But isn’t it an unfair generalization? Let’s enter the debate.
Pertinent questions, yet contestable conclusion
- “Does my brand strategy examine my business' entire ecosystem?”
- “Does my brand strategy take into account the emotion felt by every person who interacts with my brand?”
- “Does my strategy effectively use a diversity of channels to reach multiple constituencies at once in creative and unusual ways?”
- Question 1 reaffirms the notion of ecosystem, which too many companies tend to ignore in their communication, for being too focused on their first order customers.
- Question 2 recalls that every company relies on people, that decisions stem from these people, and that no human decision, all contexts considered, is free from emotions and subjectivity. It rips up this hard-lived idea that decisions taken by organizations are systematically more objective and rational than decisions taken by individual consumers.
- Question 3 recalls that the advent of the digital economy has multiplied the occasions of contacts with individuals, thus favoring more encompassing communication trends, paradoxically perceived as less intrusive ("Inbound Marketing"). Although expressed first in consumption markets, this phenomenon has now largely reached the inter-organizational context.
Towards a dividing line between B2B and B2C
- Suppliers are formal organizations (associations, societies, companies);
- Their product and service offers are intended for individuals (the latter potentially being organized into informal groups - but only informal ones);
- The products and/or services are offered as they stand: they do not bear any further transformation before purchase;
- The seller communicates directly and freely with its targeted consumer segments.
Contrasts along the horizontal dimension of market structures
- A wider diversity of the demand facing a specific competency of the supplier;
- Very different and much more diverse segmentation criteria and differenciation modes;
- Consequently, a greater criticity of market segment targeting.
- A much reduced use of statistics, as customers are much fewer: more qualitative approach;
- Criticity of targeting for adapting the supplier organisation’s resources to the market potential (especially, potentially surging marketing costs due to a large spread of market studies on very constrasted segments);
- Necessary, albeit sometimes difficult, arbitration between direct relationships with customers and solicitation of distributors’ networks (for “small” customers, more numerous);
- Development of “key account programs” for customers whose individual behaviors may affect the supplier in its strategy, profitability or image.
Contrasts along the vertical dimension of
- Sets of much longer customer branches, with very variable, complex structures, reticulated down to final consumption;
- A large variability in the portions of these chains on which an offer is perceivable;
- Actors (organizations and individuals) of very constrasted sensitiveness to an offer, spread all along the customer branches,
- A very wide variety of influence powers.
- Impact of the nature of the added value for the first order customer: process advantage (often invisible for its own customers) vs. economic advantage (potential effect as a price decrease for its own customers) vs. “specialty” advantage (better perceived quality for its own customers, potentially resulting into a sales price increase);
- Necessary evaluation of the offer’s competitive situation at each stage of the customer branches where competition may be expressed;
- Identification of strategic actors in and around customer branches and necessary anticipation of their motivations;
- Choice of an adapted communication strategy: “push” towards the first order customer or “pull” towards the most pertinent dowsnstream targets.
Contrasts on “contact points” with first-order customers
- A constituted group of people meets another constituted group of people, with collective and individual strategies which may be synergistic or conflictual;
- Customers’ and suppliers’ investment levels into the relationship are usually much more balanced;
- Negotiations generally last much longer.
- A long-lasting relational management with individual customer representatives whom you personally meet and whose faces and names you know;
- The criticity of a deep knowledge of the customer organizations, with their strengths and weaknesses, strategic objectives, targeted markets, and of the power games that take place within these organizations;
- The need for a sales force fitted with good technical knowledge (“Technical Sales Reps” typical profiles);
- The collective and individual abilities to manage complex situations and to work under a project mode.
Mingling the B2B and B2C contexts is abusive, contestable and detrimental
At the end of this appraisal, one cannot deny a real convergence in communication methods between the B2B and the B2C contexts. It is essentially due to the development of digital marketing techniques and to what is now referred to as the “Big Data”, the phenomenal, exponential increase of quantitative behavioral market data. However, the “syncretic” argument mingling the B2B and B2C contexts is abusive, contestable and detrimental. Indeed, essential differences exist, beyond mere communication tools, as much in situations and challenges as in working techniques and methods. These differences even decisively affect the needs in profiles and competencies for each of these contexts. An implicit confusion exists in the teaching of marketing where, too often, consumer marketing, with its contextual cases and examples, is introduced as the fundamental marketing model, while the large majority of marketing professionals work in the B2B context. This is why the pertinence of specific trainings in B2B Marketing has not waned, even if the latter don’t always exhibit as much glamour as brands like L’Oreal or LVMH.