B2B vs. B2C Marketing: The Similarities and Differences

Axel Kuehnle
Axel Kuehnle  |  July 18, 2019

You can distinguish between B2B vs. B2C marketing, but in the end, you must market for H2H: Human 2 Human.

Vanessa is CMO of a successful startup. She focuses on building an international marketing strategy and a strong lead funnel, measuring the customer lifecycle, coordinating with her team, and analyzing KPIs. After work, she stops by the local grocery store and goes to meditation classes. She scrolls through her Instagram feed and likes to go hiking on the weekend.

No matter whether Vanessa deals with other companies in her CMO role (B2B) or buys new hiking shoes for the summer (B2C), she wants to be approached as a person. Vanessa is a fictional character, but her story demonstrates a real problem. 

B2B vs. B2C marketing (and H2H!)

A company cannot communicate with a company. It is always a person who communicates with another person. Therefore, contact is always human-to-human (H2H). Rather than focusing solely on the categories B2B vs. B2C, it is more important to have a certain target group in mind to market to.

Starting from this target group, you can then consider how you would talk to the person and which channels you want to use to address them. Whether this is classic B2B or B2C does not matter at first.

In this article you will learn about general differences between B2B and B2C, the similarities and differentiators, and how B2B and B2C marketing work in different marketing channels. You will also learn about H2H marketing and how you can use this approach to improve your B2B and B2C marketing efforts.

Jump ahead to any of the sections below to learn more:

B2B and B2C explained

In order to start with the marketing side of B2B and B2C, let’s quickly identify the overall difference between B2B and B2C.

Business-to-business (B2B) is the term used to describe a business relationship between at least two companies. This can be small businesses, medium sizes businesses or large corporations. An example of B2B would be a chipset manufacturer that sells its products to other companies.

Business-to-consumer (B2C) is the term used to describe a business relationship between one company and at least one individual consumer. An example of B2C would be a travel agency that sells flights to individual consumers.

Similarities of B2B and B2C marketing

Before we dive into the differentiators of B2B and B2C marketing, let us first have a look at the similarities. You will see some very fundamental points that apply for both categories. 

  • You can do B2B or B2C marketing, but behind both groups are real people.
  • You need to build trust in order to make a sale.
  • You need to make clear that you are able to solve your client’s specific problem.
  • You need to give your customers the option to contact you through different channels.
  • You must continue the customer journey even after the sale happens.
  • Your marketing should work hand-in-hand with sales.
  • You have to recognize people as individuals.
  • Your potential customers are willing to spend money on a product or service like yours and eventually have the intention to make a purchase.
  • You need to identify and define buying personas (fictional representation of your individual human customer) and ideal customer profiles (fictional representation of the company that best fits your product or service) for successful marketing.

9 differentiators of B2B and B2C marketing

You cannot see the differentiators as definite. There are always cases when these general differentiators do not apply. For example, not all B2B products and services are complex, but on average, they are more complex than B2C products and services.

On the other hand, it’s up to you how you are going to market your product or service. You can market a less exciting B2B product or service in a fun and exciting way. Keep in mind that behind every company you market individuals. It must always be human-to-human marketing.

1. User groups (B2B) vs. individual buyer (B2C)

In B2B, you tend to market a group of stakeholders in order to make one sale. This can include executives, product users, IT staff and managers. Think of a committee to decide which AI software subscription to buy. 

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In B2C, you tend to market and sell to one individual buyer. Think of a person buying premium app features.

2. Detailed information vs. broad description

In B2B, you tend to need to create detailed and longer texts for your customers. Think of a company that needs to buy a specific fabric.

In B2C, you tend to create short and broad texts. Think of a person looking for new shoes.

3. Rational vs. emotional

In B2B, you tend to have a more rational messaging. B2B buyers tend to be more planned and logical with a specific return on investment (ROI) in mind. Think of an airline leasing airplanes.

In B2C, you tend to have a more emotional messaging. B2C buyers tend to be more spontaneous and even buy things without actually having a need for it. Think of a person buying a new car.

4. Higher price vs. lower price

B2B prices tend to be higher than B2C prices. Therefore, B2B buyers tend to need to be well informed in order to make a purchasing decision. Think of finding a logistics partner for importing goods from abroad.

B2C prices tend to usually be lower compared to B2B prices. As prices rise, B2C buyers have a higher need to be well informed in order to make a purchasing decision. Think of shipping a parcel to Europe from the United States.

5. Large scale vs. personal use

In B2B, you tend to market to people that need to buy products or services for a lot of people. Think of new laptops for all employees.

In B2C, you tend to market to people that are buying it for themselves, friends, family, or other people in their household. Think of getting a new phone.

6. Longer sales cycle vs. shorter sales cycle

In B2B, you tend to have longer sales cycles and therefore need to nurture over a longer period of time before a sale is made. Think of a multi-million press shop that needs a lot of planning and customization.

In B2C, you tend to have short sales cycles compared to B2B. You may tend to make a sale at the very first touchpoint. Think of the purchase of a new printer in a given price range.

7. Educational vs. fun

In B2B, customers tend to expect more educational content. You may use industry jargon or business-friendly terms. Think of a complex article on how to combine data points along a customer journey. 

In B2C, customers tend to expect content that is more fun to enjoy. You may avoid the use of any jargon. Think of an article about the top 10 tourist destinations in South America.

8. Longer customer relationships vs. shorter customer relationships

In B2B, you tend to more often have longer customer relationships. Think of account managers that are in close contact with your clients over many years.

In B2C, you tend to more often have shorter customer relationships and clients are less loyal. Think of a one-time purchase of a backpack made through a retailer.

9. Higher acquisition costs vs. lower acquisition costs

In B2B, you tend to have higher customer acquisition costs that are justified with equivalent higher prices. Think of multiple marketing campaigns with high spendings over a long sales cycle.

In B2C, you tend to have lower customer acquisition costs that go along with lower prices. Think of a cheap micro-influencer campaign that shortens your sales cycle to one touchpoint.

Comparing B2B and B2C marketing channels

Yes! Yes, you can use all marketing channels for B2B marketing and B2C marketing, as you will see in the following table.

The differences are not between what channels you can use, but in the way of the information you provide to your users. Get started with the different marketing channels by clicking on the channel names below. 

Channel

B2B

B2C

Ads

Yes!

Yes!

Affiliate Marketing

Yes!

Yes!

Communities and Forums

Yes!

Yes!

Content Marketing

Yes!

Yes!

Email Marketing

Yes!

Yes!

Events and Trade Shows

Yes!

Yes!

Influencer Marketing

Yes!

Yes!

Partnerships

Yes!

Yes!

Podcasts

Yes!

Yes!

PR

Yes!

Yes!

Referral Programs

Yes!

Yes!

Review Sites

Yes!

Yes!

Social Media

Yes!

Yes!

Word of Mouth

Yes!

Yes!

Let’s dive into each channel to see one example of B2B marketing and B2C marketing.

Ads

B2B: Oftentimes when I arrive at airports, on the way to the baggage claim, I see ads of big companies like SAP or KPMG advertising their B2B products and services. This is a classic example of a B2B ad.

B2C: When I depart from the airport again, just after the security checks, where all the duty-free shops are located, I sometimes see cars on a stage. Those are car manufacturer advertising their new models.

Affiliate marketing

B2B: Companies that offer website hosting, for example, are successfully using affiliate marketing to get new clients. They offer other professionals to share a tracked link with their clients. If these clients become new customers of the hosting site, the referring affiliate partner gets a commission.

B2C: Amazon offers a PartnerNet that you can join to make money by linking to products sold on Amazon. In return, you get a commission for every sale made. Many people that have blogs use this to make some extra money.

Communities and forums

B2B: A very popular community in the B2B space is the Salesforce Trailblazer Community. It's so popular that people are walking around in Trailblazer swag. That's how powerful a community can be for your B2B brand.

B2C: There are meetup groups for anything. Chances are you are even regularly joining some. The meetup groups are sometimes built, owned and sponsored by companies that hold regular meetups worldwide.

Content marketing

B2B: In the B2B space, blogs, whitepapers, one-pagers, webinars, videos, and ebooks are popular content formats. The G2 Learning Hub is a big content platform, for example.

B2C: You are probably reading the blog of a brand you follow or watch their YouTube channel. The Bertha Benz video that Mercedes-Benz published on their YouTube channel already reached 5 million views. 

Email marketing

B2B: Emails that are sent to potential customers that may have not even heard about your brand before are called cold emails. If they are well-written and not spammy, this can be a great source for new clients.

B2C: More typical in the B2C space than cold emails are newsletters. As you know, the content can be educational, promotional, or both.

Events and trade shows

B2B: As a B2B company, you can join a trade show with your own booth for usually at least a couple of thousand dollars. When you successfully grow your company to a big brand, you can even start to host your own events and trade shows. Looker, a data analytics company, hosts their own events around the world for people interested in data analytics.

B2C: Many B2C events and trade shows have a mixed audience. Those are often places for business partners and suppliers to meet. Take the fitness trade show FIBO for example. Fitness brands rent a booth to promote their gym supplements, gears and all the other things to private visitors but have a separate space to meet new and existing partners.

Influencer marketing

B2B: Influencers are not only a thing in the B2C space. If you look on LinkedIn for example, you will find many profiles of professionals with a huge audience, for example, CEO of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson.

B2C: The term “Instagram Influencer” became widely popular even outside of the marketing world. World-famous soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo has over 175 million followers on Instagram. This goes all the way down to micro-influencers with just a couple of thousand followers.

Partnerships

B2B: There are different types of partners, such as solution partners that team up to provide a better customer solution; technology partners where one side integrates into the product of the other partner; and referral partners that actively promote you for a commission.

I recently went on Booking.com to check out hotels and saw a new partnership between Booking and Amazon Prime. The offer was a 10% discount on every booking via Booking for all Amazon Prime members.

B2C: A B2C partnership could be a mutual product development between a brand and its customers. At IKEA co-creation, you can develop new products together with the furniture giant. You can design such a partnership in different ways. Incentives could be cash rewards or exposure to your audience, for example.

Podcasts

B2B: Podcasts are a great way to show your audience that you are a serious brand with expertise. You can fairly easy interview experts in your space across the world. It can be a topic in your direct field of expertise or in a more broad category. CRM company Close hosts a podcast called “The Startup Chat”.

B2C: Not just in the B2B space but also in the B2C space, podcasts are one of the hottest marketing channels at the moment. For example “The GaryVee Audio Experience” is one of the most popular ones and gives a lot of hints and specific tactics for B2B and B2C marketers.

Public relations (PR)

B2B: PR helps to build a brand to generate awareness. A challenging part in the B2B space is the often higher complexity of the product or service. If you work with PR agencies it is important that they really understand you in order to pitch you well.

B2C: I am convinced that you have heard about Felix Baumgartner. The guy that did the supersonic freefall. A big PR campaign for Red Bull. 

Referral programs

B2B: You know Google Mail. Do you also know G Suite? Essentially this is the business version of Google Mail and the apps Gmail comes along with, such as Google Drive. Google gives its users the possibility to refer other businesses in exchange for cash rewards.

B2C: A famous B2C marketing story comes from the cloud storage company Dropbox. For every referral, the referee gets free space. With this simple hack, they turned into one of the most successful high growth startups.

Review sites

B2B: B2B review sites such as G2 help companies to gain trust by means of user reviews as well as generate leads. You can actively use this channel and ask clients to leave you a review. Setting up a profile isn't an opportunity to pass up. 

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B2C: You have probably used a review site such as Yelp before, when you were in a new city, looking for recommendations. The rating and number of reviews had a big impact on your decisions where to go to. This shows the importance of review sites, especially in the local businesses segment. 

Social media

B2B: Almost all businesses are on social media. Every employee that is actively using social networks becomes a voice for the company. You can use it for recruiting, to educate your audience, and much more. The recruitment company Michael Page has almost two million LinkedIn followers and uses it mainly to post user educational articles.

B2C: Instagram, Twitter, YouTube...you name it. For B2Cs, it is a must to be present on social media. Countless companies actually evolved out of a Facebook page or YouTube channel. The former professional freestyle skier and vlogger Jon Olsson, now reaching a seven digit number of subscribers on YouTube, used his social media presence to successfully launch and grow his own travel gear company.

Word of mouth

B2B: Word of mouth (WOM) is one of the best marketing channels. This channel often guarantees high-quality leads, and if your customers positively talk about your company and products, it means that you probably did a great job. To boost WOM, search and set up triggers to give your current and potential customers a reason to talk about you.

B2C: Since WOM is essentially the same for B2C, there is nothing more to add.

If you just started building your marketing department and do not know how and where to start, check out this Growth Blueprint. It gives you a step-by-step guideline of potential next steps for your business growth.

Beyond B2B vs. B2C: tips for H2H marketing

You learned that you are not limited to a few marketing channels just because you do B2B or B2C marketing and that you should not limit your ideas to B2B and B2C borders.

office gifGIF courtesy of GIFsec

If you are a B2B marketer, chances are that you are having a hard time communicating your product or service in an easy to understand way because you might think that your customers have certain expectations of B2B marketing.

Leave the B2B and B2C borders that are in your mind and consider the following seven tips in every marketing activity you and your team are doing. 

1. Humanize your wording

Recognize that you always market to other humans. Stop trying to be perfect and to talk like a robot. Ask yourself: Does this sound like the way we would actually talk to another person?

2. Make it easy to understand

Make it easy to understand and cut unnecessary jargon and difficult wording. Ask yourself: Does this sound like our customers will definitely understand what we are trying to communicate?

3. Engage with your audience

Engage with your audience just like you would do it in real life relationships. Ask yourself: Do we engage with our audience and seek out conversation?

4. Consider the context

Don’t rush things. Consider the context when you create content and your call to action (CTA). Ask yourself: Is it appropriate to ask for a demo/purchase at this point?

5. Focus on storytelling

Focus on storytelling and don’t just throw boring information and data out there. Add fun and humor to become more human. Ask yourself: Does this tell an appealing story, is it part of a story, and do I even enjoy consuming it?

6. Quality over quantity

Put quality over quantity. This will help you to become a trusted advisor. Ask yourself: Do we provide real value to our customers?

7. Get feedback

Roleplay new ideas and content with your team and customers. Ask yourself: Does it feel natural and appealing? No matter if you target businesses or individuals, these questions will help you make better decisions in your marketing and to execute marketing projects in a more user-centric approach.

Don’t stop here; ask yourself what other “rules” would help to turn your marketing into a more human-to-human dialogue.

Takeaways

B2Bs and B2Cs target two very different groups: companies and individuals. But no matter which group you are marketing for, it turns out that you always market to people: H2H.

You learned that there are very important similarities. Differentiators between B2B and B2C marketing are not always the same and there are cases where similarities turn into differences and vice versa. You saw that different marketing channels are even used for both groups.

Therefore, the most important takeaways for you should be:

  1. Free yourself from the burden of thinking in two buckets. Rather think of one bucket: H2H marketing.
  2. Truly understand the needs of your customers and adjust your marketing efforts around what fits these needs best.
H2H quote


Put down the old B2B vs. B2C wording and imagine who you want to address. Think about how you can address a specific person as if they were standing in front of you.

At the end of the day, it is about creating human-to-human connections and to market in a human way.

Want to learn more? Read about how to build a B2B content marketing strategy to help get you on track!
Axel Kuehnle
Author

Axel Kuehnle

Axel Kuehnle is the Founder of Zeitgeist Solutions and is helping B2B tech companies with their marketing.