What B2C and B2B Marketers Can Learn from Each Other

Janet C. Jessen

By Janet C. Jessen, vice president, Global Marketing, Innovation & Engineering, Garlock Sealing Technologies

Notwithstanding a much-heralded convergence of business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) marketing techniques, significant differences remain. Those most frequently cited (which I can confirm from working in both worlds) have to do with the nature of the products and services offered, target markets, purchasing processes, sales cycles, branding, and communications.

Whereas the B2C world is essentially product-driven, the B2B world is relationship-driven. Accordingly, B2C focuses on the value of transactions in large, mass markets versus the value of relationships in smaller, more-focused market segments. B2C transactions typically involve simple, one-step purchases and relatively short sales cycles, compared with the more complex purchasing processes and longer sales cycles of B2B. Moreover B2C purchases are largely based on emotion, as opposed to value in the B2B realm.

From my own experience, I might add that B2B marketing often is narrowly defined in terms of product management, sales, and communications. My own definition of marketing is to develop a deep and rich understanding of customers’ needs and desires leading to the creation and enhancement of products or services that meet or exceed their expectations. That’s a mouthful, but it strikes at the heart of what both B2C and B2B marketers are seeking to accomplish, and what the two worlds might learn from one another.

Market research in the B2C and B2B worlds reflects the basic difference in the size and composition of their respective markets. B2C research is primarily quantitative, involving surveys of large numbers of respondents to yield statistically valid results on which to base decisions. B2B research, on the other hand, tends to be more qualitative. For example, in my present position with a manufacturer of industrial sealing products for the process industries, we use a market research technique called the “Voice of the Customer” (VoC). This technique involves in-depth interviews to develop detailed impressions of their wants and needs.

In a recent VoC survey, our global customers cited the same criteria for sealing purchases, regardless of their geographic location. These were environmental impact, resource conservation, process yield, reliability, and safety. For consumers, these drivers are more likely to be pricing, convenience, aesthetics, and other emotional factors. That said, I’d like to look at three specific areas where B2C and B2B marketing diverge, but offer potential for cross-application.

The first is branding, where in B2C the hierarchy of good, better, best translates into brands, sub-brands, co-brands, designer brands, and so on. By contrast, the B2B world typically is characterized by single-brand strategies. Yet at Garlock, good, better, best translates into three grades of sealing products: utility, performance, and extreme grade. In our business, there simply aren’t any viable one-size-fits-all products.

The moral is: Don’t take your brand for granted. If it’s well defined and you understand its “DNA,” it can be extended into new categories or used to create diffusion or step-down brands. For example, Dell Computer and Ridgid Tools recently teamed up to co-brand industrial-grade laptops. During my stint at a luxury goods company, we developed a designer brand to crack the bridal market. And at Garlock, we currently are evaluating whether our rugged, industrial brand image is appropriate for our more environmentally oriented positioning. To be effective, branding must be consistent, but it can still be flexible, and B2B marketers can adopt some of the subtleties of consumer branding without fear of diluting their brands.

The second area is packaging, which for consumer products branding is a key consideration. At Garlock, we recently co-developed an ultra-low-emission valve seal to address the environmental concerns of one of the world’s leading refineries. Just as important as the product itself, however, was the packaging we designed.

Instructions for proper installation help assure reliability, and instead of weight (which is how these products typically are sold), we indicate how many valves can be serviced with the contents of each package, making it easier to order. The new packaging also includes high-visibility tags for attachment to valves, indicating when they were serviced and with what type of seal, as well as a reminder to re-tighten the seal to maintain its performance and extend its service life. In addition, the packaging is recyclable and features a rugged, top-mounted handle.

Both B2C and B2B marketers should look beyond mere branding in their packaging, and engage their customers in its design, labeling, color coding to prevent misuse, and other factors impacting its functionality and ease of use. Our own customer research, for example, has unearthed a desire for bar coding on the actual product for tracking and tracing purposes.

Marketing Communications

Now let’s look at what B2C and B2B marketers can learn from one another in the area of marketing communications, notably public relations. The B2C world makes extensive use of celebrity endorsements, special events, and other high-profile activities, whereas B2B marketers often limit themselves to new product announcements in the trade press. At Garlock, public relations is a robust part of our communications mix for educating customers and delivering useful information.

In the process of publishing technical articles, making presentations at trade shows and conferences, and winning industry awards, we reinforce our position as an authority on sealing technology. These activities can serve both as an external and internal branding tool—external by enriching our relationship with customers by positioning Garlock as a technological and environmental partner, and internal by involving many of our employees in our public relations efforts.

In the final analysis, consumer confidence drives everything, seeing as consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of GDP. B2C marketers seem to have a better grasp of this reality than their B2B counterparts, who tend to forget that many of their products ultimately end up in consumer products. That’s why at Garlock we closely monitor consumer confidence readings, durable goods orders, housing starts, and other leading economic indicators that directly or indirectly impact our business.

Janet C. Jessen is vice president of global marketing, engineering and innovation for Palmyra, NY-based Garlock Sealing Technologies, which manufactures high-performance sealing products for the world’s process industries. She also has served as vice president of business development for Waterford Wedgewood USA. She may be contacted at 800.0448.6688 or janet.jessen@garlock.com.