5 key differences between b2b and b2c in digital and social media

Over the years, I’ve worked with a wide variety of brands, both B2C and B2B. Due to my personal and professional interests, I prefer the latter and have turned it into somewhat of a speciality.

I’m often asked to, because B2B is something fewer people in the industry have had exposure to, explain the difference of approach between a B2C and B2B assignment. The reality is, there isn’t much difference between strategic B2B and B2C programmes, only the tactical targeting, tone of voice, and to some extent the sourcing of content, really varies.

So here are a few observations on the differences between B2C and B2B digital and social media programmes:

1. Most B2B clients realise they need to be highly targeted; B2C clients should

B2B in digital and social media, at least in my experience, tends to be more strategic and highly targeted. Rather than putting content out there in the hopes it will “go viral”, most B2B brands realise – whether they manufacture construction materials, aircraft engines, or chemicals – that there is little point in reaching and engaging with a broad audience when their real target is likely to be much more specialised.

Put simply, with the B2B clients I’ve worked with, there’s a much greater awareness that there’s limited value in building a collection of fans and followers – instead, it’s about building deeper relationships with the chosen few. Of course, there are some, albeit relatively rare, examples of highly targeted, strategic, outcomes focused B2C digital and social media programmes, but not as many as you might expect there to be.

2. B2B products and services often require more specialised explanation

Rather than focusing solely on a relatively easy to understand consumer product, in the B2B space it’s important to help business decision makers understand the applications for, and differentiators of, potentially complex products and services.

Because such products and services tend not to be bought off the shelf – to some degree requiring partnerships for their delivery and implementation – it’s also important to highlight the experience of partnership, and the expertise of those who will deliver.

Due to specialisation, the customers of B2B clients tend to be subject matter experts themselves, so it’s important they be presented with content from, and opportunities to engage with, their peers.

3. Both B2B and B2C require great content

This is one area where B2B and B2C are almost identical – they both require compelling content. That content will vary widely from brand to brand, as well as the tone of voice used, but there are some basic truths: it should be factual, relevant, timely and interesting to members of the target audience. Sure, the words, the images, the videos and infographics will all have a different tone of voice and visual representation, but it still has to be good, really good, to capture the attention of audiences.

4. B2B content sourcing can initially be a bit of a challenge, but it needn’t be

Nearly every B2B brand I’ve worked with has asked the question, “where do we find content?”. Part of the reason they find this more challenging than B2C brands is because they tend not to have a similar level of marketing and advertising resource – no pre-existing content engine – but with the right processes for surfacing great stories, this problem can be successfully overcome.

That process needs to focus on point two above – giving specialised audiences insight into, and where appropriate direct access to, business critical people and processes. A process we’re working with several clients to implement involves the use of internal collaborative platforms to run staff story-telling competitions. Other clients have internal facing magazines or newsletters that are already mining stories from within, so encouraging the people involved in those activities to share their output via digital and social media offers yet another rich vein of content. Another approach, and again one we’ve worked with clients to plan and implement, is to actually create a purpose built digital and social media newsroom to source content.

Whilst B2B organisations tend not to have “creative” and “marketing collateral” they can simply repurpose for digital and social media, with a bit of looking, they can find content.

5. Follow the audience

Another area where B2B and B2C are almost identical is that, in either instance, it’s important to understand where the audience chooses to participate in digital and social media, and to identify the motivational triggers – both internal and external – for initiating that participation.

Tactically, this means that if you’re, for example, a leading asset management firm with pension fund trustees rather than consumers as your clients, you’ll probably want to focus on using LinkedIn, and maybe blogs, twitter, Slideshare and YouTube for marketing your services, but when it comes to Graduate Recruitment, you might need to focus on Facebook. First, find your audience, then follow them there – don’t start with a particular platform in mind.

The same is true when thinking about devices – whether you’re targeting commuters, frequently traveling business people, or teenagers with busy social lives, you’ll probably want to consider mobile and tablet access, whereas other audiences might be more likely to be desktop based.


Whilst I set off hoping to highlight five key differences between the strategic delivery of B2B and B2C digital and social media programmes, I’ve ended up highlighting more similarities. And that’s the reality – B2B and B2C really aren’t that different when in comes to strategic approach, it’s only when it comes to tone of voice, sourcing of content, and specific target audiences and platforms where there’s any difference at all.