Barely a week goes by without someone saying the worlds of B2B and B2C marketing are converging—and that there’s no difference any more.
When I hear these statements, they usually are about how B2B and B2C marketers are using many of the same tools—websites, email, digital advertising, search marketing, social media, etc.
But it’s not the tools or how they’re used that make B2B and B2C marketing fundamentally different, it’s something else entirely—the buyers and the buying processes.
And they remain as different as ever.
For all of the shaky “convergence” claims to be true, nothing less than the following would be happening.
Boeing would buy jet engines for its airplanes on impulse. “Herb, I really liked the racing stripes on those Honda jet engines.” Or “Ralph, I really like the sound of those Rolls Royce jet engines.”
The military and police and fire departments would switch between radio brands on mere whims. “General, I think it would be hipper if Delta Force used iPhones.” Or “Chief, those Radio Shack field radios are a lot lighter.”
Coke would add new ingredients to its 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.”
The converse—consumers applying B2B buying behavior to everyday purchases—is equally implausible. “Honey, I’ve hired a couple of economists and purchasing agents to help me buy the best possible soap for us at the store today.” Or “Bro, we’ll need at least a year to decide if we want to change from Bud to Miller for the Super Bowl.”
Of course, if all of the above crisscrossed behavior were happening, pigs would be flying, too. Thankfully (for lots of reasons), it and they are not!
It’s not that business 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 a roll of the eyes from your spouse.
In B2B buying, a bad purchase decision can have far more serious 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 pink slip.
That's why Tier 1 suppliers, a la the IBM of old, are so lucky. “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM,” as the saying goes. As the "safe bet,” they get a pass a lot of the time, while lower-tier suppliers have to try harder.
But there can be a much more positive emotion involved in B2B buying, too—the pride of making a great buying decision and the resulting reputational value and career enhancement.
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 an agency advertisement explains.
With their careers and livelihoods at stake, risk-averse B2B buyers simply need loads more convincing and months and maybe years to take a chance on another supplier or brand.
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!
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