Why B-to-B Marketers Should Adopt a B-to-P Mindset

CANNES, France — For years, the terms business-to-consumer and business-to-business have helped explain what companies do and how they market themselves. They’ve set boundaries and provided direction.

But life has a habit of not conforming to the language people invent to describe it. Things change. Words lose their precision. New ones are needed.

Something of this sort is happening in the b-to-b category, where more CMOs are investing in brand marketing and adopting traditional b-to-c tactics that embrace emotion and promote purpose.

I think this is b-to-b’s decade

Tom Stein, Chairman Stein IAS

To Don McGuire, svp and chief marketing officer at technology manufacturer Qualcomm, the distinction between b-to-b and b-to-c is fading. Perhaps a better way for marketers in his position to think about attracting and maintaining customers, he suggested, is business-to-person (b-to-p).

“When you get down to the individual who’s engaging with you, they’re a person,” McGuire told Adweek’s chief experience officer Jenny Rooney during a panel discussion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, at the other side of that message and storytelling is a person or group of people.”

Part of the argument for b-to-b marketers to develop a b-to-p mindset is that as people spend more time online, either for research or entertainment, companies have more opportunities to shape perceptions. The pandemic, coupled with younger generations entering the workplace, has only accelerated the trend.

“Everybody looks online,” said GE’s global chief marketing and communications officer Linda Boff, who also spoke at the Adweek event in Cannes. “Every item we sell [online] helps prove the case people are searching, they’re discovering and actually even buying.”

In another sign b-to-b organizations are placing bigger bets on connecting with consumers, this year marks the second time Cannes Lions has handed out an award for the category.

“I think this is b-to-b’s decade,” said Tom Stein, chairman and chief brand officer of the b-to-b marketing agency Stein IAS, who also served as the 2023 Creative B2B Lions jury president. “Over the next number of years, there’s going to be an explosion of b-to-b brands emerging as things people look up to from a marketing standpoint, as well as a creative standpoint.”