By Doug Gallow
Over the years, marketers have developed distinct strategies and tactics for B2B and B2C selling scenarios, based on the unique decision-making processes each audience takes throughout the path to purchase. On one hand, you have B2B decision makers, who are quite possibly the smartest consumers on the planet. They often have to make highly informed decisions, while spending lots of time convincing many people and justifying their recommendations—likely more time than most any consumer purchase decision aside from very high ticket items like cars and homes. Meanwhile, on the other end, you have B2C consumers, growing fiercely educated in their purchase habits, expecting personalized, technology-enabled support that anticipates their every desire.
At the intersection exists a hybrid model—B2B2C—businesses who sell and market their goods and services to businesses who sell and market those goods and services to end consumers. A fragmented audience like this provides a further distinct set of challenges when building, managing and communicating the value of brands. To try and simplify the complexity, I’ve come to a few main considerations for tackling such multi-stepped marketing, all grounded in simple truth that while distinct in certain purchase habits, these people are both — wait for it — people.
1. The brand is everything is the brand. Oftentimes marketers of B2B2C brands are faced with the tough task of prioritizing dollars across their somewhat disparate audience groups. They toil with internal questions like: Which audience is more critical to driving growth? To which should I market most directly? What responsibilities or tasks could be streamlined, or transferred to the “second B” of the B2B2C chain?
Of course, budgets aren’t unlimited and need to be prioritized. And every audience is unique in terms of influence on the ultimate purchase. But one thing remains constant: Every touchpoint—whether you decide to control it directly or not—builds the perception of your brand. It might be a mass media advertising campaign to reach B2B stakeholder providing a halo to the consumer; or a sell sheet to send to business leads; or the way your dealer promotes your product in their email campaigns to the end consumer.
Whichever way, the brand is everything is the brand, and the more control you give away, the higher risk that the intention behind your brand strategy, or marketing message, or design aesthetic, gets skewed, and the equity you built is diluted, or worse—convoluted.
Remember that B2B and B2C audiences alike are human beings, and today’s human beings expect consistent, thoughtful, well-designed and immediate communication from companies in any transaction.
When answering the tough questions faced around prioritizing budget, audience or control within a B2B2C model, marketers must not lose sight that every touchpoint matters.
2. All things being equal, understand how the consumer buys the product. Focusing your budget priority on the B2B relationship (your first duty), it’s easy to let consumer-focus fall to the wayside. But at the end of the day, your company gains revenue based on the consumer’s desire to purchase a product or service. No matter how critical the B2B relationship may be, if you lose sight of the end-consumer’s purchase behavior and desires, you face obsolescence by falling behind competitors who evolve to reach consumers on their terms. And those terms shift constantly as innovators find new, easier, more timely ways of delivering the content, messages and purchasing models they want and need.
Commitment to ongoing understanding and investment in research and analysis of the end-consumer group is critical to help B2B2C organizations compete and thrive.
3. Value is personal. Purpose is universal. Every audience in the B2B2C chain of exchange values your brand in a different way. Your business customer may place great value in the logistical prowess of your sales team, while your end-user notices (and more and more, expects) the seamlessness of the experience, and the utility of its features. For business customers, oftentimes the foundational trust of the B2B relationship trumps all other value created, whereas for end-users the tangible benefit of the product or service may be all they’ll ever know or care about.
While understanding these individual needs is absolutely critical, understanding a company’s core purpose and promise is perhaps even moreso when it comes to building brands. Everyone—the employees of the first B, the customer of the second B, and the C consumer—will know you above all else for some one thing.
Take Herman Miller—a leading furniture designer who serves both businesses and consumers, sold through both independent dealers and their owned retail channel, Design Within Reach. While the user groups and sales channel dictate a range of buying experiences and product types, each audience knows Herman Miller for one core thing: impeccable design.
This is an oversimplification that would make certain peers of mine cringe. But it’s truly that simple—for the vast majority, your brand will be known for some one thing. Your ability to instill that one thing in the minds of your audiences needs to be extraordinary, and it needs to be excruciatingly consistent. Otherwise, how do you expect the same idea to get from the first B to the second B to the C accurately? See point 1. Be known for one great thing, regardless of audience.
With buying journeys, media plans and competition more complex than ever, all brands need to carefully consider the totality of their go-to-market strategies. For B2B2C brands, that’s certainly the case. Rather than getting bogged down in the complexity, we can all benefit from reminding ourselves of these few simple truths to build strong, relevant brands.
Doug Gallow is a Director of Client Engagement at VSA Partners. In his role, Doug leads key client relationships and oversees the strategic development and execution of project initiatives to help clients advance their brand and business. Since joining VSA in 2014, Doug has led client and agency teams to design and execute brand, marketing, and communications strategies for partners including Marvin Windows and Doors, USAA, GE, UBS, and AbbVie. You can contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org.