Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Getting to grips with these two audiences is fundamental for any marketer or copywriter. B2B and B2C are very different beasts and knowing their individual characteristics can help a business unlock sales and profit. Here's what you need to know.
What do B2B and B2C mean?
B2B and B2C describe the two different audiences for sales and marketing.
B2B means Business-To-Business
B2C means Business-To-Consumer
B2B businesses sell to other businesses; B2C businesses sell to individual members of the public.
Why is it important to know the difference between B2B and B2C?
Businesses and individuals make buying decisions in very different ways, so it’s really important to understand who you are selling to.
Knowing whether you’re marketing to another business or to an individual impacts on:
who you promote to
the messages you communicate
what channels you use
how long it takes to make a sale
what you do afterwards
Understanding the best ways to attract, engage and convert your target market will greatly improve your chances of success.
What’s the difference between B2B and B2C marketing?
Fingers in the pie
In B2C, you’re usually marketing to just one person – like a parent choosing a pushchair – or one person influenced by a small group – such as a hen party looking to purchase a gift for a bride-to-be.
Because you’re marketing to one person – even with a small group of like-minded influencers – it is easier to understand their individual needs and meet them. But in B2B you’re often marketing to more than one person. A business purchase decision might need to be agreed and signed off by people in different departments. And their interests and motivations can be very different.
the team that wants to buy the item to achieve their business objectives
the finance team that wants to ensure good value
another team that wants to ensure compatibility or sustainability or equality
As a result, you need to appeal to different motivations and overcome different barriers to purchase. B2B marketing collateral therefore tends to be lengthier, more detail-orientated and results-focused.
Strategic decisions vs instant gratification
Ever had buyer’s regret after an impulse purchase online? We’re all guilty of it. We love to spend money and marketers love helping us. B2C buyers are often led by emotions and can make very speedy decisions. Even higher price purchases can be driven by less-than-logical decision-making and completed in a click.
B2C buyers are often interested in how a product makes them feel as much as what the product actually does. Benefits might include abstract concepts such as sex appeal and social status, as well as more mundane considerations like reliability and reputation.
B2B purchases, however, are much more strategic. Since some contracts can be worth millions, it makes sense that they’re not awarded on a whim. Some B2B purchases are governed by formal procurement processes, particularly in the public sector. But even in the private sector, decision-making will be based on specific criteria and subject to scrutiny against business objectives.
As a result, B2B buyers are more level-headed and logic-bound. They look for tangible benefits like reliability, lifetime cost and value-for-money. And they look hard. Which means that B2B purchases can take a long time to progress.
One of the major challenges for modern marketers is the sheer number of ways you can communicate with customers. Whether it is the petri dish of ever-evolving social media channels, or the waxing and waning of event opportunities, there is always a new way to reach out. And whilst there is some overlap in the channels you’d use for B2B and B2C markets, there are also distinct differences.
Websites, SEO, content marketing, advertising, webinars, social media, email marketing, events, direct mail, face-to-face sales…all of these channels can be used to target B2B or B2C audiences. But how you use them, and the budget you allocate them, might be very different.
Events: trade shows and conferences are a major channel to sell business-to-business, whereas events tend to be a smaller part of direct business-to-consumer marketing
Social media: B2B marketers might favour LinkedIn and Twitter, whilst B2C marketers might blow their budget on Facebook and Instagram
Content marketing: B2B content is more likely to be benefit-led and instructional, whereas B2C content can afford to be more fun and frivolous
Purchase size and pocket depth
If you think that your last car or family holiday cost a fortune, that’s small fry compared to the multi-million-pound purchases that businesses make every day. B2B buyers have a lot more money to spend than your average B2C buyer (unless you’re selling mega-yachts to oligarchs) and the amount of money on the table is one of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C marketing.
Not only is the budget generally bigger with B2B buyers, they’re spending someone else’s money. This can be a good thing – because they’re less personally invested in the cost – or a bad thing – because of the length of time it takes to complete their due diligence.
Either way, purchase size and pocket depth explain many of the other factors above. If you’re awarding a contract with a lot of zeros, you’re going to have your best team checking out the small print.
The value of B2B contracts means that business-to-business marketers often invest a lot more to acquire a single customer than B2C marketers. In fact, some businesses can be built on the custom from one main B2B client. Since it is more cost-effective to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one, it makes sense to keep the clients you’ve got.
Whilst effective customer relationship management is important with both B2B and B2C audiences, the costs of mismanagement are higher in B2B markets. SLAs, regular dialogue between the businesses, and exceptional customer service are key to keeping customers. As a marketer in the B2B world, you’ll need to work closely with post-sales teams, receiving and responding to customer feedback, and perhaps innovating new solutions for high-value clients.
How are B2B and B2C marketing similar?
Despite the many differences between B2B and B2C marketing, there are fundamental similarities to bear in mind. Remembering the following will help your business bloom, regardless of your target market.
The customer is king, whether you’re marketing to a B2B or B2C audience. The whole point of marketing is to meet your customers’ needs and to do that profitably. Any business that wants to be successful needs to have a laser focus on their clients, and marketers that anticipate, meet and exceed customer needs will prosper.
We’re all human
Human motivations and interests remain relatively predictable, regardless of whether people are buying for themselves or another business. Taking time to research and understand buyer behaviour is essential in both B2B and B2C marketing. Building customer personas can help you explain and articulate the motivations of your buyers and target them more effectively.
Modern customers have high expectations of brands. As well as excellent products or services, they want to be delighted by marketing and customer service too. They expect relevant content and instant access to advice. Whether you’re marketing B2B or B2C, you need to be prepared to meet sophisticated online expectations from clients.
Content marketing is increasingly important to both audiences. An online search is often the starting point for any buyer journey, so at awareness stage - when people know they need something but don’t know what – providing content that answers their questions online is a great way to introduce your brand.
At consideration and decision-making stages, content can convince them that you’re the right supplier for them. And, even after buying, content that helps them make the most of their purchase will help improve satisfaction, strengthen your relationship and prompt positive word-of-mouth.
Do I need a different copywriter for B2B and B2C audiences?
Not necessarily. Some copywriters prefer to write for one audience or another and specialise in either B2B or B2C. But others are equally comfortable writing for both.
The most important thing is to check their understanding of your audience before you hire them.
Don’t be afraid to ask them what they think the difference is between B2B and B2C marketing – a good copywriter will know and understand why you’re asking.
It is more important to find a copywriter who has experience in your sector and understands your specific audience, for example, sportswear, SaaS or civil engineering.
Need help nailing your marketing materials? Want to create great content? Get in touch today.
About the author
Libby is a freelance copywriter and content marketer from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She worked in marketing and communications for 18 years before turning freelance in 2019. She's written for big brands and boutique businesses, crafting customer-friendly marketing content for print and online.