B2B PR and its counterpart, consumer public relations, are sometimes thought of as worlds apart, requiring different strategies and skill sets on the part of PR professionals. This divide is driven in part by the sales methods for each type of product or service.
The B2B selling cycle tends to be longer, the buyer learning curve steeper, and the marketing spend often richer per customer acquisition.
But as Ryan Johnson notes, the B2C customer journey is looking more like the B2B one. And the marketing and PR tactics behind the labels aren’t so different anymore either. I blogged a few weeks about about how most B2B programs can benefit from a dash of consumer PR flair, and the reverse is also true. In fact, the two areas seem to be moving closer as time goes on.
This is in part due to the endless amount of information about products and services available to customers. There was a time when only a large business purchase required, or could easily access, the specialized data needed to evaluate and select the right products. Today the ubiquity of information available to everyone for just about any category has made shopping and buying more customer-driven and democratic. My mother can become an expert on sizing up vacation resorts, and my daughter’s a software maven.
There’s no type of product or service that can’t be researched, vetted, compared, and spreadsheeted. The data and experiences are everywhere: new product ads, earned media coverage, media and customer reviews and ratings, category whitepapers, analyst vendor recommendations, side-by-side demos, and individual user experiences, all amplified by social media.
The result of the information explosion is that the B2B customer education curve has flattened, while the consumer buyer has more information at his disposal than ever before. So, shopping and buying habits have grown more similar.
A strategic PR program can support business goals in either case, but here’s what the two have in common as the lines blur.
It brings in customers through targeted content. So-called “inbound marketing” has been the purview of B2B marketers, but don’t forget the long tail. There are opportunities to attract consumer customers with keyword-rich content marketing programs, particularly in niche categories like pet lovers, classic rock fans, photo collectors, and the like.
It’s based on an understanding of customer segments. Time was, B2B customers were highly specialized, but consumer prospects were reached through this huge monolithic thing called “mass media.” Remember those days? They’re pretty much gone, and today there’s no such thing as a prototypical buyer. Marketing and PR strategies must begin with a more sophisticated understanding of the specific customer segment(s) who should be reached, and they need to include media plans that reach those segments.
It offers category insights that put a brand’s advantages into context. Media love to cover new categories, so if a startup business or a new product company can build a category story around its particular innovation and add insights on the business, customer behavior, or financial implications, that’s a win. And a business-page category can advance a leadership position. Consumers read about new trends and categories just as do business customers.
It supports customer expectations. B2B customers have typically enjoyed a more service-oriented and personalized relationship with business brands, due to the typical sales rep structure and the cost and long-term nature of B2B transactions. Yet buyers of consumer brands today have similar expectations; they want personalized communications, excellent service, transparency about problems, and quick fixes or makegoods when things go wrong. They don’t want to hear from brands too much – except when they do, in which case it must be timely.
A sound PR strategy must focus on the “new” customer expectations, listen closely to what key customers and influencers are saying and how they experience the brand, and be ready to respond when needed to head off problems.
It helps close the sale with help from credible third parties. The use of third-party experts or boldface names remains a stalwart PR practice, but the digital toolbox contains far more than just pricey celebrity personalities used to push consumer products. We borrow from B2B practices by tapping journalists, reviewers, analysts, and emerging social media stars for a fraction of the old-school appearance fees.
It leverages the business culture as a B2C advantage. Customers don’t care much about business ethics and culture – that is, until they do. Until something goes wrong. But a smart corporate communications campaign takes advantage of differentiators like the CEO’s personal story; employee-driven changes to the company; or an original business model that supports a better product or service.