More Ways B2B Search Marketing Differs from B2C

First published July 1, 2010 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Last week, I looked at ways that B2B search marketing is different from search campaigns aimed at consumers. I looked at how risk avoidance was an overriding concern. Also, a B2B purchase is almost always an item on someone’s to-do list, so they have little patience for being “immersed” in experiences or heading down navigational dead ends on a Web site. Today, I’ll look at two other ways that B2B buying behaviors differ from those in the consumer marketplace:

Unfamiliar Territory

In the consumer world, billions of branding dollars are spent to create a sense of familiarity not just with a product but also with a brand. Even if we’ve never bought a product before, there’s a good chance that we have some idea of the competitive landscape within the product category.  If we were looking to make a purchase for ourselves, I would venture to say there are very few things we would consider buying where we wouldn’t even know the name of the product. Yet, this is an everyday occurrence in the B2B world. Often, we’re asked to make informed purchase decisions about products and services that we hadn’t heard of yesterday.

When we strike into unfamiliar territory, we create a challenge for the B2B marketer. If we don’t even know the name of the product we’re looking to buy, how do we start looking for it? Where do we begin? It’s pretty hard to Google something when you don’t know what to call it. This makes keyword discovery one of the most challenging and important parts of any B2B search campaign.

Often B2B purchases are not only a buying decision, but also come with a steep learning curve. Buyers have to identify a potential solution, learn about the product category, identify the potential vendors, and determine decision criteria — all tasks that must be accomplished before buyers even start evaluating their alternatives.  Imagine trying to buy a car or a flat-screen TV if you had no idea what those products were — or even if they existed at all.

Decision by Committee

Sometime ago in my life, as I hung out my advertising consultant shingle, I was introduced to the joys and tribulations of committee-driven decision-making. I uncovered the sad truth behind the joke, “How do you determine the average IQ of committee? You take the lowest IQ in the group and divide it by the number of people in the committee.”

B2B purchases are often driven by committee. And, as we found in the BuyerSphere research, different members of the committee have different agendas. In high-risk, long-cycle purchases, the internal politics involved in a purchase can rival anything you’ll find on Wisteria Lane. These differing agendas mean that signals from committee members can seem to be at cross-purposes, making life exceeding difficult for the vendor.

Here’s the big challenge from a search marketing perspective: If different committee members are looking for different information (as determined by their own objectives) they will also expect distinctly different experiences. Your Web site and search campaign somehow has to be able to offer clear and compelling paths through this tangled knot of prospect behaviors. Clear segmentation options, relevant messaging, and highly intuitive navigation are three ways to guide different buyers with different objectives to the right destination.

B2B is different from B2C. It’s more complex, more challenging — and, in my opinion, much more interesting.

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