Modern Marketing

Where B2B and B2C Blur: A Lesson from the Polar Vortex


Recently, I had dinner with a Marketing VP from a leading global shipping company. He told me how the Polar Vortex had caused a logistics nightmare over the busy holiday season, significantly affecting business. Weather wreaked havoc on delivery times, and Grandma’s scarf didn’t make it underneath the tree in time.

Horror stories like this one create public relations problems for companies — especially for those that may unwittingly rely on consumer goodwill to fuel profitable relationships. We often think of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) best marketing practices as completely different from one another, but consumers are also professionals who make B2B purchasing decisions. In an industry like shipping, which serves both businesses and private consumers, it’s important not to disregard consumer opinion — even as B2B deliveries comprise 90% of revenue.

Considering the above example, I’d go as far as to say that most companies should stop thinking of B2B and B2C as separate, unrelated audiences. Big businesses might seem like your marketing priority, but the opinions of individual consumers still shape their employers’ buying decisions.

Customer Perception Is Everything

As consumers, we bring our personal opinions about businesses into the workplace. If you go to the office upset about the aforementioned scarf for your grandmother, how likely are you to select that same shipping carrier as a business partner? My point exactly: You aren’t.

Of course, companies can’t control variables like weather, but they can control their responses. For example, one of my dinner partner’s competitors responded to the weather with an ad campaign, saying:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Whether or not the above company actually delivered on schedule, this reminder surely caught the attention of discontented customers. In a conservative industry with established players, the available “pie” doesn’t grow. Instead, competition focuses on a game of inches, and winning involves snagging a greater share of it. Aware of this reality, the Marketing VP I spoke to was understandably frustrated, but even in late January, his company still hadn’t responded to the public.

Swift Resolution with Automated Marketing

The VP’s story didn’t have to end this way. With a simple, positive message, this shipping company could have quickly and powerfully nixed its weather problem, using marketing automation to directly reach individual customers with targeted messages, extending special offers to counteract weather-related delays. Letting those customers feel heard could have made all the difference.

Retailer Target applied this approach to resolve its own weather-related delivery lags over the holidays, using email marketing and social media to proactively communicate with potentially miffed customers, and to give them special offers, like a 10% discount on Saturday shopping, and year-long subscriptions to a credit-monitoring service.

A prominent hospital network in the healthcare industry has applied these winning principles to communicate important health information to individuals based on their unique medical conditions. For instance, the organization uses marketing automation to reach diabetes patients with diabetes-related news and products. Empowered to select the best hospitals for their needs, patients are now dramatically less likely to come to the emergency room. The results also have been great for the organization’s bottom line and brand affinity: customers see them as truly understanding their needs. In fact, the marketing automation campaign was so successful that this network now uses Marketo’s software throughout its entire customer communication lifecycle.

These examples underscore what the shipping VP learned first-hand: companies win when they help customers feel heard, immediately, during good and bad times. As the boundaries between B2B and B2C blur, it’s increasingly critical that you have tools that enable this communication — with consumers and businesses.