Are B2B and B2C content like apples-to-apples…Or apples-to-oranges?
The picture above gives a pretty clear picture of my point-of-view: B2B and B2C content are like apples-to-oranges. But in actuality, it’s not really one or the other.
To mix metaphors, they are two different animals, although related—perhaps like wolves and dogs. They share a common canine ancestor, but it’s important to know the difference if one comes sniffing around your backyard! It’s equally important for content marketers to understand how B2B and B2C content differ so that they can use a strategy that works for their audience.
This article covers two major areas:
- The decision-making process, also known as the marketing or sales funnel, shows us both commonalities (apples-to-apples) and differences (apples-to-oranges) between B2B and B2C purchasing.
- Appropriate content tactics, including types of content and writing style, help us zero in on how to create engaging content for our B2B and B2C audiences.
How are B2B content and B2C content apples-to-apples, and how are they apples-to-oranges? Read ahead to get the scoop.
1. How B2B and B2C Audiences Make Decisions Affects Content.
The marketing funnel above allows us to visualize the prospect-to-customer conversion process. The basic steps in the central funnel itself show us the apples-to-apples process for how both B2B and B2C audiences make buying decisions. The boxes on the right and left show nuanced apples-to-orange differences between B2B and B2C. Each stage of the funnel calls for its own content strategies and tactics to successfully move customers from the top of the funnel (awareness) to the bottom of the funnel (purchase).
While there are different variations of the funnel, the stages are generally broken down along these lines:
- Top of the funnel: Prospect is aware of their problem and wants a solution. They need to become educated about the broad range of product/service categories that are available to answer their needs.
- Middle of the funnel: Prospects in these stages are considered qualified leads; they have decided on a category and are actively considering options within it. Next, they identify and evaluate top contenders that meet their criteria.
- Bottom of the funnel: Once the prospect’s research is completed, they are ready to purchase. They need to figure out the specifics—pricing, service agreements, contract terms, and other terms.
While the basic funnel works the same for B2B and B2C, and the basic marketing techniques are the same, the content that you create will be markedly different.
Variations in how people make decisions can help guide our B2B and B2C content creation.
Are B2B and B2C content really that different?
The apples-to-oranges argument: The apples-to-apples argument works when the consumer must make a complex decision on a relatively high-priced item, such as a car. However, even large consumer purchases don’t usually reach the complexity and expense of large B2B purchases, such as a manufacturing plant or company acquisition. Given the relative simplicity of consumer goods, branding and pricing–not ROI analysis–usually drive the decision-making process. After all, there’s no heavy analysis needed to choose between Dentyne or Trident when walking into your local convenience store.
The distinct differences between B2B and B2c decision-making have a significant effect on the content we create and distribute.
What factors are important in Creating B2B Content?
- Purchasing decisions are more analytical and take longer than B2C. One important element that the funnel doesn’t show is how long it takes to move from one stage of the funnel to the next. B2B decisions often have long-term business implications. They may also professionally affect individuals participating in the process. As a result, decisions typically take longer than B2C decisions, with more time spent at the top of the funnel–especially as the cost and complexity rise.
- Multiple indirect stakeholders bring added complexity. B2B organizations sell to businesses and organizations with multiple stakeholders, not to individual end-users. For example, purchasing a single product may involve marketing, IT, finance, and manufacturing. This requires developing multiple messages, creating different sets of content, and distributing content to a variety of channels. Creating content for multiple niche audiences is more complex than creating a content campaign for a broad consumer audience. For instance, you may need to have different blogs articles for different sets of audiences. For instance, medical company may need articles for both doctors and lab directors (or a separate blog entirely).
Read here for secrets to authoring great B2B blogs.
- B2B marketing requires long-term trust: B2B customers take more time to learn about the company. Unlike B2C consumers, they are often looking for a long-term working relationship rather than a one-time purchase. They want to know who they will be working with, the company’s processes, their reputation and reliability, and the company’s industry standing. Content needs to have a professional look and feel, and it must convey that the company is credible and possesses expertise in the field. Hype and flash not appreciated.
- Business decisions have a distinct emotional component. B2C content is famous (or infamous) for pushing our emotional buttons. Even though B2B focuses on rational decision-making, content should not devoid of all feeling. Humans are emotional creatures, and we don’t just check it at the door when we walk into our workplaces: we are afraid of making bad decisions, we want to be respected by our co-workers, and we feel good when our work is appreciated. While the force of emotion in B2B content is more subtle than in B2C, it shouldn’t be ignored.
The chart below, by Dun & Bradstreet, illustrates the types of emotional thoughts associated with B2B sales.
- Decisions can affect multiple individuals, teams, and larger corporate entities. While your boss may give you a pat on the back for making good decisions, the consequences of making a bad decision can be wide-ranging. Your company could lose customers or revenue. Your department could fail to reach its quarterly goals. This fear over large-scale repercussions causes risk-aversion and hesitancy in the buying process. Overcoming these negative emotions to move the sale forward requires building trust. A primary component of B2B messaging is the reassurance that the buyer can trust the company to deliver high value and service.
- Branding streamlines the buying process. One survey found that 85% of content creators in B2B businesses use content to build their brand through thought-leadership. Having a highly recognized, well-respected brand can significantly cut down on the time a prospect spends in the research stage at the top and middle of the funnel. Your name can go right to the top of the list.
- Expertise is a major consideration. B2B customers need considerable support as they research solutions–and they’ll look for credible, expert advice. Frontloading high-quality resources about your industry and product category (such as white papers, studies, or ebooks) at the early decision-making stages gives you a head start building trust with your prospects. Companies that focus mainly on information for the bottom of the funnel (such as case studies and testimonials) lose this early advantage.
What’s important in B2C content?
In many ways, B2C decision-making is the converse of B2B. These differences lead to an alternative set of content marketing practices. Here are some of the hallmarks of B2C purchasing, along with the effects they have on creating content.
- Simpler products require less research-based analysis. B2C purchases tend to be less complex, less expensive, and less likely to have serious long-term ramifications than B2B purchases. After all, consumers generally don’t buy a transportation fleet or software to support an international company! Unlike the analytical process typical of B2B purchasing, B2C customers spend relatively little time analyzing the decision from every angle. As a result, most B2C content is produced for the bottom of the funnel.
- The emotional component is a high factor in B2C buying: Consumer emotionality and impulsivity are an intrinsic part of the B2C purchase. Immediate satisfaction, the “rush” to be entertained, and the good feeling of doing something positive for yourself, a friend, or a family member are important drivers to the final sale. Content is designed to trigger personal feelings about issues such as appearance, popularity, safety, or health. You’re also likely to see phrases appealing to impulsivity (“if you act NOW!”) and hype (“but wait, there’s more”) in B2C content.
- Selling to individual consumers is different than selling to business entities. Unlike B2B, consumers don’t need extra time to get buy-in from multiple people, teams, or departments. A single person just needs to sit at their computer, laptop, tablet, or phone, possibly read a few reviews, and click on a button to buy a new coat, game, or chair. It’s all a matter of personal taste. Content doesn’t take on the complexity of creating multiple messages for people with different backgrounds, interests, and motivations.
- Brand Identity: A consumer’s early and frequent exposure to a brand can be enough to result in a positive, feel-good reaction. Consumers want to be associated with a brand’s perceived positive value (I’m going to jump higher if I have those athletic shoes!). They also aspire to be like other brand users—“cool” people, or a celebrity who endorses the brand. B2C content focuses on brand recognition, identification with the brand, and social excitement (or “buzz”). In contrast, B2B focuses on supporting in-depth research, building brand credibility, and creating a sense of trust.
- Relationships vs Community: While B2B concentrates on building relationships with individual businesses, B2C gets more bang for the buck by engaging larger communities around their products and services. Perhaps there’s no better example of seeking B2C interactivity than creating content that goes viral, which is often fueled by emotion and social excitement.
2. Tactics for Effective Content
Based on everything so far, apples-to-oranges clearly comes out on top. The chart below gives us a summary of the key elements we’ve discussed and how they differ from B2C and B2B. The next question is how do we take this information and apply it to the content we create?
Here are the takeaways of creating content to meet the needs of B2B and B2C audiences at the various stages of the decision-making process:
Content Tactics for B2B Audiences
- Develop high-value, quality content for the top of the funnel. The first rule of creating B2B content is that the quality of content is more important than quantity. Significant time should be spent developing content intended to educate prospects, from the awareness stage all along to supporting final purchasing decisions.
- Be an industry resource: When the content is well targeted, relevant, and valuable, information seekers are likely to return to you—your blog, website, and social channels—as an ongoing resource for learning about their industry and related products. White papers are a good example of in-depth, long-form content that demonstrates a company’s expertise and thought-leadership.
- Focus on facts and benefits. Customers in the B2B environment want proof of potential ROI before they make a financial investment in products or services. This proof comes in the form of concrete data, whether it’s about the value of your product category or your specific products. Provide information that will make them more productive, get more customers, have higher profitability, or simply make their day-to-day work lives easier or more enjoyable. This applies to all content, from websites to blog posts to articles, and more.
- Focus on your niche, not the masses. B2B sales are not about going viral and usually have much less potential for the scope of engagement sought by B2C companies. Given the niche nature of many B2B audiences, email and newsletters are popular content marketing techniques, rather than BuzzFeed or similar social channels designed for mass appeal. A blog that contains valuable content, neatly categorized and available in one place, is also a good B2B content marketing avenue.
Content Tactics for B2C Audiences
- Target individual users. Unlike B2B decisions that require input from multiple stakeholders, B2C marketing focuses on reaching large blocks of individuals. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are ideal platforms.
- Keep it brief—and visual. Consumers are easily distracted, attention spans are shorter than ever, and the competition to hook users is getting fiercer every day. Images and video are important in all content marketing, but it is even more critical in the B2C world. Short blog posts, videos, personal stories, and graphically-focused ebooks should all be major components of the B2C content marketing playbook.
- Simplicity sells. A consumer buying a pair of jeans or items for home décor doesn’t want lengthy background information. B2C content calls for creating easy-to-digest stories (textual or visual). Help customers relate to your product using emotional triggers that drive quick decisions.
Style Differences for B2B and B2B Content
In the apples-to-apples category, the most important thing when creating content is to know who you’re writing for—and to address them in an appropriate, targeted manner. Understanding your audience, by creating comprehensive buyer personas or other techniques, allows you to develop content that reaches your audience in a meaningful and engaging way.
Format, Substance, and Style for B2B Content
- Create detailed, substantive content. Know the level of detail and the data needed to help your prospects and customers educate themselves and make smart decisions. Some industries, such as technology, will want especially in-depth information, so don’t be afraid to provide it! However, You don’t want to overwhelm your audience, so take care to make content well organized, without fluff.
Read how to present your content in an easy-to-read format.
- Look like a professional. B2B content is meant to be informative. Keep it clean and straightforward. B2B sites that are too flashy or overly stylized may not be taken seriously.
- Sound like a professional: When you’re writing B2B content it’s best to take a professional approach, although you don’t need to be stuffy or overly formal. While I don’t recommend using a lot of needless jargon, professional terminology is encouraged.
- Focus on solving problems: Business audiences are looking to find solutions to immediate problems. Whether you are writing for the top or the bottom of the funnel, emphasize what your audience value and needs, such as efficiency or cost-savings.
Format, Substance, and Style for B2C Content
- Create positive emotions. Content and presentation should be emotionally appealing–not simply well-organized. Make them feel something that speaks to them in a personal way.
- Make it easy to digest. Impulsive decision-making means that content should be very easy-to-digest. Online functionality should allow the user to move quickly to purchase.
- Be relatable. Find common ground with your prospects and customers. Take a personal approach to storytelling, using a casual tone. Don’t go overboard, but emphasize that you care about what they’re going through.
B2B and B2C Content: Apples to Apples – Or Apples to Oranges?
The rules for creating B2B and B2C content are not mutually exclusive, but keep general principles of each in mind.
Key Takeaway: In general, effective B2B content focuses on creating a sense of value, expertise, and trustworthiness. Effective B2C content focuses on delivering emotional satisfaction at the right price. Be aware, however, that these are just guidelines, not rules to be written in cement. You’ll need to refine and adjust your content to fit your specific audience’s unique needs and decision-making process.
Whether you’re in a B2B, B2C, or combined business, your content marketing strategy must start with a carefully orchestrated plan based on high-quality, relevant content. If it’s time to start writing but you need assistance, an experienced creative agency or freelance content writer can be a valuable asset.
Boston-based Westebbe Marketing can be your partner in developing original B2B and B2C content designed to fit your marketing strategies, prospects, customers, and partners. Contact Amy Westebbe at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 699-4462.
If you’ve worked with both B2B and B2C audiences in the past, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment describing how you approached each group — and how similar or different your approaches were — in the comments below!
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