The construct of B2B2C Marketing (Business to Business to Consumer) is a relatively newly named construct (2015 or so). What is it exactly? Like many things in the Marketing space it depends upon who is defining it. I will argue later in this post that there is only one process that constitutes actual B2B2C Marketing, and the rest are inaccurate definitions of what is actually going on.
Let’s start with a simple set of definitions. The first will be for B2B and B2C Marketing and leave out the B2B2C issue for a moment. B2C Marketing is the approach used to sell products or services directly to consumers whether through retailers (channel), on-line, or direct. This is the most common form of marketing. And to be fair, as you will read later, some experts suggest that selling through a retailer makes it B2B2C Marketing. A definitional disagreement and I also fundamentally disagree.
B2B Marketing is generally done by a company where their products are used by businesses. This can be a bolt used in a piece of equipment up to and including complex equipment or services used by companies. To further compound things we should define the term end-user as it relates to B2B. This is the person (or people) within the business who ultimately use the product or service sold to the business, and they may not actually be the buyer of that product or service for the business.
Thus we have a few terms for people who use what is sold/marketed: the consumer, generally the person who buys an item in a B2C sales; the customer (which can also be a consumer, but for clarity we will separate the term) who is the business entity who buys the item. This is not to be confused with a distributor, retailer or similar entity. These are not customers; though many companies refer to them as customers to differentiate them from the “end customer” in the case of B2B, or the consumer in the case of B2C. And lastly the end-user, who is the person who actually uses the product/service in the company that bought the product/service in a B2B transaction.
One of the trends that many B2B Marketers have been late to the party in understanding is the fact that even though the products or services are purchased by and used by businesses; humans buy them. Thus, many astute Marketers caught on decades ago that aspects of B2C Marketing can be used effectively to sell B2B products and services. Modern trends are resurfacing this idea and include emotional based content as an example. How the user “feels” about their experience with or connection to the product/service is a powerful purchase motivator, even in B2B.
Another common example is selling thru industrial (or similar) distributors and now focusing also on the end-user. This is a bogus example of B2B Marketing. Not because you aren’t selling to businesses (the end-user in this case) but because you may think the distributor is a customer.
Distributors don’t buy anything they don’t expect to be bought by an end-user (either a business end-user/customer or a consumer). If your Marketing team focuses exclusively on the Distribution channel you will end up at the mercy of that channel. Your Marketing attention must focus on creating demand from the marketplace (whether business customers or consumer customers), not just trying to get distributors to carry the products. In fact, they won’t if they don’t have any demand. This is also an example of what some call B2B2C Marketing. It is not just because the distributor is not really buying anything to keep it. This is business to channel to customer/consumer. B2C2C if you like.
Another example of so-called B2B2C is influencers. Two examples that come to mind are medical professionals and financial services companies. Medical professionals do not buy anything on behalf of their patients, and only a few resell products, as a distributor. They recommend, and their advice is usually followed. Thus, medical products companies and drug companies usually work hard to get the medical community to recommend. This clearly requires a marketing effort, but it does not involve B2B sales. In truth some medical professionals (more all the time) are not open to having meetings with drug or device sales reps.
In a slightly different case, a surgeon may implant a device in a patient and usually the patient has no choice if they want a device other than the one the surgeon uses (other than to change surgeons). Again, this is not really B2B Marketing because the surgeon only needs to feel the device will work best for her patient and be comfortable using it. They are not buying it. This clearly requires marketing, but not really B2B.
Financial services companies sell their products thru professionals, either a captive network of sales people or a network of independent sales people. (In all cases these people are called financial advisers or insurance agents/brokers, not sales people, even though that is what they are.) Again, these agents/advisors are buying nothing. To suggest this is B2B2C sales is to suggest that any sales organization constitutes a B2B2C process, which they do not.
If you want to make a case for B2B2C Marketing and suggest that this is different, well all of the scenarios above are different. So what? Giving them the same “name” doesn’t allow for any professional consistency in how the products or services go to market. So, what is the point in pretending they are even similar or should be called B2B2C? Maybe because it’s cool?
What is the only true B2B2C market? Products sold to businesses which, when included in that company’s end-product, make that end-product more valuable to the consumer and therefore matter to the consumer. Many times, these included products are considered to be true “ingredient” brands, other times they are not, but the consumer values their addition and will make a choice to buy (or not) based on the inclusion of the product in the overall end-product they are actually buying.
Clearly a bolt is unlikely to be valuable to the consumer (at least what bolt it is doesn’t matter), but an ingredient could be; such as Dolby or GoreTex. These two companies spent a lot of money making their products valuable to the end-consumer. Many times consumers will ask for GoreTex outerwear. There is no such thing, but some outerwear brands include GoreTex. Dolby created demand so much so that when they were attacked by DTS and other noise reduction technolgy, they held off the challenge. That is true B2B2C Marketing. Making your included product, used by businesses, valuable to their customer constitutes true B2B2C marketing.