At first blush, it may be easy to think that B2B marketing agencies have the same core capabilities as B2C agencies. After all, they probably both have a similar makeup of staff. They’ll both have nice looking websites with creative examples that are visually appealing. Maybe they’ll even have a similar nomenclature around the types of services they offer.

All that said, in my experience, there is a fairly big gap between a business-to-business (B2B) agency and a business-to-consumer (B2C) agency. Fundamentally it lies within the skill sets required to reach two dramatically different audiences.

After all, it’s widely believed that consumers buy with their hearts (ie, often based on emotion or how a product makes a person feel), while businesses buy with logic (ie, often based on saving money or time). There may be some cross-over here, especially in cases where a brand crosses over between consumer and business buyers. For the purposes of this article, we’ll keep it simple by drawing a line between the two.

Top B2B Marketing Agencies typically have expertise in transforming complex messaging into more palatable features or value propositions. They will focus their programming on a mix of the digital and the physical world, with less emphasis on tactics like broadcast advertising. Their real strengths will be in developing content (both long form and short form). This is a natural strength in B2B agencies because businesses tend to have a real thirst for information as they progress down the buyer’s journey towards a sale. B2B agencies are more and more often employing data scientists to analyze huge data sets. They have also shifted towards supporting emerging tools that automate marketing. Many B2B agencies have also adopted account-based marketing approaches for their clients who are hyper-focused on targeting relatively small segments when compared to the broader B2C approach.

Top B2C Marketing Agencies typically have expertise in boiling down product messages to an emotionally benefit. Consumers want to identify with what they buy. Their purchases often define who they are. In addition, B2C agencies have staff focused on a broader set of distribution channels, as consumers demand a much easier access to their purchases than the B2B market. While B2B is great at content creation (think white papers, 2-min. software videos, etc), the consumer market is much more fickle. As such, the B2C agency is more adept at developing messages and approaches that get right to the point. The B2C agency usually thinks in volume, as their audience is usually much larger than the B2B market. They’ll segment by zip codes, individual credit ratings, and have a much larger focus on demographic information in general. B2C Agencies are also experts in big data analysis. They’ll have expertise in marketing automation as well, but it’s a different kind of automation. It’s less focused on the account-level, and much more focused on the individual or groups of individuals.

While there are tactical differences between how B2B and B2C agencies operate, the most important difference is in staff experience. Remember, an agency’s biggest asset is its people. Each of the respective agency types often has people that understand either B2B or B2C. They typically don’t have both in scale.

How can you tell a B2B agency from a B2C agency?

  • Look at their website first. Do they have examples in their portfolio of one or the other? More than often you’ll see a pattern. It’s pretty easy to figure out which agencies to short list based on this.
  • Simply ask – While some agencies (more specifically account execs) will tell you their agency has focus on both, most agencies are pretty honest about where they are strong and where they are not. Ask the tough questions, and probe until you feel good about the answer.