If you were to ask, “how is B2B writing different from B2C writing?”, the easy answer is that while the writing seems similar, the two types have clear, distinct goals. And while the end result looks different, both aim to convert people--consumers or businesses--into sales.
While this may seem obvious to some, in a recent Adobe survey where 1,042 people gave their feedback, 52 percent of marketers saw enough of a similarity between the two to answer both, “yes and no”.
However, the path to increased sales differs markedly between B2B and B2C contexts.
1. Target Your Audience
When you create content for the consumer, you typically focus on a 1:1 ratio. B2B writing is completely different. It requires you to develop content for multiple stakeholders, from the gatekeeper who first expresses interest in a product to the executive with ultimate buying power.
The audiences also experience dissimilar pressures. The consumer might focus on immediate benefits and price; however, the buying decision — even if for a house or car — won’t affect his or her employment. A poor purchasing decision in the business world, though, can produce multiple negative ramifications. These buyers fear sinking the ship or, at the very least, losing their life raft, i.e., their job.
Before creating any content, B2B or B2C, define target personas. Each business environment contains numerous audience members, with each wanting to learn something different from your brand. The person in IT wants information about specifications and integrations while the CEO desires data about the solution’s impact on efficiency and profits. A consumer-based audience holds many members, too, but the purchase is oftentimes initiated by one person at a time rather than an entire organization.
2. Understand Your Path to Purchase
If you’ve worked in sales, you know that the path to purchase, or decision-making process, changes from B2B to B2C. The B2B world features complex and long sales cycles, often three to six months or more. Remember, though, that in B2B you have to convince multiple people of your product’s merits. You can’t simply tell one person and hope to make a sale. You “speak,” frequently, using all the communication tools in your toolbox.
The B2C sales cycle depends on the product or service in question, but it fluctuates, too, by person. One person buys impulsively; another thinks things through. Regardless, the decision-making process tends to be much, much shorter than a B2B one. And some products, like a pack of gum or mascara, will be bought in the moment. A home could take a longer time, although that process often depends on factors outside your control such as loans and the local housing market.
Once you build your target personas (We can help, FYI.), examine the path to purchase. Note specific times that seem like turning points and decide on the content needed to push the B2B or B2C buyer to pick up the phone, click on “purchase” or pull something from the shelf.
3. Identify Content Objectives
Conversion’s the ultimate goal with B2B and B2C content marketing, right? Yes. But other content goals are in play, with some taking up residence in both the B2B and B2C realms. Emily Culclasure, in a #ContentWritingChat, clarifies the point.
“B2B content goals should include increasing lead generation, lead nurturing, brand awareness and engagement. B2C content goals should include increasing sales, audience engagement, brand awareness and customer retention.”
The overlap between B2B and B2C are easy to find: it’s in that sweet spot between brand awareness and engagement. B2B and B2C companies want to get in front of more customers and to interact with them. Once they do, their content goals usually diverge. B2C desires immediate sales. B2B knows better because of the buying process, so it focuses on lead generation and nurturing through evergreen content.
Whether you work in B2B or B2C, write down your marketing goals. The Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 content marketing research shows that successful marketers (1) document their content marketing strategy and (2) clarify what success in content marketing looks like.
4. Calls to Action
Because objectives change from B2B to B2C, so, too, do the calls to action (CTA). Katie Callaghan, a sales funnel strategist and conversion copywriter, highlights some of the differences in her article about B2B and B2C email marketing. She says B2B CTAs are “often more incremental, as there are many layers of support and approval to get through before a purchase is made.”
B2C buyers, however, often are more responsive to time-sensitive offers and discounts. You can ask them to make a purchase in the moment, and they very well could obey the prompt if they see the value in it. An email newsletter from a favored brand acts a good example; the reader is already engaged with the brand, likes its products and could click on a digital coupon or other offer simply because they actively enjoy combing through the content.
Think through the different types of CTAs, especially when it comes to B2B buyers. People require “incremental” nudges, which involves crafting content that corresponds to where they are in the buyer’s journey. Also note that business professionals often require phone calls, product demos, emails and in-person meetings to commit to a purchase. B2C is more or less fair game when it comes to CTAs, but use your power wisely. Nobody likes to be hammered with a discount, no matter how good it is.
5. Long Form, Short Form -- All Depends on Your Audience
When it comes to content format — by which we mean length, tone, reading level, et cetera — the B2B individual demands in-depth, detailed information. You can’t wing content with them; they know their industry and its needs, and you’d better speak their language or you’ll lose them.
Of course, you need to speak the consumer’s language, too. The consumer expects friendly, casual chatter. They want more images and emotions than data points and statistics. They also typically enjoy shorter copy, but length is something to test and test again.
The target audience determines the content format, so revisit your personas. Let their desires and needs inform the content you create. If you market a B2B service, you may find that educational content, case studies or client testimonials are the tickets to increased leads and phone calls. A B2C product, though, may require informal blogs and community-building efforts on social media.
6. Distribution Channels
Some distribution channels work better for B2B than B2C. For example, you probably wouldn’t sell Almay cosmetics on LinkedIn. You might, however, create a how-to tutorial on Instagram and spend some cash on it to get the video in front of key demographics.
Again, understanding your target audience is critical—the personas determine content and channels. A good look at your analytics helps, too. If you notice a lot of referral traffic coming from certain sites, you’ll want to get onto that site more often, either through some native content or an ad.
Don’t discount typically consumer-oriented channels when developing a B2B marketing plan. IBM, FedEx and MailChimp all regularly post to Instagram. The goal behind the tactic likely isn’t lead generation but recruitment and brand awareness. To figure out the best channels for your content, look at your audience and review your marketing objectives alongside sales and other business goals. Those pieces of information can pinpoint where to begin distributing content.
Writing for B2B and B2C audiences is different in some ways and similar in others. But the keys to winning in either world are getting to know your audience, test a strategy, study the analytics-- rinse and repeat. Let the numbers and the people tell you what content to write, how to write it and where to distribute it.
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Erin Feldman is a content writer, editor, and strategist based in Austin, Texas. When she isn't writing other people's stories, she reads, draws and writes essays and poetry. Her first coloring book, Write Right Colors Shakespeare, is available for purchase on Amazon.