Beyond the balance sheet: leveraging B2C strategies in B2B financial services

By Josh Tilley, Brand Strategy Director, Initials CX

As far back as I can remember marketing has been divided between B2B and B2C, for valid reasons. Our approach is completely different when searching for a payment processing platform compared to choosing our next mobile phone.

B2B marketing tactics have traditionally been perceived as less glamorous than their B2C counterparts. Part of this stems from the subject matter; there’s no denying that on the surface selling a pair of trainers is more straightforward and enjoyable than marketing commercial insurance.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. There’s a lot that B2B marketers can learn from their consumer counterparts.

Reflecting the niche buyer of products and services, B2B has relied on building one-to-one relationships that necessitate a heavily targeted and well-timed approach. After all, if you’re marketing business loans there are only a few people at each company responsible for finances.

Meanwhile, it’s a massive oversimplification to suggest that brand isn’t important for B2B marketing. A brand encompasses so much more than just a logo: it embodies the reputation, value and overall experience that your offering signifies.

Being front of mind in those critical moments – whether you are buying something from Asda, booking a train or upgrading your payroll system – is the same whether you have a narrow B2B audience or huge consumer target market. But it has always been assumed that the specific utility of many B2B brands renders the establishment of brand awareness and instant buyer recall less crucial.

Now the landscape is evolving. The channels accessible to financial B2B businesses, the abundance of available data and the methods of communicating with consumers has shifted for good.

Get with the times

Until recently, B2B companies could only be found where potential customers actively sought them out: small ads in trade publications or the FT, as well as pop-up exhibitions and conventions.

Whereas buying a mass analogue TV ad to reach only a few relevant people might have been overkill for a specialist financial B2B company in the past, firms can now leverage data to pinpoint and engage potential customers across digital channels.

This capability enables them to cultivate relationships with business clients that transcend mere functionality and mirror the emotional connections often associated with consumer brands.

This isn’t just an opportunity; it’s a necessity. With technology levelling the playing field so businesses can speak to anyone, having a unique B2B offering that stands out has become essential. While communication can focus on product superiority or competitive pricing, B2B brands must also evoke emotion to avoid losing the sale.

This is where they can learn from their B2C counterparts like Aviva, Compare the Market and PayPal. What unites all these brands isn’t merely a creative approach, a particular tone of voice or even a distinct personality. It’s also their clear brand concept, ambition, and the quality and value they represent.

Their brand stays consistent, and their functional offer is clear. If you were to ask anyone to explain what Compare the Market offers, they could describe it, probably mentioning the meerkats in the process.

This ability to deliver a proposition and set of values consistently can make your business a credible choice even if a prospect hadn’t heard of your company before.

The customer is always right

Because of improvements to technology, customers no longer rely on recommendations from one point of contact. This changes the game for B2B marketing. As such, brands can now be found more easily, at any moment, so they need an online presence to match that demand.

Technology has significantly sharpened target customers’ expectations of B2B brands. As consumers, we are conditioned to think about our experience as being important. If you are renewing your phone contract, you expect all the touchpoints you engage with to seamlessly combine. If it’s clunky, you might drop out and try another provider.

As we can now access brands consistently, using the same channels whether we’re searching for a business loan or planning a holiday, our expectations of B2B have surged. Even though they may be in a professional setting rather than the consumer space, people’s perception and assessment of all brands remain consistent.

If your target market doesn’t distinguish between B2B and B2C, B2B firms shouldn’t either.

Don’t overinvest

All that said it’s exaggerated to claim that every facet of consumer and business marketing is interchangeable.

In B2B, the mindset and role of the brand in the decision-making process is different to B2C. As a consumer, we often choose brands that reflect our personal identity and values, while B2B buyers prioritise different qualities. They primarily seek value, reliability and functional capability. Personal preferences rarely play a significant role, except when a brand’s products are deemed essential for work, such as Apple devices.

For instance, banks typically wouldn’t entrust their insurance to a trendy start-up tech company. Their budget-holders’ primary concern is the security of their business, not looking cool.

Generally, B2B purchases involve longer-term and more considered decisions compared to buying a new jumper. Therefore, B2B brands need to convey reassurance and credibility, rather than flashiness.

When considering excellence in B2B marketing the well-known adage, “Nobody got fired for buying IBM” often comes to mind. While in B2C marketing, a touch of edgy uniqueness can drive sales, in B2B, quality, utility and value serve as the foundations of brands that business buyers trust to support their organisation’s needs.


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