“But Does it Apply to B2B?” Assessing B2C marketing approaches in a B2B world

By Ellie Jackson, Chief Client Strategy Officer

Can B2C marketing tactics work in B2B? Discover how emotional appeal and tailored strategies can bridge the gap between these two worlds. Read on to explore the nuances and apply the best of both to your marketing efforts.

Confession: I’m a B2B marketing strategy geek. I trawl LinkedIn to see what specific thinkers are saying about hot topics. I’m one of those people who listens to podcasts about marketing in my spare time. I even took a marketing strategy book on a spa break with my husband earlier this year – remarkably, we are still married at the time of writing.

You can’t move in this space at the moment without bumping into a post or a podcast discussing whether B2C marketing tactics can be effectively applied to B2B marketing contexts. This post aims to sift through the noise and provide insights specific to our predominantly B2B client base, which largely focuses on niche, high-value products and services.

In case you haven’t been following the discourse as closely as I have, here’s a quick summary:

B2C Dominance: Most marketing research and examples focus on large B2C brands due to their substantial budgets and extensive available data, and the fact that they are easy to understand at a glance.

Applicability to B2B: Typically, the question that follows is, ‘But does this apply to B2B?’ Often, the answer is, ‘Yes, of course!’ But what’s our take?

“If it’s true in B2C, it’s true in B2B.”

  • Humans do not entirely lose their humanity when they go to work. It’s the old adage that people buy from people, it’s not B2C or B2B but H(uman)2H(uman).
  • In a noisy world (and only getting noisier with AI making it easier to pump out more content), catching —and keeping people’s attention is critical.
  • There’s plenty of data that backs up the idea that B2B traditionally overdoes the ‘rational’ sell at the expense of the ‘emotional’ one [1]. I’d argue that in some ways emotions are even more important in some areas of B2B. After all, since the vast majority of your audience is not looking to buy at any given moment (often stated as 95:5), what you really need to be doing is establishing yourself positively in your audience’s memory so that when they go from the 95% to the 5%, you’re top of mind. Dull campaigns are not recalled, and consequently much of the investment is wasted.

But it’s not that simple (is it ever?)

“B2C truisms are not automatically applicable to B2B”

  • One of the often-used arguments for B2C fundamentals applying equally to B2B is that to say otherwise assumes that B2C is a single homogenous market, which is of course, false. B2B markets are as diverse as B2C markets, requiring tailored approaches. What works for large B2B products with broad appeal like Sage or Salesforce (which are typically the types of B2B examples cited) may not apply to niche, high-value B2B products.
  • A lot of the clients we work with at Aspectus have typically high-value (capex and opex), infrequent purchase, high-mental involvement decisions – so it’s a little different.

What are some of those differences?

  • Demand generation isn’t always the lever to press: As much as I’d love to believe we can affect demand generation, there are limits. For instance, persuading hedge funds to adopt a new risk management platform involves complex, high-stakes decision-making beyond marketing efforts alone. You’ll see better ROI from focusing on capturing as much of the demand as you can, rather than trying to stir up more.
  • Long sales cycles – and buying committees: B2B sales often involve lengthy cycles and multiple decision-makers, necessitating a blend of rational and emotional appeals to keep the process engaging. And of course, research shows [2] that even in these ostensibly high mental-involvement decisions, people still lean towards brands that initially spring to mind.
  • Niche audiences: Higher number of touchpoints needed pre-purchase. It’s easy to get excited about high reach numbers, etc., but if there are only a few hundred potential purchasers for your product, what’s relevant is not that 70,000 people saw an advert or article, but that the highest possible % of that possible audience saw your brand as many times as possible.
  • High-stakes shopping: When I pop to my local supermarket, the brand of cereal I buy is a relatively low-stakes issue (albeit my toddler has pretty strong views about it). If you’re the sponsor or lead purchaser on a multi-million-dollar relationship over several years, the wrong call could be catastrophic for your career. What’s the impact of that? Increased rational scrutiny for sure, but also a heightened focus on brand reputation to provide reassurance.

So where do I stand?

Do key principles apply equally to B2B as they do to B2C?

Classically, I’m going to say, ‘in part’. Fundamentals are fundamentals for a reason. On some level, they probably apply to many B2B situations. But every situation is different, whether it’s B2B or B2C. The challenge for B2B marketers in sectors with less research and data is to weigh up the evidence in the context of their own operations and decide how to select the best approaches from both worlds.

If you’d like to explore some of these ideas in more detail, why not get in touch with our strategists?

Key takeaways

Q1: Can B2C marketing strategies be applied to B2B?

A1: Yes, some principles apply, but B2B requires tailored approaches due to its unique complexities.

Q2: What are the key differences between B2B and B2C marketing?

A2: B2B marketing involves longer sales cycles, multiple decision-makers, and a higher emphasis on brand reputation and emotional appeal.

Q3: Why is emotional appeal important in B2B marketing?

A3: Emotional appeal helps establish a positive memory of the brand, crucial for high-stakes, infrequent purchases in B2B contexts.

About the author

Ellie leads our brand, intelligence and strategy services, with overall responsibility for revenue growth, profitability and quality of work. With nearly two decades in B2B marketing under her belt, she’s seen a lot of what works and a bit of what doesn’t. She is our focal point for client service, making sure satisfaction levels remain consistently high without stressing out our teams. Ellie started out as an Aspectus client and has had a wide variety of roles since then – so she can turn her hand to pretty much anything, supporting teams on project planning, development and delivery as needed.


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