B2C Marketing Has Its Nuances

Last weekend I wrote about Cisco entering multiple, disparate markets at the same time. While I thought that vertical strategy appears to be a good fit with the strengths and their customer needs, I thought their consumer play would challenge the company.
Here’s my point.
Marketing to businesses (B2B) is really different than marketing to consumers (B2C). In preparation for the consumer strategy moves, I note that Cisco announced in January that it had promoted a longtime insider to its top marketing post “as it prepares to broaden its reach to consumers”. Susan Bostrom has worked at Cisco for eight years, most recently heading up their government vertical. As CMO, she’s going to be responsible for branding, advertising and positioning to help drive Cisco into new markets. She could be talented and smart and all that. I don’t know, as I don’t know her. But what I find disturbing is I don’t see any consumer experience in her blood.
A lot of people who have only done one side of this marketing equation think it’s all just marketing. Marketing is marketing, right? Wrong!
There are several key differences between marketing to businesses vs. consumers. Let me point out 3 that come to mind.

Motivation. The business buyer is driven by different things than the consumer. In business, the things that drive consideration and ultimately, purchase are things like “successful projects, improved profits, and competitive differentiation” . Think about Sun Microsystems or IBM and what they say to sell servers or services. It’s about productivity. Consumers, on the other hand, buy things that they may not need to, ya know, NEED to buy.
Think of so many things you or I buy: magazines, clothes, health and fitness items and you buy them, why? I would say it’s for pleasure. I might even say it’s for emotional fulfillment. The things that fundamentally motivate each type of buyer is vastly different of course. The consumer is driven by a set of values and desires and an emotional outcome. I love the last 2 year campaign by Citibank because they have really captured this emotional outcome with their tag, ‘live richly’.
Level of Complexity. A typical business sales process will involve several steps including: research, product application, and consideration. Consumers respond to simple, clear messages. Businesses are full of mavens. They are hungry for content and if a vendor produces a 20 page piece of collateral, business folks will actually search for the relevant information and plug away to understand the product. Consumers are nearly opposite; they are hungry for ease. Even the sales model is radically different. A typical sales process in business has multi-step meaning see a brochure, seek a meeting, get a demo, perform a trial and then get a proposal. Buy one and see if you need to buy more. Consumer sales process is much more about connecting to the consumer, and positioning products well to communicate the ‘benefits’ at the time the consumer is looking for that. Most electronics or technology products have a sales cycle of less than 30 days from awareness, to consideration, to purchase. So in a business marketing setting, you can afford to do multiple sets of features and solutions and take time to get the message accurately and richly across. Consumer marketing has to capture the key ideas into a simple phrase or pitch. Simple, simple, simple. Getting that pitch to be both simple and differentiated is elegance.
Voice. Understanding how to speak to consumers in brand / pr / programs / voice is hard to describe. UBS comes to mind as a company that does the voice well; it talks to the financial and institutional community about performance metrics, but when it speaks to the consumer market, it talks about an emotional connection of ‘you and me’. The voice is personal, emotional, connected and not at all about technical specifications.

Transitioning from a B2B Marketing to B2C Marketing is virtually undone. I started to rack my brain to come up with examples of who’s done it well. Here’s a few folks that I came up with…

Intel used to sell only to manufacturers, but as they wanted to differentiate, they defined the brand to have a value by building their “Intel inside” campaign. “Intel Inside,” which launched in 1991, went a long way in teaching PC users something about the important components inside their computers, and helped separate the identity of the microprocessor from, say, the memory chip or graphics chip. It was a major change and helped Intel become the powerhouse they are today. They have a new campaign out which I’ll blog on later.

HP, some could argue, has a consumer focus with its printer, laptop and mobile division. I would argue that consumers buy their products and have to do their own research and work to make that sale happen. I would argue that HP is not a consumer company only because consumers work way to hard to make that purchase.

And that’s all I could come up with. It’s a short list, isn’t it? I’d like to know if you can think of others… and whether you think Cisco can make it across this rubicon of theirs? Let’s see.

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