There is an unofficial line in the sand between B2B and B2C marketers. On the surface, B2B marketing seems much more serious — and far less frivolous — than its consumer-oriented marketing cousin. B2C marketing, by contrast, is stereotypically creative-driven: glossy print ads, lifestyle-oriented Pinterest boards, and social feeds filled with production-heavy media and user-generated content. But in many ways these B2B vs. B2C marketing “best practices” confuse and constrain more than they clarify.
Here we’ll take a look at the dominant perceptions of B2B versus B2C brands and highlight opportunities where challenging these stereotypes can unlock brand innovation and the creativity for the marketers behind them.
The trouble with our self-fulfilling marketing stereotypes
According to Brafton, a core distinction between B2B and B2C marketing centers around the consumer-oriented marketer’s focus on establishing an emotional connection:
“B2C marketing differs from B2B marketing in a number of key ways, one being that it often depends on campaigns’ abilities to invoke emotional responses, rather than solely demonstrating value.”
However, CEB’s challenger marketing methodology puts forward a contradictory position. According to CEB’s research, the “demonstrating value” stalwarts of B2B marketing like thought leadership and brand awareness — including “containing interesting facts or anecdotes” and “representing a smart/expert perspective” — are not statistically significant marketing drivers.
By contrast, an invocation of an emotional response — what CEB terms “commercial insight” — is precisely what moves the needle for response to B2B marketing. Marketing that offers commercial insight “[provides] the customer with compelling reasons to take action” or “[teaches the] customer something new about their business needs/challenges.” Put differently, the statistically significant drivers CEB discovered are at their root level marketing that incites an “Aha!” moment for customers.
To further clarify the emotionally rooted elements of CEB’s challenger marketing methodology, here’s how Michael Brenner described the concept of commercial insight to Marketing Insider Group:
“Commercial insights are frame breaking. They break consumers’ views of the world and show something consumers are currently doing is wrong or flawed, and is exposing them to more risks, costs, or problems. Commercial insights juxtapose the cost of consumers’ current behaviors with the potential of alternative action. And this alternative action should lead consumers to your product or service, showing them how you can help solve their needs better than anyone else can. Commercial insights are about you understanding what you do better than anyone else.”
There is clear room for creativity in the delivery of insightful, “frame breaking” commercial insight, even (and perhaps especially) in the “stodgy” realm of B2B marketing. Let’s take a closer look at our preconceptions about B2B and B2C marketers’ distribution methods to understand the channels which provide the biggest opportunities for marketers in both spheres.
Social network stereotypes: Why B2B and B2C marketers need to play in one another’s sandboxes
LinkedIn, of course, is the unofficial place to be for B2B marketers. And according to our analysis of 12 months of content from leading B2B brands, there is certainly an “if you build it, they will come” phenomenon on LinkedIn for B2B marketers. The median number of followers for a B2B brand is 109,000 on LinkedIn, compared with 34,000 on Facebook; 18,000 on Twitter; 3,000 on Instagram; and 420 on Pinterest.
But while B2B brands are “popular” on LinkedIn in terms of followers, does anyone care about the thought leadership they’re posting? The data-backed answer is: not really.
Among the leading B2B brands in the Global 500 — brands you’d expect to thrive on LinkedIn’s professional network — the average brand gets an engagement rate of only 1.09 interactions per post per 1,000 followers. In fact, B2B brands get 20 times more engagement on Instagram than on LinkedIn. The average engagement rate (number of interactions per post per 1,000 followers) for B2B brands is: 22.53 on Instagram; 15.88 on Pinterest; 5.99 on Facebook; 1.09 on LinkedIn; and 0.86 on Twitter.
“B2B brands have the largest audience on LinkedIn — 36 times the number of followers they have on Instagram — but get 20 times more engagement on Instagram than on LinkedIn.”
These findings force us to challenge our assumptions about the social spheres of influence for B2B brands. If you think, for example that B2B marketing is unviable on Pinterest, you wouldn’t be alone. And in fact, B2B brands do have the fewest followers on Pinterest overall, with a median of only 420 followers among the leading B2B brands in the Global 500. But from an engagement standpoint, Pinterest — like Instagram — is a powerful channel for B2B brands, when wielded appropriately. Barclay’s Wealth division, for example, brings their brand’s commercial insight forward on Pinterest through the use of infographics:
B2C brands, by comparison, predictably find their largest audiences on Facebook. In fact, B2C brand audiences are 10 times larger on Facebook than on any other major social network. The median number of followers for B2C brands is 1,276,000 on Facebook; 110,000 on Twitter; 62,000 on LinkedIn; 45,000 on Instagram; and 5,000 on Pinterest.
However, despite myriad Facebook fans, Facebook flounders for B2C brands from an engagement perspective. Facebook audiences engage minimally, likely due to overall decreases in organic reach on the network.
B2C brands see a far higher engagement rate on Instagram and Pinterest. With the exception of the Consumer Products and Telecommunication & Cable industries, B2C brands see the highest engagement ratios on Instagram. Telecommunications, cable, and consumer products brands, however, soar on Pinterest. Believe it or not, these two industries are pinning their way to greater brand engagement.
Perhaps the most surprising finding from our research is that Instagram is an open playing field for both B2B and B2C brands. The visual-driven network offers a major opportunity for brand awareness and engagement. In fact, Global 500 B2B brands see a slightly higher engagement rate on Instagram on average than their B2C counterparts, with an engagement rate of 22.53 versus an engagement rate of 19.2 for B2C brands.
Take a look at the summary chart below for the key differentiations between B2B and B2C marketers on social media channels.
B2B vs. B2C Social Media Benchmarks
Social Network Median Number of Followers Engagement Rate 109000 1.09 3000 22.53 34000 5.99 18000 0.86 420 15.88
Social Network Median Number of Followers Engagement Rate 1276000 2.31 45000 19.2 62000 0.97 5000 10.96 45000 1.90
Social Networks Where Brands Have the Most Followers:
LinkedIn (B2B) and Facebook (B2C).
Top Engaging Social Network:
Instagram (for both B2B and B2C brands!)
Leading Industries on Social Media
B2B: Biotech, Engineering, and Machinery industries.
B2C: Automaker, Hospitality, and Insurance industries.