What B-to-C Marketers Can Learn From the B-to-B World

Five Strategies Behind Smart, Complex Brand Models

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In today's consumer economy, price is becoming a bigger driver of purchase decisions, elbowing its way past all the lifestyle attributes we've worked so hard to associate with our brands.

Maybe it's time to look at those who've lived -- and learned to thrive -- in such dire circumstances. B-to-C, meet B-to-B.

The price-based sale has always haunted the B-to-B world. It's accepted wisdom that specs drive needs and costs decide contracts. "Branding" has amounted to the premiums salespeople buy with liquor at tradeshows, generally speaking. Reality has always mattered more than image.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of 'Branding Only Works on Cattle' and blogs about marketing at
Dim Bulb.
But the reality of the global supply chain is changing the ways B-to-B companies function. Commonalities of sourcing and manufacturing make it harder to differentiate parts. The pace of innovation requires faster and more-frequent design changes. Technology has transformed delivery and service processes into real-time, 24/7 activities.

Suddenly, that binge at Hooters doesn't cut it as branding anymore.

B-to-B marketers are instead building smart, complex brand models that are based on the very business behaviors that are changing their companies. Lacking the language (and expensive gurus to properly brand the branding), these companies are:

  • Using more capabilities of customer-relationship-management technology -- such as learning to track and model customer behavior -- because there are fewer walls between sales and marketing.

  • Focusing creative outward, on the real customer needs they're used to identifying, instead of inward, on somehow "educating" people on some newfound, imagined perceptions of brand.

  • Linking marketing content to specific events or behaviors in their purchase chronologies, because that's how they've traditionally approached their markets (less generic awareness toward a demographic and more goal-directed process with customers in various need states).

  • Engaging in ongoing conversations with their customers and would-be buyers, again more out of habit than any conversion to the principles of endless dialogue.

  • Adapting their communications activities to stay relevant to their customers and markets, relying less on content creation and more on motivating people (again, because of the history of their business practices).

    What's most notable is that they never lose sight of reality, whether of price or functional specs. It's the nature of their businesses, ultimately, and it requires that they find ways to add tangible value in both how they do things and what they say about it.

    So before you embark on your next B-to-C experiment that requires a de facto suspension of disbelief regarding any efficacy in working toward a tangible business goal, maybe you should take a look at how the B-to-B folks are quietly reinventing the very concept of what constitutes a brand -- and making money with it.

    Questions to ask about: B-to-B marketing

    CREATIVE: How do they stay focused on customer needs, not simply aspirations?

    EXECUTION: Do the distinctions we make between channels matter to users?

    ADAPTABILITY: Can brands stay relevant without changing somewhat -- or perhaps a lot?

    METRICS: What's so bad about measuring branding in terms of sales and profits?
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