B2C vs B2B writing: Think Fast vs. Think Slow
Iron Maiden and Taylor Swift. Kanye West and Queen. B2B and B2C. When it comes to audiences, they’re world’s apart. But how should you communicate to B2B and B2C audiences most effectively? If you’re in the comms industry, you’re either dealing with B2B or B2C. Some lucky people like us deal with both. But one alphabetical shift to the right translates to two completely different buyer mindsets. So here we’re going to define why they need to be spoken to differently, and the principles of writing for each. But first, let's get into those mindsets.
B2C - Emotion trumps practicality We buy products that help us to look or feel a certain way. My dad once bought a jacket he saw in a Bond movie to make himself feel cool. Somehow, I’ve always doubted he was overly concerned with the material or whether it was waterproof. That’s because B2C consumers are emotionally-driven in their shopping habits. We’re so often judged on the things we wear, the cars we drive and the places we eat that our purchases become an extension of our personality. As such, they need to be saying the right things. Let’s take Coca-Cola as an example. For years, Coke’s marketing department has been associating their product not with any specific product benefits, but with an emotion: happiness. The implication in the above ad being that you don’t really belong at festivals this summer without a bottle of Coca-Cola. A rather chuffed young Cameron Diaz lookalike clutching her bottle of joy makes the emotional association. The reason most B2C companies aim to align themselves with an emotion is psychological. So many B2C goods require what psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls ‘Think Fast’ decisions before a purchase. They’re low-cost, inconsequential acts that we don’t need to think through. So we’ll buy on some pre-set criteria such as, “Are we aware of the brand?” and, “Do we like the brand’s associations?” such as that Cameron Diaz lookalike and her smile. Much of the drive behind the purchase of a specific brand is in our subconscious. So writing for B2C needs to feed these ‘Think Fast’ ‘decisions’, and make the consumer feel.
Pile on evidence. Dig out your truth.
B2B - the calculating decision maker Business purchases carry a great deal more responsibility. A business buyer often has to ‘Think Slow’, calibrating every consideration in a complex cost/benefit analysis. It could take days to make a decision and involve several people. Procurement teams won’t buy a product that makes them feel happy. It’s not on their checklist. They might shortlist an option because they recall an ad. And the ad might influence how they rate the option, if it presented a well argued case. Take a look at the above accenture ad. The focus is on information rather than emotion. The ad pulls us in with an impressive headline statistic - 300% growth for Caterpillar. Once it has our attention, it aims to convey as much information as possible within its limited space. A bold claim, “High performance. Delivered”, is followed by evidence for that claim, as well as a brief overview of how they achieved their success. Evidence and information are important, as ‘Think Slow’ mentality drives the decision-making process here. B2B consumers are looking for a different type of validation - the reassurance of proven success. Businesses usually have a go-to provider for certain services that they will use time and again to save them the trouble of switching. This leads to inertia, which is why ‘Claim, Evidence, Inform’ is so necessary in B2B writing. Businesses aren’t going to switch providers based on an emotional connection. Switching is too much hassle. They need to be persuaded, with an argument supported by evidence, that the alternative is better, cheaper, more convenient - or whatever - before they’ll switch. What tone to use - and when The tonal difference between writing for B2B or B2C is smaller than this messaging divide. But there is a difference. Legendary direct marketing expert Drayton Bird has some excellent insights on tone when considering B2B and B2C writing. ‘Write to businesses as if you were speaking face-to-face in a meeting room. Personable, yet still professional. Write to consumers as if you were in a leisure setting together - at a restaurant, or in somebody’s home. Friendly and approachable.’ ‘Charm them both. Take the time to study your audience. Once you understand their motivations, then you can approach them in a sympathetic manner.’ If they’re thinking fast, you can tickle their fancy with emotionally appealing language that sounds like they sound when they’re experiencing the product. If they’re thinking slow, then the ad needs sound more reasoned.