I Call B.S. on B-to-B and B-to-C

Distinction Between Business and Consumer Marketing is Irrelevant

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In today's digital age, the traditional categories of b-to-b and b-to-c marketing are converging, and frankly, it's about time. I've always believed that making a distinction between the two is irrelevant, but Keith Navratil's recent column has made it clear that the industry continues to insist on categorizing marketing to businesses and individual consumers as two entirely separate strategies. I'm calling B.S.

All companies face the same challenge: standing for one cohesive idea and tailoring its messaging to a network of audiences, including professionals and consumers. While Keith gets it right that business decision-makers have emotions, he fails to acknowledge that all brands need to appeal to an entire ecosystem of decision-makers -- implying that brands like CVS and L'Oreal are strictly consumer, while FedEx and SAP are b-to-b brands.

Marketers should worry less about fleshing out distinct b-to-b and b-to-c strategies and more about thinking creatively about reaching every human who has a potential to touch a brand. To be successful like Apple and GE, which have erased the distinction, companies must ask themselves the following questions:

Does my brand strategy examine my business' entire ecosystem?

All businesses have complex ecosystems comprised of internal and external stakeholders, distribution channels and end consumers. Marketers that fail to consider the dynamic between a brand's immediate targets and end-users have it all wrong. While the messaging or tactics used to reach constituencies may differ, a business should still consider all users as part of one strategy that conveys what the brand stands for.

MetLife* understands this. Its primary constituencies are employers and healthcare decision-makers. However, its recent campaign, "The Right Choice," drove consumers to video content to help them make decisions about their employers' enrollment choices. The spots featured experts from MetLife's own clients -- Colgate, Chevy and Crayola -- who discussed the benefits of dental, car and life insurance for their employees and bridged the gap between MetLife, its clients and end-users.

Does my brand strategy take into account the emotion felt by every person who interacts with my brand?

Marketers need to understand that a business' ecosystem is a collection of people, all of whom are capable of feeling emotional ties to brands. A well-executed campaign should draw on this and infuse emotional messaging whenever possible.

Verizon's "Powerful Answers" campaign showcased how its technology could provide solutions for everything from sustainability to global healthcare. While it targeted the agricultural and healthcare industries, the emotion displayed in the ads -- a farmer's sense of hope, a sick girl's relief upon getting good news -- resonated with people first and foremost.

Sometimes, emotions strike a chord with an unintended audience, resulting in a huge win for the brand. Dell's latest "Beginnings" campaign, which portrays how big companies got their start, was intended to target startups; ultimately, consumers loved it too, propelling it to almost 1 million social media views. Dell says the social response has caused business owners to come knocking. What Dell did, it seems, was implement a b-to-c-to-b strategy.

Does my strategy effectively use a diversity of channels to reach multiple constituencies at once in creative and unusual ways?

The Dell case brings up an important consideration: The possibility of using today's variety of platforms to emotionally target an entire ecosystem is limitless. It's a mistake for brands to believe that one channel is always best-suited for a business or a consumer, or even one "type" of business or consumer. A great brand strategy should consider not only all of the people who touch the brand, but the number of channels they might interact with and sophisticated tactics to engage them there.

During the Super Bowl, Adobe set up a social media war room, congratulating other brands while sharing their own video ad. The Adobe ad showed a family around the TV during the game, each member interacting with a different device. It encouraged marketers to pay as much attention to the second screen as they do to traditional channels, using Adobe technology. The strategy was genius in that it reached marketers where their eyes would be during the Super Bowl: on social media, both as consumers of the game and as professionals to promote their own brands.

As the evolution of the industry landscape continues, I challenge marketers this year to think beyond "b2b" and "b2c" and create intelligent strategies to tell their brand's story and connect with the full ecosystem of audiences.

*Disclaimer: While Metlife has been a client of Sullivan, the agency was not involved in the work referenced in this article.

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