skip to Main Content

B2B marketing needs to be rethought, reinvented, and repositioned. Here are some ideas to stimulate your thinking.


1. Brand and marketing are not less important in B2B than B2C—the decision makers are also people

Traditionally, B2B branding and marketing has been viewed as separate and quite different from B2C marketing. It has been seen as much less important. Branding and advertising have been regarded as frivolous and suitable only for consumers, who are illogical and easily swayed by emotion. B2B purchase decisions have been seen as serious and rational, and spending on brand and marketing as therefore an unnecessary luxury.

This overlooks a fundamental truth – that B2B purchase decisions are made by people. B2B customers are human individuals who are swayed by emotions, and over whom brands develop a psychological hold, which drives their thinking and behavior. Think of the old adage— ‘You can’t go wrong by buying IBM’.

The difference between B2B and B2C branding and marketing has always been mostly illusory. Brand plays a large role in business decision making.

2. B2B marketing should not play second fiddle to sales

The traditional view is that B2B is all about sales. That’s what the money is spent on – hiring and rewarding more salespeople. Success is measured in terms of generating sales leads. Marketing is treated as an adjunct to the sales function. It has a subordinate role, struggles to come up for air vs. sales, which it supports and to which it often reports.

This view still very much persists. Nationwide, for example, recently reconfigured its business model to focus on intermediary agents, instead of going direct to consumers. The company slashed its advertising budget and drastically cut its marketing department, shifting its focus to hiring more salespeople. This was a mistake, and you can expect to see sales suffer as a result.

3. B2B customers make decisions more emotionally than consumers

Overall, brand impact on purchase decisions is greater in B2B than B2C. Why? Brand is reputation. Reputation matters more in business decision making because there is more at stake. Consumer purchases tend to be frequent and their cost low.  They are lower risk and often transactional. Look at the growth of generic and store brands.

Most B2B decisions are infrequent and high cost. They can involve significant business risk. Lives and careers may be at stake if something goes wrong. Look at Boeing’s current troubles, which have led to the departure of the CEO and other senior executives. The door of the plane blew off because, in a desire to cut costs, the company decided to go with the cheapest equipment and installation supplier, as well as cutting corners on quality inspections.

Some purchases people make as consumers, of course, are very heavily influenced by brand. These are the ones that are more like B2B purchases – higher cost and more infrequent, a car, a kitchen. Luxury purchases are the exception. Decisions are driven by image, either of how other people see the individual, or how they see themselves. In luxury goods, brand plays a higher role than in B2B, driving as much as 80% of the purchase decision.

4. B2B marketers must consider the crossover from their B2C businesses

 When brands exist in both channels, the consumer brand halos, either positively or negatively, on their B2B businesses. B2B customers are also consumers. They don’t have split personalities. They don’t transform from emotional beings into logical robots when they walk through the office door. They are unable to cast off their non-work experiences. Their personal experiences as consumers carry over into their business lives and influence their business decisions. Companies whose brand portfolios include both consumer and business products and services need to be acutely aware of this.

AT&T discovered this years ago when sold their cable TV business to Comcast and their wireless business to two of the former Baby Bells. The question was:  should they license the AT&T brand to the acquirers? Would continuing to have the brand on the cable and wireless businesses hurt or harm their core (and very profitable) B2B business?

Brand research and brand financial valuation analysis came up with two very different answers. The AT&T brand was much less positively regarded by executives who had A&T cable at home. However, executives who used the AT&T internet service in their personal lives had a much more favorable view of the A&T brand, and this played an important role in their decision to select AT&T as the supplier of their business services.

5. Spending on B2B marketing and branding can lead to higher ROI than B2C

Margins are, on average, higher in B2B than B2C and the profit per sale greater. Audiences are smaller and easier and lower cost to target. Because many B2B companies do not spend on marketing, there is less clutter to cut through and the effect of spending is greater. A competitive advantage can be gained with relatively low investment. In the example cited above, AT&T discovered that it was spending several hundred million dollars in advertising its consumer business but achieving much greater ROI per dollar spent from the very limited amount spent on reaching the customers of the B2B business, its crown jewel. As a result of the analysis, the company switched the bulk of marketing spend from B2C to B2B and saw sales and profits soar.

6. The distinction between B2B marketing and B2C marketing is blurring

Today, the B2B vs. B2C distinction is blurring. In many cases, it has almost disappeared. The reason? Historically, a large portion of B2B sales has gone through agents and distributors. The internet and the growth of B2B2C (online channels such as Amazon) and D2C (where businesses bypass intermediary channels and go directly to the end-consumer) have changed this. Almost all brands have an ecommerce platform and sell directly to end-users. The growth of direct online sales increases the importance of brand and marketing communications. The immediate experience of the product is lacking because you can’t see and touch it. Brand and marketing must bridge the gap.

7. B2B businesses should be investing more in brand and marketing

Companies should take their B2B marketing more seriously. B2B customers are heavily influenced by brand and reputation and respond to marketing efforts. B2B marketing can take different forms—conferences, events, white papers, an account-based approach. It doesn’t have to be advertising. But it does matter. It delivers results, accelerating revenue, margin and share growth. The ROI is there.

 We urge B2B businesses to elevate the importance of marketing, devote a larger share of time and resources to it and increase their marketing investment.








Back To Top