How B2B and B2C Marketing Are Different

My fourth book, Social Marketing to the Business Customer, came out this week. While the purpose of this e-mail is ultimately to convince you to buy it, I hope to also impart some insight I gained from immersing myself in business-to-business social marketing for six months.

Co-author Eric Schwartzman and I wrote the book because we felt that B2B marketers were getting inadequate advice about how to apply social media constructs to their work. We’ve attended scores of conferences over the last few years and heard lots of wonderful stories about how to use everything from blogs to video games to sell blue jeans, potato chips and fine wine. Invariably, someone stands up and asks, “What does this mean to me as a B2B marketer?”

The response is usually something like, “Well, you can do this, too.” I used to take that answer at face value, but the more I thought about the unique characteristics of B2B buying decisions, the more it struck me as dodge. The fact is that much of what works in consumer markets would fail in B2B interactions. There are plenty of opportunities to apply social media tactics, but the context is different.

As Eric and I began to dig into this topic, we put some thought into how B2B and B2C markets differ. We came up with six major areas of divergence, and we were surprised to realize how really different these two flavors of marketing are. Here are the six points we arrived at. I’m sure this list is not comprehensive, so leave a comment with your impressions.

1. Value-driven decision-making. Probably the most important distinction between business and consumer marketing is that nearly every buying decision a business makes is driven by the need to solve a problem, pursue an opportunity or make or company more efficient. There is no room for sex appeal, status, feeling good, tastes great or less filling. A lot of great consumer marketing campaigns sell at the gut level, but B2B buyers base their decisions upon facts and calculated value. If you don’t deliver that, you don’t get considered.

2. Group consensus. Most businesses are inherently conservative, and decision-makers seek validation from many sources, including analysts and their peers. Part of this is simple risk avoidance, but an equally important factor is that decisions made by a group are more likely to be supported by all of the members. The bigger the purchase, the more people are usually involved. Research by MarketingSherpa and TechWeb found that 41% of technology buying decisions involved 15 or more people in the process. These people typically come from many different areas of the organization, and each has different information needs.

3. “Bet the business” decisions. When Federal Express chooses a vendor of hybrid engines for 1,500 trucks or Ford installs a fleet of welding machines on its assembly lines, the decision has the potential to affect the company’s bottom line and its stock price. Even seemingly small decisions, like the choice of an e-mail marketing vendor, can have far-reaching implications if the supplier can’t deliver. Consumers almost never face issues of this magnitude.

4. Long-term relationships. Business executives buy companies as much as they do products. Most prefer to work with a small number of favored vendors who get a large share of their budget in exchange for high-quality service and “one throat to choke” accountability. Consumers make few buying decisions that involve persistent relationships.

5. Knowledgeable buyers. B2B buyers don’t hesitate to bring experts into the decision-making process. These people may have years of in-depth technical experience, certifications and degrees. They want to talk to the people who build the products they are considering, ask detailed questions and gain confidence that the company is a worthy long-term partner. In contrast, consumers may study up for a bit before buying a car or refrigerator, but they rarely bring people with Ph.D.’s into the process.

6. Intense need for information. A B2B decision usually requires information from a lot of sources about a lot of topics. The CFO, head of manufacturing and CIO all have different questions, and all need to be satisfied. The business buyer’s appetite for information also doesn’t end with the sale (see item 4). Users of call routing or process management systems, for example, may spend days or weeks each year in continuing education classes or at conferences to keep up with new developments. There is virtually no parallel for this in consumer markets.

For these and other reasons it’s shortsighted to tell a B2B marketer to apply the tactics used to sell blue jeans to the task of selling aircraft engines or sales force automation software. The same tools can be applied – and we devote 250 pages to explaining how – but the tools that B2B marketers differ in some pretty basic ways from those liked by their B2C counterparts. We found some wonderful case studies, lots of innovative people and even some very clever campaigns.

So here’s the promotional message: Buy it! Read it! Post your review on Amazon or tell us what you think on our Facebook page. If you’re a B2B marketer, this book is for you. Let us know if we hit the mark.

How to Rescue a Floundering Social Campaign

Back at the beginning of the year I predicted that in 2011 we would hear a lot of social media failure stories. That’s because people have taken the dive into using the tools without really knowing why. I’ve recently been contacted by some companies that are struggling with social campaigns that appear to have all the right elements, but are failing to generate much response. Here’s a quick rundown of five actions you can take to turn around that situation.

Tip of the Week: Quora

Chances are you’ve recently heard about a new service called Quora, which was founded by some former Facebook executives and introduced last summer. It’s now the hottest phenomenon to hit the Internet since Twitter, and with good reason. Quora has the potential to become a significant new social network. I recommend you check it out.

Quora is built upon a question-and-answer model, not unlike Yahoo Answers or LinkedIn Answers, but it also includes a bunch of other social innovations like following, favoriting, profiles and invitations. There are elements of Wikipedia in there, as well as real-time collaboration features like those found in Google Wave (which was recently handed over to the open source community, BTW). There’s also excellent back-end integration with Facebook and Twitter. In short, Quora is a mashup of Web 2.0 technologies, but they’ve been combined in some very clever ways. Try using it the next time you have a question that isn’t easily answered by a search engine. You may find that humans have already done the work.

Just for Fun: Hilarious Print Ads

A lot of people are declaring print publishing to be dead, but you still can’t beat a printed advertisement for telling a story in a single image. The folks at online design and development magazine SpyreStudios have assembled a collection of 30 of the most hilarious print ads ever created, like the one for Dynakids Vitamins below. Innovation like this requires subtlety, humor and the willingness to risk being just a tad offensive. All of these examples are winners in my book.

Social Marketing Hangover

Social Media Marketing HangoverI was recently quoted on making the following prediction:

“Look for marketing’s love affair with social media to give way in 2011 to the sobering reality that a Facebook fan page and Twitter account don’t solve problems of poor products or positioning. Stories of social media failures will become more frequent as practitioners realize that customer conversations are time-consuming to maintain and that peer conversations present as many problems as they do opportunities.”

A few of my more passionate social marketing friends contacted me and asked politely if I had lost my mind or something for issuing such a gloomy and pessimistic forecast at precisely the hour of social media’s triumph.

I responded that no slight was intended. On the contrary, I think the hangover stage is necessary and healthy if social media is to achieve its realistic potential for change.

Anyone who’s watched technology for a while is familiar with the lifecycle of innovation. There’s a period of exuberance, followed by the cold reality that the new tool won’t shorten the work week or lead to permanent weight loss. Gartner famously labeled this blue period the “trough of disillusionment,” which is a perfect term for it.

Some technologies never exit this down cycle (handwriting recognition) and some dwell in purgatory for many years before finding their niche (tablets). Many return to achieve their potential after time and other technology advancements help them along (PCs, the Internet) and a precious few continue rocketing up the adoption curve without any slowdown whatsoever (smart phones).

Social media marketing can never match the hype that has been heaped on it for the last three years, so it must go through a correction stage. The discipline will be better for the experience, but only after a lot of business people realize the ugly reality that this stuff is really difficult.

Blaming the Tools

The souring of marketer attitudes toward social media first became evident to me last spring when I worked on a survey for B-to-B magazine that found that nearly half of 400 marketers surveyed were disappointed with the results they were getting from Twitter. A little further exploration revealed that those expressing the greatest disappointment were using Twitter for business less than once a week. That’s like blaming your lawnmower for making your lawn ugly when you only cut the grass every other month.

I’ve recently noticed that the questions marketers ask me have changed. A year ago, people wanted to know how to start social media campaigns. Now they want to know how to rescue the floundering campaigns they already have. Disillusionment is starting to set in.

As poorly conceived or badly executed social marketing campaigns begin to take their toll, people will naturally blame the tools. That’s an instinctive self-protection reflex. Over the past year marketers have decorated their websites like Christmas trees with Twitter and Facebook logos. Now some of them are wondering why Santa hasn’t appeared. Unfortunately, even Santa requires you to first spend a year being good.

While I don’t believe the popular attitude toward social media marketing is going to turn overwhelmingly sour, we will begin to see marketers pulling in their guns this year for three major reasons:

Lack of executive support. A lot of C-suite types never believed social media was all that big a deal in the first place, so they made half-hearted investments with unrealistic goals. Most of these initiatives will fail. Executives can then say “I told you so” until the market forces their hand.

Lack of patience. Social marketing is unlike traditional marketing in some pretty fundamental ways. Traditional marketing is campaign-oriented: Put a message in the field and then sort through the surge of leads and responses that come in. Social marketing is about building relationships over time. Like a good diet, you don’t see much progress in the early going, but you notice big changes a year later. It takes patience to get there. Patience is becoming a pretty precious commodity.

Lack of understanding. I’ve talked to several companies recently that have information-rich community websites that are going nowhere. These companies have got half of the equation right: They’re producing solid content. What they don’t understand is the relationship side of the equation. They’re approaching social marketing like they approach conventional marketing: Blast out a message and hope that people respond. That was hard to do even three years ago and it’s almost impossible today.

A more effective strategy is to reach out to the people who already have the audience’s attention and get them engaged. One-to-one relationship-building is not a traditional marketing strength, but it must become one.

So Now What?

The social media landscape is vastly more crowded today than it was a year or two ago. The time when a clever blogger could amass an audience of 30,000 loyalists in a year has passed. People’s attention spans are shorter than ever and their willingness to find information is giving way to the expectation that information will find them.

Effective social marketing campaigns require commitment, patience and constant innovation. They also must be backed by an organizational commitment to creating delightful customer experiences. In many cases, the best group to run social campaigns is the customer service organization because they already understand one-to-one relationships. However, marketing usually carries the ball and turf wars prevent them from working cooperatively with other groups.

Social marketing is hard. It requires treating an audience as a collection of individuals rather than a demographic clump. Building relationships takes time and a tolerance for frustration. There are many blind alleys and few big scores. Success comes from building community one brick at a time.

Avaya’s Paul Dunay (left) said it best in a recent webcast. “We treat every customer as if he or she could bring down our company.” The key word in that sentence is “we.” Social marketing requires everyone in the company to embrace the idea of customers as individuals. Not everyone is up to the task just yet.

Tip of the Week: Twitter Transcription

When Twitter came on the market four years ago, the founders made the decision to display conversation streams in reverse chronological order, with the most recent posts at the top. This broke from the style used by instant messaging and chat services, which display the most recent entries at the bottom. Third-party Twitter clients have, for the most part, adopted Twitter’s style.

The only problem with this approach is that it makes transcribing Twitter streams for publication a chore. People don’t like to read transcripts in reverse-chronological order; they expect the oldest comments to be at the top. Transcription can involve a laborious cut-and-paste process to reverse the order.

I recently figured out a way to sort a Twitter stream to quickly change it to chronological order using one of my favorite tools: Notepad++. It’s been a big time-saver. Here’s how to do it.

Just for Fun:

Some artists work in oils, others dabble in watercolors and still others build creations out of wood or iron. Then there’s Barney Smith of San Antonio, TX, whose medium of choice is… toilet seats. That’s right, Barney is the creator and proprietor of Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum (right), and if you catch him on a day when he’s in the shop, he’ll proudly show you his collection of more than 1,000 specimens, each meticulously hand-carved, decorated and cataloged with a unique serial number. I know. I’ve been there. It’s amazing.

The Toilet Seat Art Museum is one of hundreds of odd and unique roadside attractions captured in, a site that can entertain you for hours with its collection of weird and wonderful examples of human creativity and absurdity. Here you’ll find a monument to Bobbie the Wonder Dog, a pet who found his way across 2,400 miles of wilderness in 1924 to return to his Oregon home. Or you can read about Stephen Guman of Naugatuck, CT, who has built a castle out of 396,000 Popsicle sticks. Consult it before your next road trip. You may never reach your destination.