People or personas? What B2B marketing can learn from B2C

Every effective marketing strategy begins with a clear understanding of the target market. That information allows brands to talk to prospects in an appropriate voice and tone while appealing to the factors most likely to make them purchase.

However, people are not just ‘personas’. We all make buying choices as consumers every day, and may also have professional purchasing and budget-management responsibilities at work. 

So what are the most effective marketing strategies from the companies who want to win us over as people and ‘personas’? Chris Wells and Ben Beeching discuss.

B2B marketing: Helping customers make rational, justifiable, and relationship-based decisions

When we make buying decisions wearing our professional hat, they tend to have a higher cost and have more lasting consequences. Committing our organisation to a new software package is simply a bigger deal than choosing which brand of cereal our family will have for breakfast this week

At work, we'll also often have to either justify B2B decisions to others or make them as part of a team. As a result, we need to be able to defend them rationally. Others involved may have conflicting motivations: the CFO has an eye on the budget, and the CISO is worried about data, and so on. To persuade them all, we need marketing collateral containing an impressive array of facts and figures, underpinning the benefits with logic and comparisons. 

However, those facts won't reach the boardroom by themselves because we won't even read the spec sheet unless we connect emotionally first. We do business with people we trust and like. And the bigger the purchase, the harder we'll expect them to work to earn that trust and build the relationship.  

Making a big buying choice at work could be a career-defining moment, so we'll need to feel totally secure about the business practices, ethics, and values of the other party. We'll look for marketing messages that are consistent, reassuring, and authentic. Once everything is aligned emotionally (and assuming the product itself is a good fit for what we need), then we'll use the facts and features to rationalise the choice to ourselves and others. 

We'll even tolerate a certain amount of industry jargon in brand communications. It can help us feel knowledgeable and show us the company understands our specific concerns.

B2C marketing: Creating the customer experience

For most of our consumer decision-making, however, the stakes are lower. And we rarely have to justify those choices to anyone else. 

Faced with huge selections in most consumer categories, we use simple heuristics to cut through. If our supermarket has 80 variants of toothpaste, we certainly won't compare and contrast their various features and benefits and make a conscious decision, any more than we do over the 60 other items in our trolley.

Instead, transactional factors will drive us, such as:

  • Brand familiarity - driven by advertising and strong presence. 
  • Accessibility - those eye-level shelves are the place to be. 
  • Convenience - why did we choose that supermarket in the first place?

Trust still matters in B2C, but it has to be built at scale. One-to-many, rather than a personal relationship with a sales rep.

Sponsorship, adverts, and a recognisable brand help us relate to the product and attach certain values and characteristics to it. We'll even extend that trust across categories (so when the toothpaste brand launches a mouthwash, we'll already have a positive unconscious connection to it due to the logo on the bottle).

Even when we do actively weigh purchasing decisions as a consumer, we want clear and unambiguous marketing messages, focused directly on the benefits it will bring us. We don't have a lengthy business procurement cycle or a board to convince (though sometimes family members might need an explanation, which we’ll look at later in the post). We just want something that fixes our pain points and makes our lives easier.

And we'll let our unexamined emotions rule a lot of the time, choosing that fashion accessory simply because we love it. What else matters?

How to market meaningfully to everyone

It's not that consumer choices are less important, we just make them differently, with different criteria. 

For big-ticket consumer items, the process is more like the B2B situation, and vice-versa: 

Imagine discussing a new car purchase with your spouse. You had better be across the financials and features, even if the slick brochure and shiny chrome first won you over in the showroom. Conversely, a small-business owner or freelancer might indulge a more emotional choice for a piece of shiny tech that they know they will love using. Their knowledge that there are functional equivalents available at lower cost from less prestigious brands isn’t always decisive.

Other times too, the purchaser may not be the end user of the product at all. Here the marketing strategy needs to address different messaging to distinct stakeholders – think about a product intended for children (who need to desire it, nag for it, and enjoy it), but that will be chosen and paid for by parents.

Today, many products are sold first to channel partners or distributors, who then depend on selling to consumers. Lots of online platforms work in this way, connecting different parties in a transaction by leveraging datasets and audiences. This trend is growing all the time.

Brands, therefore, need to understand the different factors driving purchasing behavior and sales cycles for both business and consumer buyers. 

They also need to accept a certain amount of blending and ambiguity in the final analysis. Few products are created and marketed 100% to one segment or another: That cereal and toothpaste is bought in bulk by a wholesaler to sell to corner shops or a hotel chain. So, there must be consistency across the marketing communications matrix. What's good for one must be good for all.

Understanding your customer and what drives them is ultimately the most important thing.  Thoroughly analysing and researching their buyer personas and unique user journeys to clarify which hat they're wearing when they make their choice will help you develop the most effective tactics to use in your brand marketing. But it’s important to keep in mind that although the relative importance of emotion and rationality might change in different circumstances, there’s always a balance of both to some extent – regardless of which hat the buyer is wearing.

Want to learn more about improving your CX?

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