B2B vs. B2C Social Media Marketing

Alan BelniakMarketing, Social Media9 Comments

A multi-pronged approach ensures that you get to eat!

A multi-pronged approach ensures that you get to eat!

Many a social media strategy I read about today seem to focus (implicitly or explicitly) on business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions.  This includes soft drinks and food items with engagement ads on Facebook, to blogs about a breakfast cereal, to following a Twitter account for a brand of cleaning supplies, to TGI Friday’s amassing a huge number of Facebook friends.  The strategies that I discover much less frequently are the ones that discuss business-to-business (B2B) interactions.  These include a company’s service or product offering to yet another company (who then in turn uses it to do something or passes it along to another consumer in the customer chain).  This is the situation I am in, and I am asked this question about once per week: “What’s the difference in social media marketing between B2C and B2B?”

Todd Defren at www.pr-squared.com talks not about the difference of B2B and B2c, but rather the appropriateness of social media in business.

Chris Brogan states it very well here:

Think of this principle: “Be there before the sale.” Sales cycles for B2B products are often very long. When I spoke at IBM Research’s headquarters in NY, I heard about a supercomputer of theirs that has a 3 year sales lead cycle. How much marketing can one do in 3 years to move that box? Instead, how HUMAN can you be for 3 years, while going through the process. I think that’s where B2B gets a big boost from exploring these social tools.

In the end of any sale, it comes down to someone buying a good or a service from you, and you ideally want to understand that market, interact with it, engage it, make a sale, make a customer for life, and all of the good idealistic things that go along with that (forgive me if this sounds trite; rather, I’m trying to be brief and convey one larger meta-point).  And I agree with this, in the sense that any improved connection to your customer is a good thing.  It’s even better if your customer views you not as a vendor, but rather an unspoken partner or colleague – a solution provider.

Shifting from philosophy to the subject at hand, I think there is a difference, though, for B2B and B2C marketing, and this is probably best described by the pharmaceutical drug industry here in the US over the past decade or so.  The FTC has long permitted prescription drug manufacturers to advertise in mainstream media, but it really gained momentum in the past ten years.  This began the influx of ads on TV, radio, and print for drugs for allergies, ED, sleeping disorders, and the like.  But the subtle caveat here is that the pharmaceutical companies are advertising to the end-users of the drugs, but not to the pharmaceuticals companies’ customers: the doctors.  So if the pharmaceutical companies can increase awareness of their new drug that cures restless leg syndrome (was it ever really a syndrome?), and John Q. Public asks his doctor about it, then the doctor is in a position to prescribe it, thus recording a sale for the pharmaceutical company.

So, what does this all have to do with social media marketing, and B2B and B2C?  In B2C social media marketing, companies are advertising to and ultimately selling to the end-users of their wares.  That is, the purchaser is almost always the user.  The user makes the buy/no-buy decision based on whatever criteria they have determined.  The smart marketer will understand these decision factors, and position their product/s appropriately.

For B2B, the purchaser is rarely the end-user.  The user is the one who will get direct benefit from the features and functions of the product; the purchaser is the one who will make the buy/no-buy decision.  What this ultimately means is that there are two (or more) marketing messages that need to be created and distributed: one message to the consumer/end user discusses the benefits, bells, whistles, features, functions, and the like.  The message needs to clearly convey the value proposition of how the end product does something positive for the end-user.  The second message is aimed at the purchaser – the person or group that has the ability to spend the money on the product or good.  This message needs to convey that the item to be purchased makes viable, economic sense; that it can do what it’s supposed to do, at a cost less than the competitor, or at a value greater than the competitor.

Where does that leave us?  Social media marketing for B2B, then, needs to be a two-pronged approach: one sub-market being the users/consumers, and one sub-market being the buyers/purchasers.  These two groups need to be engaged differently.  Energizing and supporting groups can be successful for the end-users/consumers of the product, while awareness and outreach can be successful groups for those charged with making a purchase.

I am employed in the software industry, and most of the software my company produces is for enterprise applications (that is, not very many shrink-wrap and cardboard box-type software).  The price-points are a bit steeper than, say, Intuit’s Quicken.  Accordingly, much thought goes into the purchase of 100 seats of software that has a price tag with a comma in it (see my earlier reference to Chris Brogan).  To market effectively, our marketing team creates one suite of marketing messages and social interactions for the end-users (who are clicking the mouse and pressing the keys), and one suite of marketing messages and social interactions for the people who need to determine if it’s a reasonable spend.

Like many things in social media, this isn’t a silver bullet.  How about you?  What’s your take on this?  Does this make sense to you?  Or do you have a different view point you’d like to share in the comments below?

Image courtesy of http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3483/3979038718_0d8b573b69.jpg

  • Pingback: Alan Belniak()

  • http://www.nhplace.com/kent/ Kent Pitman

    I don’t think these issues are new, although new technologies need to accommodate the old paradigms in a medium-appropriate way. I’m not entirely sure at quick glance here which of two issues you mean to address, though:

    There is the notion of an “economic buyer” vs “technical buyer” for example, and that’s been around quite a long time. If you’re selling a product like Microsoft Excel into a business, you have two buyers: the person who uses Excel and vets its suitability for purpose and the person who writes the check (often one or more management levels up).

    There’s also the notion of an end-user in a multi-tier business pipeline involving multiple vendors, each potentially adding things like value and packaging. In that regard, you get things like the Coal industry advertising the virtues of coal even though perhaps they sell only to coal refineries who are already sold on the concept, as a way of softening the market. Some political organizations do this with so-called soft money spent by things like parties on general issues to avoid spending limits on individual candidates.

    Drug companies seem to me more like the latter model, while software companies are more like the former. But maybe I’m stereotyping overly.

    Ultimately, technology tends to mirror the world so since these are issues we bring with us from the real world to cyberspace, we end up needing technologies for managing them, which includes social media.

    (I’ve omitted the issue of whether the tool itself provides capabilities for packaging and branding, as for example is done when various web sites like blog sites allow services that are both offered to end users directly and in packaged forms. I’d have to think harder to decide if that’s a hybrid issue or a third kind of thing. This ability to blur the two modalities has existed in the form of OEM packaging in other forms than online, but it seems more common in cyberspace than in physical form because of the easy and low-cost capabilities of combining software. It often leaves the notion of end-user a little messier. In fact, in some cases another company can be both a user of technology directly and a repackager of technology for end-use that competes. This happens in the real world, too, though; the DSL marketplace is an example.)

    Also, these communities will ultimately take on lives of their own and the notion of a “marketing message” seems the most suspect part of what you’ve said. Like with raising children, if you start out with a preconception of how you will manage them or what messages they will be happy to receive, they may surprise you. And as with people, you may launch these groups thinking they will provide you with useful feedback but may later find they don’t; at that point, you can’t unlaunch (er, kill) them. But you may come to the realization that they don’t serve their original purpose. Adapting to such dynamic evolution will be the next frontier of social media.

    Sorry for running on. Hopefully you found something useful in there.

  • http://www.nhplace.com/kent/ Kent Pitman

    I don’t think these issues are new, although new technologies need to accommodate the old paradigms in a medium-appropriate way. I’m not entirely sure at quick glance here which of two issues you mean to address, though:

    There is the notion of an “economic buyer” vs “technical buyer” for example, and that’s been around quite a long time. If you’re selling a product like Microsoft Excel into a business, you have two buyers: the person who uses Excel and vets its suitability for purpose and the person who writes the check (often one or more management levels up).

    There’s also the notion of an end-user in a multi-tier business pipeline involving multiple vendors, each potentially adding things like value and packaging. In that regard, you get things like the Coal industry advertising the virtues of coal even though perhaps they sell only to coal refineries who are already sold on the concept, as a way of softening the market. Some political organizations do this with so-called soft money spent by things like parties on general issues to avoid spending limits on individual candidates.

    Drug companies seem to me more like the latter model, while software companies are more like the former. But maybe I’m stereotyping overly.

    Ultimately, technology tends to mirror the world so since these are issues we bring with us from the real world to cyberspace, we end up needing technologies for managing them, which includes social media.

    (I’ve omitted the issue of whether the tool itself provides capabilities for packaging and branding, as for example is done when various web sites like blog sites allow services that are both offered to end users directly and in packaged forms. I’d have to think harder to decide if that’s a hybrid issue or a third kind of thing. This ability to blur the two modalities has existed in the form of OEM packaging in other forms than online, but it seems more common in cyberspace than in physical form because of the easy and low-cost capabilities of combining software. It often leaves the notion of end-user a little messier. In fact, in some cases another company can be both a user of technology directly and a repackager of technology for end-use that competes. This happens in the real world, too, though; the DSL marketplace is an example.)

    Also, these communities will ultimately take on lives of their own and the notion of a “marketing message” seems the most suspect part of what you’ve said. Like with raising children, if you start out with a preconception of how you will manage them or what messages they will be happy to receive, they may surprise you. And as with people, you may launch these groups thinking they will provide you with useful feedback but may later find they don’t; at that point, you can’t unlaunch (er, kill) them. But you may come to the realization that they don’t serve their original purpose. Adapting to such dynamic evolution will be the next frontier of social media.

    Sorry for running on. Hopefully you found something useful in there.

  • http://www.subjectivelyspeaking.net Alan Belniak

    Kent, another great series of points. You’re right – the issues are not new. They are as old as they terms B2B and B2C, or the general notion of selling to more than one entity inside an organization. What’s frustrating are the people asking “well, how does social media address that?” What should be asked in response is, “how does *marketing in general* address that?” Ignore the sub-channel for a moment (social media), and look at the larger issue. That’s the real discussion to be had.

  • http://www.subjectivelyspeaking.net Alan Belniak

    Kent, another great series of points. You’re right – the issues are not new. They are as old as they terms B2B and B2C, or the general notion of selling to more than one entity inside an organization. What’s frustrating are the people asking “well, how does social media address that?” What should be asked in response is, “how does *marketing in general* address that?” Ignore the sub-channel for a moment (social media), and look at the larger issue. That’s the real discussion to be had.

  • Pingback: Christine Nolan()

  • Pingback: Conversen()

  • Pingback: Audio Interview with Christopher S. Penn — Subjectively Speaking()

  • Pingback: Cracking the code for B2B Marketing Analytics — Subjectively Speaking()