Discussion Point Are B2B or B2C Marketers Better at Digital

Each of them has an enormous challenge: reaching on the go, always-connected, but hardly-focused-for-longer-than-30-seconds customers.

Whether you're a B2B or B2C marketer, you're marketing in a digital world. And it's hard.

Some call them digital marketers. But we kind of like "marketing in a digital world," stolen from one of the great speakers at the Marketing Technology Conference in Boston in August.

So who's doing it better? B2B or B2C? 

The Question

Who has mastered digital marketing: B2C or B2B marketers, and why?

The Answers

Michelle de Haaff, VP of Marketing, Medallia

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De Haaff leads marketing at Medallia and has over 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, product management and strategic partnering in Silicon Valley. She spends her free time with her three very active sons and her smartphone, constantly checking the buzz on social media. Tweet to Michelle de Haaff.

This might seem like a political response -- not wanting to upset my marketing brethren -- but I’d say both. The mastery of new, sophisticated marketing techniques is not a function of whether you’re B2B or B2C. It’s a function how well you reach your target audience with the combination of creativity plus data science plus constant testing and learning -- which are all things that our wired world allows us to do at higher levels seemingly everyday, regardless of industry.

But I’ll respond from my personal experience. B2B marketing has come a long way since I started. In the past, winning used to be a good data sheet, a compelling whitepaper, telemarketing and brand advertising. Today, B2B marketing has moved to content-heavy challenger marketing -- where the company’s message and value proposition is encapsulated into a clever, often edgy e-book or infographic that is counterintuitive, emotive or aspirational.

This content is then pushed through a marketing engine, using social, business publications and search engine ads, which are then reinforced with strong retargeting tactics that get a possibly interested party into the funnel. And this engine isn’t static once put into place. The level of A/B testing and real-time tracking has become quite sophisticated. Marketers can see right away what is and isn’t working and make changes on the fly to increase lift and get better results -- without wasting as much precious budget as before.

In addition to this, the level of profiling to deliver the buyer the right ad at the right time is astonishing. On Facebook alone, marketers can go so far as to upload lists of specific people into their ad server, so they can deliver to that specific target buyer an ad for a product or service that is targeted right at them. Digital marketing in general has moved from basic banner advertising based simply on impressions to a web of sophisticated, real-time techniques that use data to both deliver personalized ads and to measure whether it is working to optimize spend.

The bottom line? Both B2C and B2B customers, despite different wallet sizes and interests, are human beings who hang out in the same places in the digital world. And marketers on both sides of this divide are now using the same tools and lots of sophistication to reach them.

Karl Schmidt, Senior Director, CEB

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Schmidt is the practice manager of CEB’s marketing and communication practice, where he oversees the strategic agenda of CEB marketing and manages the development of original best practice research. Recent research includes studies on "Closing Marketing’s Digital Gap with Consumers" for B2C marketers and "Consensus Marketing: Motivating Buyers to Win Group Purchases" for B2B. In partnership with Google, Schmidt led the development of "From Promotion to Emotion," which researched the role of emotional connection in B2B buying. Schmidt also advises senior marketers on their most pressing challenges. Tweet to Karl Schmidt.

Neither. Both B2B and B2C marketers are making real progress on tactical portions of the challenge of digital marketing, but both have a lot to learn from each other. B2C marketers have made great strides in gaining a deeper understanding of the consumer’s engagement with digital. Many have targeted their audience and are figuring out how to connect with them through specific touch points. However, B2C marketers continue to struggle with delivering their content to consumers through digital channels at cost efficient scale.

On the other hand, B2B marketers are making rapid progress with marketing automation, which allows them to deliver content to customers at scale, but they continue to struggle to develop a deep understanding of their customers’ digital needs.

Together, one could make the case that B2C and B2B have each made real progress and have an opportunity to learn from advances made by the other. However, both may still be missing their most important strategic opportunity -- to identify a core-shared value with their customers that rise above the supplier’s category.

Those marketers that have successfully aligned on a shared value report and the incredible power it provides as a north star for ensuring customer needs are central to their digital approach and to avoid chasing new technologies that don’t further strategic objectives. It may not be possible to master marketing in today’s world without a shared value as the primary exclusionary principle to navigate the fast moving world of digital. 

Andrea Ward, VP of Marketing, Oracle Marketing Cloud

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Ward is responsible for leading all aspects of marketing for Oracle including product marketing, social business and communications, web marketing, demand generation, field marketing, marketing operations and customer advocacy. Tweet to Andrea Ward.

There is no denying that B2B and B2C marketers have had their differences in the past. Traditionally, B2B marketers have been better at more sophisticated customer data capture to qualify the buyer and pass a lead to sales, while B2C marketers have excelled in creating branded experiences across channels to attract new customers.

However, the differences in requirements between B2B and B2C marketers are shrinking. B2B marketers understand that their buyers are shifting reliance from sales to digital engagement, increasing their need for branded experience and loyalty programs. B2C is adopting more sophisticated data management practices to increase personalization during the customer's online and offline experience with the brand. Modern marketing tools are enabling organizations to adopt the best of both B2B and B2C marketing, and apply these to a company's business strategy, whether it's to acquire new customers, grow share of wallet or improve customer loyalty and brand advocates.

A recent Oracle commissioned report by Forrester showed only 11 percent of marketers have really mastered modern digital marketing, or are considered "modern marketers.” The Forrester report defined modern marketers as those who have capabilities for intelligent targeting. This is based on real-time feedback, enhanced customer understanding based on live data so that they can deliver more personalized and relevant content, promote loyalty post purchase, leverage data and predictive models to enhance efficiency, and have a fully integrated, cross-channel marketing automation platform to deliver consistent experiences.

This suggests that although many marketers have begun their transformation to modern marketing, the overwhelming majority is still on their journey to mastery. For both B2B and B2C marketers, clear business results were demonstrated by organizations that had adopted digital marketing best practices, including the ability to drive revenue and market leadership. For example, 44 percent of modern marketers reported that their organization’s revenues exceeded their plan by 10 percent or more over the last 12 months, versus only 23 percent of their non-modern marketing peers.

B2B and B2C marketing practices are converging. Instead of focusing on differences between the two, we should be focusing on how to leverage the best practices from each to enable customer-centric marketing that drives revenue growth.

Petr Palas, CEO, Kentico 

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Palas is founder and CEO of Kentico, an integrated marketing solution that provides a complete set of features for building websites, intranets, online communities and e-commerce solutions. Tweet to Petr Palas.

I would say the short answer is none of them -- at least for now. By “mastering digital marketing,” I understand fully leveraging the potential of today’s technology to deliver great customer experience and drive measurable results.

In reality, most marketers are just scratching the surface. We see marketers struggle with technology for several reasons: lack of expertise, lack of resources and disconnected tools that keep marketers in their silos and make it difficult for them to execute a truly cohesive, multi-channel digital strategy.

Looking at our customers, I would say the B2C marketers are somewhat ahead, especially when it comes to creating engaging customer experiences. It may be related to their traditional focus on entertaining the consumers. We see them combining personalized content, e-mail marketing, marketing automation, social media as well as various community features to increase customer engagement with their brand, but also to drive their e-commerce transactions and other more tangible results.

Title image by Asa Aarons Smith / All rights reserved.