When working in the world of design and marketing, an agency will likely fall in to one of two camps: B2B or B2C. Three-letter acronyms aside, this means business-to-business or business-to-consumer.
Before diving in to the differences between B2B and B2C, what do they stand for?
A B2B business will market and sell their product or service to other businesses. Typically the audience will be concerned about a return on investment, and the efficiency gains achieved by buying the product or service. The purchase will be made with the head and not the heart, and the buying cycle will be long with multiple decision makers. B2B design, or marketing, will often be about building relationships. The start of a conversation, not the full end-to-end buyer journey. A B2B brand will likely be niche, and serve a specific audience or sector.
Think a SaaS company selling project management software to design and marketing agencies here.
A B2C business will market and sell their product or service to consumers. (Genius, I know!) Typically the audience will be concerned about how they feel about themselves after buying the product or service, or what problem it solves in life. Even if it was something as perfunctory as a tap, a buyer will ask themselves ‘will this make me feel good and will I look good when my friends come over for dinner?’ The purchase will be made with the heart first, and the head second, and the buying cycle can either be spontaneous or long. Typically there is one decision maker, or two, when a husband and wife are buying a sofa — in which case a decision will never be made!
Think a technology company selling a smartphone — well, quite frankly — to anyone here, but a consumer nonetheless.
(Don’t crucify me for oversimplification here!)
What about B2B2C?
Yes, the lines can be blurred here, and with the smartphone example above, we know that Apple have consumer audiences and enterprise audiences. For the sake of this article though, we want to examine the distinction between B2B and B2C.
The differences between B2B and B2C
The mistake or assumption that a lot of people make is that B2B is often perceived as ‘corporate and stiff’, and B2C is ‘playful and fun’. Neither are true, and a really good B2B brand will leverage B2C attitudes and execution to cut through and lead. Because, guess what? They are all people, and sometimes they are one and the same person. With B2C expectations high why shouldn’t a B2B brand talk to me like a human being and outpace the competition with a stellar user experience?
The biggest difference however is the audience making the purchasing decision. Quite often, a B2B business has a complex offer that has to communicate to more than one audience. Efficiency gains and ROI will be the primary concern of the COO and CFO. Managers will be concerned about training and uptake. Users on the ground will be concerned about detail and day-to-day usage.
All users will, of course, be worried about their reputation and how it will make them look in the eyes of their superiors. Note, the users on the ground will be the most vociferous when they aren’t happy with their superiors’ decision, so details matter.
B2B vs. B2C user journeys
If you were to think about audiences and their linear purchase journey a B2C journey may look like this.
While it may look like this for a B2B journey.
That’s complex enough, but consider an intermediary business like an Insurtech, like our client, Azur. They are a company with a multitude of audiences: insurers, brokers, clients, shareholders, stakeholders, and potential employees. Each audience will have different needs, and a pathway through a brand’s cornerstone piece of communication: their website.
This is where clarity comes in: what problem do I solve and for whom?
The challenges of a complex business
Aside from explicit positioning, clearly defined user journeys, and a varying tone of voice are important. I am not going to pretend this is an easy process to navigate. A complex B2B brand with multiple audiences can often create internal friction, and external confusion. Each business unit will vie for a stake in the ground, one that can often be at odds with the long term strategy of the business.
These are the key hurdles to overcome: understand who the primary and secondary audiences are; how to talk to them; and, what the business will look like in two years’ time. Don’t make the mistake of aiming for the ‘now’. Aim ahead, as though strategically all things have fallen into place.
How you go about navigating that process can be read about here, but fundamentally, the difference between B2C and B2B, is audience. More specifically, the amount of audiences. How they travel through your website. How you start to build a relationship with them. Each with their own needs and fears.
It is a wonderfully complex process, but get it right and the benefits to the bottom line are huge.