3 Key Operational Differences Between B2B & B2C Marketing

In my role, I speak with agencies, systems integrators and other service providers every day, and I’m still surprised by how often I need to correct the misconception that today’s B2B marketing is just a twist on the B2C practices that have been refined over the past 5-10 years. “B2B is 18-24 months behind B2C, but the tactics are pretty much the same” is a common refrain. In some cases, of course, this is true, but in some very important ways it’s patently false. These service providers are either going to get religion and change their approach, or they’re going to lose as they continue to miss the target and their clients come to realize that their service provider just doesn’t get B2B…

Let’s review three of the most fundamental and important differences between B2B & B2C:

1. At the top of the list is the misconception that cookie-based ad targeting is the best way to reach B2B buyers. This is definitely false, at least today and for the next few years. Marketers who have gone through the onboarding process of matching cookies to their offline contacts, worked with third-party DMPs to augment their first-party cookie pools, and leveraged lookalike targeting through the likes of Facebook know the plain truth – due to low match rates, eroding cookies, DSP limitations and a variety of related reasons, it’s virtually impossible to address more than about 20% of a buying committee through cookie-based ad targeting. In a world of ever-larger buying committees, the inability to reach 80% of your target’s influencers and decision-makers is crippling. And frankly, those agencies and marketers who buy B2B banner ads know very well that cookies do not deliver anywhere close to the same results in a B2B environment as they do in B2C. IP-based ad targeting is the only reliable way to drive awareness with target accounts in today’s B2B world.

2. It’s worth noting why B2B cookie pools are so difficult to build. In a consumer environment, new parents are shopping for baby food and diapers online, they’re posting pictures of their newborn on Facebook and they’re reading parenting advice on the web. Cookies are being dropped frequently, and the pattern of online behavior helps the marketer associate the cookies with an obvious and readily-addressable persona. The situation is dramatically different in a B2B environment. First, the business buyer is part of a buying committee only infrequently. Second, buying patterns don’t correlate closely with an employee’s or company’s “life stage.” Third, and most importantly, there are few reliable ways to associate the individual’s B2B buying behavior with the company at which they work. Typically, a B2B cookie pool can only be built when individuals authenticate at a website (e.g. fill out a form or sign in to an application) and use their corporate domain. But even then, infrequent B2B buying activity means that cookie pools built on self-identification will erode (due to cookie expiration, for instance) more quickly than new cookies are minted. FWIW, Demandbase’s patented IP-to-company correlation engine provides us the unique ability to grow a B2B cookie pool, so we have a very clear view into how and why DMPs and other B2B cookie sources fail to reach more than 15-20% of an intended audience.

3. The third major fallacy born in the B2C world is: “if it’s not addressable, it’s not worth it.” Once again, this is wrong. In a world where two-thirds of the B2B buying process is done anonymously, and where the average buying committee includes seven people (only one or two of whom you can hope to address through cookie-based targeting), the ability to identify an anonymous visitor and understand what company they work for (both onsite and offsite) is critical. Put another way, only by targeting people via IP address can a B2B marketer deliver a relevant message to the entire buying committee at their target account.

So while the channels in B2B are largely the same as the B2C world, differences in buying behavior and the challenge of building cookie pools mean that B2B is indeed a separate beast. As service providers come to understand this better they’ll be able to craft more impactful, higher ROI solutions that hit the target for their clients.