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The Closing Gap Between B2B And B2C Marketing

by Mark Choueke

A study carried out in 2019 by marketing and advertising effectiveness researchers Les Binet and Peter Field for LinkedIn’s B2B Institute called 5 Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing, found that some of the key rules for effectiveness in B2C marketing also apply to B2B. It concluded that five practices in particular – routine to B2C marketers – are also common to the most effective B2B marketing case studies while hardly being utilized by most B2B marketers.

In fact, a survey of marketers by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions suggested many B2B marketers are doing the exact opposite of following these rules – for instance, concentrating wholly on sales activation rather than balancing the focus across activation and brand marketing; and placing more belief in loyalty-based strategies than customer acquisition.

Binet and Field’s five findings for effective B2B marketing:

1. Invest In Share Of Voice

There is a strong relationship between market share growth and investment in advertising measured as ‘share of voice’. The relationship is very similar to that observed in B2C, implying that advertising works just as hard in B2B as B2C.

2. Balance Brand And Activation

Advertising investment should be balanced between long-term brand building and short-term sales activation (such as lead generation). Investment in both is needed, but B2B appears to require more activation than B2C, with an optimum of around 45% brand, 55% activation.

3. Expand Your Customer Base

Broadly, there are two ways a brand might grow – either by gaining more customers (increasing penetration), or by selling more to existing customers (increasing loyalty). Some, working on received wisdom, believe that loyalty is likely to be the more profitable route, because acquiring new customers is expensive. In B2C, the overwhelming weight of empirical evidence tells us otherwise. Decades of research by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute shows the main way brands grow is always by acquiring new customers. As they do so, they always get a bit more business from existing customers as well as broad reach advertising campaigns reassure existing customers that they’ve made a wise, popular and safe choice. Loyalty is never the main engine of growth and only ever increases when penetration does. Even with our limited sample of B2B cases, customer acquisition strategies tend to be much more effective than loyalty strategies, and that reach strategies (which talk to customers and noncustomers together) tend to be the most effective of all.

4. Maximize Mental Availability

Campaigns that build ‘mental availability’ more strongly tend to be more effective. Mental availability is the extent to which the brand comes readily to mind in buying situations, triggered by a combination of high saliency and strong associations with the category.

5. Use Emotion

Emotional campaigns (ones that try to make prospects feel more positively about the brand) are more effective in the long term than rational campaigns (ones that try to communicate information). According to the IPA Databank, B2B campaigns built out of strategies that rely on emotion are up to seven times more effective than those that are not. The kinds of emotional approach required will be very different in B2B from B2C, but the principle applies across both.

This is because emotional campaigns are better at brand building. However, rational campaigns are better at short-term sales activation, so a balanced campaign will incorporate both.

B2B And B2C Marketing: More Similar Than We Thought?

Were Binet and Field surprised by how closely their findings aligned with effectiveness in B2C? Binet shared his thoughts with me:

Well, there was comparatively limited data sample in terms of the number of pieces of work we looked at, but yes, we were surprised. One of the most surprising findings was the one about share of voice. In B2C there’s always been a robust relationship between share of voice and market share growth. We could see in the B2B data exactly the same relationship and it was highly statistically significant.

Several other things came out that we feel B2B marketers looking for an advantage can grasp and use: the emotional versus rational, the penetration versus loyalty and so on. It was surprising that some of the really major relationships in marketing seem to be identical across B2B and B2C.

Binet and Field didn’t have a great deal of time to fully gauge the response of B2B marketers before the world of events shut down to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

They did speak to some live audiences though and felt their work was met with a warm, if somewhat mixed, reaction. As Binet comments:

The stuff about share of voice isn’t something people talk about in B2B or a metric that they widely use. And I suspect the bit about focusing on market penetration versus a drive for greater loyalty was contrary to how B2B marketers think strategically. It’s an article of faith for many in B2B that growth comes through getting more business from existing customers.

Which brings us to a question for you: how is your B2B brand responding to the closing gap?

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Mark Choueke, excerpted from his book Boring2Brave: The ‘bravery-as-a-strategy’ mindset that’s transforming B2B marketing.

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