus B2B content marketing basics

Few marketers would dispute that there are fundamental differences when it comes to B2C versus B2B content marketing. When talking about channels alone, it's obvious that B2C efforts today swing more heavily social, while email is still core within the B2B marketing arsenal. Even among social channels, you see a heavy divide, with B2C brands rightfully favoring Facebook, while B2B marketers pour more effort into LinkedIn. Overall, where B2C seeks to entertain, B2B often seeks to inform.

In B2C marketing, the most common goals and methods employed in content marketing typically fall into one of these three buckets:

  • Brand-building and engagement: When you think of high-profile content marketing organizations, you're likely to think of brands such as Red Bull and GoPro. These consumer-centric powerhouses pour countless resources into creating highly visual cross-channel content that builds their brands and keeps them top of mind with consumers. They do this by entertaining consumers and creating strong positive associations with their brands.

  • Transactional and e-commerce: Other consumer brands like Walmart, Mint and Marriott focus their content marketing efforts on delivering the information that people need to make a purchase now. Yes, they build awareness with their content, but they do so with the intent of capturing and converting customers in the moment.

  • Big purchases: In other consumer-facing industries, content marketing serves more as a door opener than it does a brand-building or e-commerce engine. In particular, in the realms of financial services and automobile manufacturers, content marketers focus on providing information that consumers need to make a good decision on a large purchase. Their content serves as an entry point to market to the consumer and funnels them toward an ultimate conversation with a sales representative.

In B2B marketing, most content marketing focuses on the third objective -- demand generation around big business purchases. However, it's not unheard of for B2B brands to take a more-transactional or brand-building approach to content marketing. For example, MailChimp's content efforts often build toward the more-transactional urging to "start sending today!" Others, like Adobe, are heavily invested in building brand affinity and engagement via content channels like CMO.com.

B2C lessons for B2B marketers

Whether you're a B2B or B2C marketer, your content efforts should be all about letting your brand shine and ensuring that everything you do puts your core brand mission at center stage. Core to this process is gaining a deep understanding of your audience, an area in which B2C marketers have been particularly innovative. Take Johnson & Johnson, for example, which just last year launched the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Experience Center, a state-of-the art research and development hub that enables its teams to interact with volunteer consumers in "labs" designed to replicate how people live and use its products.

No doubt, B2B marketers can benefit from a better understanding of their target customers as well. According to a 2016 B2B marketing benchmarks study by Cintell, the most successful B2B companies were 2.2 times more likely to have and document buyer personas than companies that miss their targets when it comes to leads and revenue.

That said, perhaps one of the most useful pages that B2B marketers can take from their B2C counterparts' content marketing playbooks is the value of entertaining one's audience. While B2B marketers excel at collecting emails and creating virtuous cycles of engagement with customers (a trait that B2C marketers would do well to emulate more), they sometimes forget to let their hair down around their customers. Occasionally taking a step back to entertain as well as inform can bring a new level of excitement to your target customers while still staying true to your brand and its goals.