Barely a week goes by without someone saying the worlds of b2b and b2c marketing are converging—that there’s no difference any more.
When I hear these statements, they usually and very simplistically mean that b2b and b2c marketers are using a lot of the same tools—websites, email, digital advertising, search marketing, social media, etc. Of course, in an earlier age, we were all using many of the same tools and pathways then, too—advertising, direct mail and PR.
It’s not the tools or the usage of those tools that make b2b and b2c marketing fundamentally different, it’s something else entirely—it’s the buyers and the buying process.
And they are as different than ever.
For all the shaky convergence claims to be true, nothing less than the following would have to be happening.
Boeing would be buying jet engines for its airplanes on impulse. (“Herb, I really liked the color on those 757 Honda jet engines” or “Ralph, I really like the guttural sound of those Harley jet engines.”)
Police and fire departments would switch to other brands of first-responder radios on mere whims. “Chief, those Radio Shack radios are hell of a lot cheaper” or “General, I think it would be a lot hipper if Delta Force just used iPhones.”)
Or Coke would be adding new ingredients o sodas with little or no due diligence. (Marge, I don’t know what this new ingredient is made of, but it sure tastes good” or “Fred, this stuff makes really big bubbles, so let’s go with them.”
Of course, if all of this were happening, pigs would be flying, too. Thankfully (for lot’s of reasons), it’s not!
Consumer and business purchasers and purchases are just too different—they always have been and always will be.
It’s not that b2b buying is more rational than consumer buying. In fact, it may be more emotion-wracked—the emotion being the fear of making a bad, stupid or even harmful purchase decision.
Making bad purchase decisions happens all the time in consumer buying. Go to the store and bring home the wrong brand of soap, beer or soda, and at most you might get rolled eyes or a derisive look from your spouse.
In b2b buying, a bad purchase decision can have far worse results—a demotion, a delayed promotion, a chewing out, a note in your file, the derision of co-workers—maybe even a derailed career or even a pink slip.
That’s why Tier 1suppliers, a la the IBM of old, are so lucky. As the “safe bet,” they get a CYA-type pass a lot of the time, while lower-tier suppliers have to try harder. “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” as the saying goes.
But there can be a much more positive emotion involved in b2b buying, too—the pride of making a great buying decision and the reputational value and career enhancement it can produce.
According to CEB research, the personal value of making b2b-buying decisions can be twice as great as the business value.
So, contrary to conventional wisdom, b2b buyers aren’t automatons or robots. They are people, too—as our agency’s ad on the adjacent side page explains.
But exaggerated praise, or puffery, the legally allowed province of so many consumer marketers, won’t work with most b2b buyers.
With their careers and livelihoods at stake, risk-averse b2b buyers need loads of convincing and months and maybe years to take a chance on another supplier.
And that’s the formidable challenge and the extra (yes!) fun involved in much of b2b marketing—and why it’ll always be very different. Until pigs fly!