B2B VS. B2C: Not as Different as It Used to Be
Typing that title has me wondering if I’ve started writing a song or a blog post, and I guess either would come from the same place: ruminating on change.
A few years ago, the differences between B2B and B2C email marketing were clear-cut. The B2C email marketer was typically after the transaction, looking to convert a customer on the spot. That led to batch-and-blast emails, and lots of them, with lots of spam complaints and unsubscribes to go along with that approach. The B2B email marketer, on the other hand, was typically focused on nurturing a lead along slowly based on business logic, counting on multiple touch points to nudge a customer along the much longer sales cycle to—one hoped—an eventual sale.
Now those differences are less pronounced and in a surprising way.
Follow the leader toward relevant content
A few years ago, I might have predicted B2B buyers would start acting more like consumers in their professional lives as social media broke down barriers between companies and customers, and that shift might show up in email marketing.
However, that’s not what happened, and had I made such a prediction, I would have been wrong. In fact, from where I sit, I see B2C email marketing moving toward the B2B model instead. Gone are the days of immediate conversions as the Holy Grail. Now the consumer-oriented marketer is also focused on relevancy and timely, automated emails, using the same kind of business logic as his or her B2B counterpart to predict behavior and deliver right message, right time emails that lead to long-term relationships and customer loyalty. The B2B marketer is still more likely to have the longer sales cycle, but the B2C marketer is now more likely to view a customer as a longer term customer, with multiple purchases to be made over time.
This shift is driven in part by the ISPs. As they’ve started monitoring engagement as one factor in determining whether an email message is spam or not, they’ve raised the bar for email marketers who now must get targeted or get blocked.
But the shift is also driven by a need for effective email marketing, as inboxes have grown cluttered and consumers cynical. And it has been enabled by developing technologies have made powerful capabilities like triggered emails and relational databases accessible and affordable for a wider range of businesses.
Segmenting into smaller lists
To make relevant content possible, the savvy B2C email marketer is going to switch from having one large, generic list to several small, targeted lists. That brings B2C email marketing closer to B2B, where smaller lists prevail. The B2B marketer has always had the benefit of the smaller (and therefore targeted) list. Now the B2C marketer can emulate that targeted list using email segmentation. Even a big brand with a list numbering in the millions can break that list down into targeted and manageable audience segments, to deliver relevant content based on business logic.
And that’s another shift I’m seeing: The savvy B2C email marketer is likely going to using business logic, predictive behavior, and automated emails, just like his or her counterpart on the B2B side has done for years. But now, it’s easier for the B2C marketer to get to know each customer, and also imperative.
B2C email marketing grows up
Although some of this change is due to the cluttered inboxes and cynical consumers mentioned above, I suspect the shift is due to a maturing of the industry as well. As marketers grow in sophistication (and technologies evolve to enable it), they recognize that the effort they put in corresponds to the results they get out. When marketers switch from blasting generic “buy now” messages to sending targeted messages bent on building loyalty and repeated sales, they are taking the mature, sophisticated approach knowing it will deliver higher yields.
Yet some things will never change
Granted not all has changed, nor will it. The B2B marketer still has a smaller, targeted list that doesn’t necessarily require email segmentation (but might!). The sales cycle is longer. There’s likely more than one decision maker involved in a B2B decision. B2B customers still want plenty of information upfront. And the vendor relationship still matters in big-ticket buying, because companies want to buy from people they trust.
Those aren’t issues the B2C marketer is likely going to have to deal with. But the savvy one is going to adapt every tool from the B2B marketer’s toolbox that he or she possibly can, in order to take advantage of relevancy and targeting to get opens and win sales.