b2b & b2c websites

A huge chunk of what I talk about on this site relates to content marketing. I’ll talk about how to create it, how to optimize it, and how to help it go viral. What I don’t often touch on, is the distinction between content marketing in B2C industries and content marketing in B2B industries.

This is because, despite sharing a lot of common ground, both B2C and B2B content marketing come with their own, unique challenges. So to cover both sides fairly, I would essentially have to write two versions of the same post, and at the risk of sounding like a child… I don’t want to do that.

Instead, I usually try to generalize a little and include tips and ideas that can be applied across the board.

Today, however, I’m going to distinguish clearly between both types of marketing and look at how to design an effective content strategy – whatever industry or audience you’re trying to tap into.

Setting Goals

The difference between content marketing in B2B and B2C industries becomes apparent at a very early stage: when you’re setting goals and objectives.

That said, pretty much all businesses – whoever they’re trying to target with their content – have one goal in common: to build awareness of their brand.

This is a pretty universal goal since, whatever the target market, consumers respond best to brands they know and trust.

Beyond brand-building however, your goals are likely to diverge in accordance with your audience.

B2B Goals

Recent data from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute showed that the primary objectives for B2B companies who are investing in content marketing are raising brand awareness, generating leads, and boosting engagement.

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It’s no surprise that brand awareness would come out tops here. Businesses want to work with brands that are hot shit at what they do. Brands that are thought-leaders in their field. Consequently, B2B brands should aim to create content that informs and educates – that demonstrates they are one of the best, if not the best, at what they do.

B2B transactions often (though, not always) have a much higher “ticket value” than B2C transactions. There’s also a greater likelihood of repeat purchases, simply because it makes sense, from a time and practicality point of view, for companies to complete recurring purchases with the same retailer.

B2B transactions are also more likely to entail the completion of a contractual agreement. These sorts of transactions are often completed after a long, multi-stage sales process. If you want to win this type of business, it really helps to have a background as a thought leader and innovator in your industry. Not only will this help generate leads, but it should help to speed up the sales process, too.

B2C Goals

The stats show that on the surface, the goals for marketers in B2C industries aren’t all that different than those set out by B2B marketers. While their number one goal differed, both B2B and B2C brands think building brand awareness and getting consumers to engage with their content are pretty damn important.

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However, while B2B companies tend towards building brand awareness by showcasing their knowledge and industry expertise, B2C brands are more likely to be concerned with creating excitement around their products. About pushing their products as “aspirational”.

Not convinced? Think of it this way

“Did you choose a Coke over a Pepsi because you believe Coca Cola’s depth of knowledge of the industry exceeds Pepsi’s? Did you pour a bowl of Wheaties for breakfast because of General Mills’ perceived authority when it comes to cereal?”

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The biggest factor that drives a consumer to purchase is what they see their peers using, wearing, or consuming. Remember this when determining goals and designing your content strategy.

Businesses, on the other hand, aren’t concerned with fitting in or following the crowd. They simply want the product or service that best fits their needs, for the best price.

Key Takeaway: Regardless of your industry or who you’re targeting with your content, you’re likely to share similar top-level goals – namely, building brand awareness and encouraging engagement around your content.

However, “building brand awareness” is not sufficient as a goal. You need to be much more specific about what drives your target market to make a purchase.

B2C customers tend to be most influenced by what brands their peers are consuming. Use content as a way to build excitement around your brand and products.

B2B customers care most about securing the best product for their needs. Use content as a way to position your brand as a thought-leader and innovator in your field.

Subject Matter

As we’ve already touched on, businesses and consumers buy for very different reasons.

Businesses buy because the product or service fulfils a specific need. Whatever the product or service is offering, this need will usually boil down to one (or more) of three things:

  • Saving money
  • Saving time
  • Making more money

Businesses don’t buy for frivolous reasons. They buy out of necessity. Their purchases are usually data-driven.

Consumers sometimes buy out of necessity, too. If our fridge breaks down, we don’t buy a replacement for the sheer thrill of it. We also need to eat, keep a roof over our head, and provide healthcare for our families.

However, a lot of what we buy as consumers do count as “luxuries”. Computer games, meals out, music, television packages, movie tickets, holidays, gifts… Even clothes, which are by all accounts, a necessity, are often bought in excess of what we need and so become “luxuries”.

And we’re buying more luxuries than ever before:

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The purchases we make as consumers are very often emotion-driven.

This massive disparity in the reasons we buy as businesses and the reasons we buy as consumers should play a huge part in dictating the subject matter of your content.

While rules are made to be broken, a pretty good guide to remember is that: B2B content should inform and educate, while B2C content should inspire.

There are heaps of examples of brands that are killing it at content in both types of industries. Let’s take a quick look at one of each…

Content That Informs

Mailchimp’s resources section looks good and is packed with valuable content:

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Most of their content consists of guides and information geared around getting the most out of Mailchimp’s features, and guides and information that helps their visitors to be more awesome at email marketing generally.

Their strategy works because they’re educating their customers on how to maximize the tool’s potential (a critical factor in minimizing churn rate in SaaS businesses), while also providing content that offers value to all email marketers – not just those that are using Mailchimp’s software.

Content That Inspires

Fashion brand Madewell’s blog, “Madewell Musings”, focuses on the usual suspects: fashion news, tips, and ideas. Amongst this, however, they weave content about music, holidays, food, and culture.

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The overriding theme and “mood” of the blog isn’t just inspirational, it’s aspirational. This suits the brand who, I imagine, are aiming to put visitors to the site in a “buying” state of mind (much like how clothes stores use colour and music to encourage shoppers to buy).

Content That Answers Questions

Another type of content that resonates with all audiences is content that answers your consumers’ questions.

This is effective because, not only are your providing visitors to your site with content that solves a problem, you’re creating content that targets specific long-tail search queries. Do this well and your content should appear in the search results for said queries, which in turn will help to drive qualified traffic to your site. It’s pretty much a no-brainer strategy, whether you’re operating in a B2B or B2C industry.

There are plenty of places you can go to find out what questions your audience are asking. Try:

Once you know what questions are being asked, you simply need to create content that provides the answers.

This could mean writing a long-form blog post, designing images, or creating a video. The format you choose for your content will likely be dictated by your audience, and what type of content they respond best to. I’ll explore that next.

Key Takeaway: Content that answers questions is a highly-effective way of engaging visitors from both B2B and B2C backgrounds. Beyond that, the subject matter of your content should generally fall into one of two distinct groups: B2B content should inform and educate; B2C content should inspire.

On the surface, you might think that content format and design is universal – and in some cases, you’d be right. Infographics have shown to be effective regardless of the target audience and, as such, are widely used by both B2B and B2C marketers.

This infographic from B2B brand Copyblogger

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…has been shared more than 1,800 times on LinkedIn and nearly 200,000 times on Pinterest. It’s also been shared, commented on, or “liked” on Facebook nearly 60,000 times.

While this infographic from B2C brand Movehub

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…has racked up more than 16,000 Facebook interactions. It’s also been shared over 400 times on Pinterest, 520 times on LinkedIn, and 180 times on Google+ (a pretty impressive feat, seeing how little content is generally shared via Google’s much-neglected social network).

Video’s pretty universal too, since it’s such a versatile form of media. It can be used to inform and educate, to entertain, or to influence a particular action (in the case of B2C content marketing, that usually means a purchase).

That said, things are never quite this simple…

B2B Content Formats

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Most popular B2B content formats, according to Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs

A report by The Economist Group found that 85% of business leaders prefer text content to audio or video when making business decisions – that’s a pretty strong argument in favor of the written word.

This may be because it’s quicker and easier to read a text article while in the office – audio or video may necessitate the use of a headset, which will effectively remove the visitor from the office environment. In effect, video and audio requires a bigger commitment from the visitor than a text article and makes it harder for them to multitask.

Another argument in favor of text is the fact it allows readers to scan the content and quickly locate information of interest. Anyone who’s ever needed to make a snap decision will understand how important this is.

This “text over video” theory was echoed in an experiment Neil Patel executed when he first launched Quick Sprout University.

Although the response to his videos were overwhelmingly positive, they didn’t drive the traffic he expected (despite featuring a transcript to help with search engine indexing). More worryingly, the ROI from the videos was actually in the negative.

There are many, many benefits to video content creation that might not be reflected in the ROI they offer. If your primary goals revolve around brand-building and thought-leadership, video should prove to be a very valuable tool. Marketers that are aiming to drive straight-up conversions from their content, however, are unlikely to see a greater return on their investment than what they’ll achieve with the written word.

B2C Content Formats

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Most popular B2C content formats, according to Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs

While the jury’s not officially out on this one, numerous studies have concluded that most consumers respond best to visual content forms.

In short, the reason visual content – video, in particular – works so well in B2C marketing is the emotional impact it has on consumers.

Taboola attributed the phenomena to how “watching video activates our brain’s “mirror neuron mechanism.”

Further, they went on to say this “enables us to experience (to a lesser degree) the behaviors and sensations of the people on-screen. This neurological activity makes the spectator much more emotionally involved in a way that text alone cannot replicate.”

Unfortunately, video can be timely and expensive to create. If it’s beyond your budget, invest in image design where possible. If you’re still struggling, look at embedding videos and images that others have created in your post.

Key Takeaway: Who you’re targeting with your content will dictate the type of content you should create for maximum engagement. Infographics and videos tend to work pretty well across the board.

That said, studies have shown that when it comes to driving sales, the written word has the greatest impact on B2B customers, while B2C customers tend to respond best to content that entertains and triggers positive emotions – namely video and imagery.

Promoting Your Content

Another element of content marketing that’s likely to differ in accordance with your target audience is how – and where – you promote it. This will primarily be dictated by the type of content, and what you’re trying to achieve from it.

Outreach

Outreach is a form of content promotion through which you contact webmasters, bloggers, or journalists that you believe might have an interest in sharing or featuring your content (you’ve probably heard it referred to as influencer marketing). It’s generally executed over email – some people prefer to pick up the phone, but few people (journalists especially) respond well to cold calls.

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Outreach lends itself most naturally to content formats that can easily be reposted to other sites – this generally applies to imagery, including infographics, and videos. Most marketers are seeking links when executing an outreach strategy, however, brand mentions and social shares are valuable as well.

Outreach can be employed to promote both B2B and B2C content – so long as the content itself is up to scratch.

Text-based content (like articles, whitepapers, and case studies) don’t generally lend themself to an outreach strategy – with a few exceptions…

  • If you’ve featured or linked to other sites or influencers in your content, it makes sense to drop them a quick email to let them know. It’s generally a good idea to politely ask if they’d mind sharing the content, too.
  • Broken link building is another great way to leverage text-based content. This generally involves…
  1. Locating a popular piece of content (i.e. that has received backlinks from lots of different domains) that’s no longer live.
  2. Finding an alternative piece of content that fits the bill as a replacement (if you don’t already have a suitable alternative on your site, there’s your next topic).
  3. Contacting the sites that have linked to the now deceased piece of content, and suggesting they link to yours instead.

The strategies above apply whether you’re promoting B2B or B2C content, however, my experience has shown that B2B companies tend to have slightly better luck with broken link building and reaching out to bloggers that have been featured in a piece of content. Why? Probably because we’re all in the same boat, and understand each other’s goals.

Social Promotion

All of your content – whether it’s an article, a whitepaper, a video, or an infographic – should be shared socially. That’s just common sense. However, the specific sites you use to share your content will differ according to the type of content, and its target audience.

Twitter

All content types can be shared via Twitter. Bear in mind, though, that Twitter is a particularly effective tool for reaching influencers and is often favored (over Facebook at least) by B2B marketers.

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Facebook

Despite being passed up by some of the younger demographics in favor of tools like Instagram and SnapChat, Facebook still holds the lion’s share of the market. If you want your content to reach consumers, using Facebook is a given.

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LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the natural choice for B2B marketers. There are a number of ways to utilize the tool for content promotion, including posting status updates, adding content to your profile, promoting it in groups, and using LinkedIn’s own publishing platform, Pulse. Read more about using LinkedIn for content promotion here.

Pinterest

Pinterest is an obvious choice for promoting imagery, and technically, you can use it to gain traction around infographics whether you’re coming from a B2B or B2C background.

That said, Pinterest is a very consumer-heavy tool, and while it is possible to create a successful B2B Pinterest account, this isn’t where you’re likely to find potential customers hanging out. As a B2B marketer myself, I wouldn’t put Pinterest at the top of my list.

An alternative means of utilizing Pinterest to promote B2B content, without having to create and nurture an account yourself, could be to work with a brand or pinner who you would pay to pin a piece of your content.

All the rest…

I’d love to talk you through the pros and cons of every social site worth mentioning, but as that would probably necessitate a post of its own, here’s a quick run-down of some of the other tools you might want to use, what you’d want to use them for, and why.

YouTube – If you’re producing videos, you can boost their visibility exponentially by uploading them to YouTube. This applies to both B2B and B2C companies in equal measure. Just be aware that, if your videos are successful, you may find that links get pointed directly to your YouTube video instead of your site.

Instagram – Like Pinterest, Instagram is an image-led site and, consequently, it’s primarily populated by consumers and consumer brands (with some exceptions). If you have the resources to take beautiful photographs, Instagram is definitely worth exploring.

Slideshare – Slideshare’s a B2B tool through-and-through. If you’re not already producing slide decks, try repurposing an article or infographic as a set of slides and adding them to the site.

Google Plus – Google Plus gets a lot of shit for being a “failure”, but what it lacks in users, it makes up for in potential. Think of it as being a big fish in a small sea. Then, read about how one marketer used the site to increase their organic traffic by 655%. While some big consumer brands have built up a presence on Google Plus, B2B marketers are likely to get the best results here.

Key Takeaway: Straight-up outreach is an effective tool for promoting both B2B and B2C content. The main difference is that it tends to work best with content that can be easily republished; this generally means imagery (including infographics) and videos.

On the other hand all types of content can, and should, be promoted socially – it’s the tools you’ll use that will differ according to the industry you’re working in.

To anyone that’s worked at marketing both B2C and B2B brands, I’d love to hear about your experiences. What unique struggles have you come across? Which techniques, if any, have worked the same for you across the board? Let me know in the comments below:

Comments
  1. Great explanation Sujan. You know sometimes I wonder about the dichotomy between the logically rational business buyer, and the emotionally impulsive consumer. Do business people really behave that rationally during the daytime, only to suddenly change as soon as the clock strikes five? It seems a little bit Jekyll and Hyde to me. It’s something I struggle in understanding.

  2. Very insightful piece Sujan.

    I work in B2B content marketing and I agree with you when you say “B2B content should inform and educate, while B2C content should inspire.”

    I believe that B2B content marketing is about producing content which is relevant and valuable to the target audience. This will build credibility and trust and in time so that a relationship can be formed. The sale is the final part of this journey.

    I expanded on my thoughts on this in my recent blog post:

    http://www.limwriter.com/b2b-marketing-strategies/

    Hope you don’t mind me sharing.

    Clement

  3. This is a great article but confusing for those of us in the financial industry – a credit union to be specific. I can’t imagine my customers are looking for inspiration from their credit union but would expect they are looking to be informed and educated. Do you thoughts around this?

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