The 7 Key Differences Between Business-to-Business and Consumer Marketing

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The 7 Key Differences Between business-to-business and consumer marketing by Robert W. Bly

When asked if he could write an effective direct mail package on a complex electronic control system, a well-known direct response copywriter replied, “No problem. It doesn’t matter what the product is. You are selling to people. And people are pretty much the same.”

He’s wrong.

Yes, there are similarities. But there are also differences in selling to business and professional buyers vs. the general public. In fact, here are six key factors that set business-to-business marketing apart from consumer marketing:

1. The business buyer wants to buy. Most consumer advertising offers people products they might enjoy but don’t really need. How many subscription promotions, for example, sell publications that the reader truly could not live without? If we subscribe, we do so for pleasure - not because the information offered is essential to our day-to-day activity.

But in business-to-business marketing, the situation is different. The business buyer wants to buy. Indeed, all business enterprises must routinely buy products and services that help them stay profitable, competitive, and successful. The proof of his is the existence of the purchasing agent, whose sole function is to purchase things.

2. The business buyer is sophisticated. Business-to-business copy talks to a sophisticated audience. Your typical reader has a high interest in - and understanding of - your product (or at least of the problem it solves).

Importantly, the reader usually knows more about the product and its use than you do. It would be folly, for example, to believe that a few days spent reading about mainframe computers will educate you to the level of your target prospect - a systems analyst with six or seven years experience. (This realization makes business-to-business writers somewhat more humble than their consumer counterparts.)

The sophistication of the reader requires the business-to-business copywriter to do a tremendous amount of research and digging into the market, the product, and its application. The business audience does not respond well to slogans or oversimplification.

3. The business buyer will read a lot of copy. The business buyer is an information-seeker, constantly on the lookout for information and advice that can help the buyer do the job better, increase profits, or advance his career. “Our prospects are turned off by colorful, advertising-type sales brochures,” says the marketing manager of a company selling complex ‘systems’ software products to large IBM data centers. “They are hungry for information and respond better to letters and bulletins that explain, in fairly technical terms, what our product is and how it solves a particular data-center problem.”

Don’t be afraid to write long copy in mailers, ads, and fulfillment brochures. Prospects will read your message - if it is interesting, important, and relevant to their needs. And don’t hesitate to use informational pieces as response hooks for ads and mailers. The offer of a free booklet, report, or technical guide can still pull well - despite the glut of reading matter clogging the prospect’s in-basket.

4. A multistep buying process. In consumer direct response, copywriters’ fees are geared toward producing the “package” - an elaborate mailing that does the bulk of the selling job for a publication, insurance policy, or other mail order product.

But in business-to-business direct marketing, the concept of package or control is virtually non-existent. Why? Because the purchase of most business products is a multistep buying process. A vice president of manufacturing doesn’t clip a coupon and order a $35,000 machine by mail. First he asks for a brochure. Then a sales meeting. Then a demonstration. Then a 30-day trial. Then a proposal or...
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