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Not all B2B and B2C categorizations are alike



Not all B2B and B2C categorizations are alike

I recently jumped from a B2C marketing department at Western Governors University (WGU) in the online higher education sector to a B2B marketing department at Zuora that provides subscription management software in the SaaS space. This change has made me think about the value of the B2B and B2C categories.

Perhaps it is more helpful to consider the differences between industries instead of differences between B2B and B2C. For instance, there are definitely differences between the online higher education and SaaS sectors, and that’s where I’m noticing the source of most of the differences in my current situation.

While I believe that the B2B and B2C categories have utility, I’m not sure how useful they are for my experience as a martech maestro. It is very likely, however, that they have significant utility for other marketing operations and technology practitioners.

Not such a clean-cut distinction

There are many ways to distinguish B2B from B2C. For instance, B2B might imply that more than one person is involved in decision-making, while in the B2C context it may only involve one person. However, to state the obvious, that’s not always the case.

An SEO tool that costs only a hundred or so dollars a month is a B2B situation that really doesn’t require many people. Someone as junior as an intern can select it and simply ask a superior who can quickly approve. They then can pay for it using a corporate card without much fuss. Not all B2B products are really so expensive or complicated that they require many stakeholders to evaluate and approve over a long period of time.

WGU provides low-cost bachelor’s and master’s degrees with flexibility. With the exception of the group that tries to strike and sustain partnerships with businesses and organizations to help incentivize their employees to pursue a WGU degree with a discount as a perk, WGU’s marketing efforts are mainly B2C.

Despite the great value, a prospective student likely needs to consult with a partner or employer to discuss finances — let alone make arrangements for lifestyle factors like childcare, as a student has to commit significant amounts of time over several years. Thus college degree programs and other high ticket items (some electronics, automobiles, travel, real estate, etc.) can require significant input and agreement from several different people, and that can take plenty of time.


Similarities between B2B and B2C

Further, B2B and B2C marketing share plenty of common aspects.  

Most marketing departments need websites, analytics, marketing automation, CRMs, and many other major types of systems. Data hygiene is certainly important in both contexts, too.  Additionally, marketing involves persuasion, segmentation, targeting, research, creativity, and many other tactics regardless of the context.  

B2B marketers use firmographics and technographics for their ICP/TAM models, while B2C marketers use demographics and consumer research for their personas and lookalike modeling.  Heck, one could argue that technographics apply to B2C; an iPhone case maker certainly doesn’t want to expend money and effort marketing to Android phone owners.

Besides, both B2B and B2C marketers themselves deal with plenty of B2B marketers as they research, procure and use various stack components.

The maestro perspective

Martech maestros keep a strategic view over the entire tech stack. Thus, they’re generalists, in a sense, when it comes to individual components and they help orchestrate the bigger picture. I argue that this is a benefit since a maestro can help a component-owner or power-user see a broader perspective than they get from working in the weeds with the component. The maestro can help identify and test assumptions and see how the component fits with the department and organization’s broader stack.

Therefore, while maestros should have a good idea of how various types of systems function (CMS, CRM, DAM, etc.), they will likely have to continually deal with all sorts of situations as stacks have a lot of components. That means that there is always something new to learn. Whether they’re assisting with a B2B ABM platform or a B2C-focused CDP, they should employ similar strategies and frameworks to help the stakeholders make more deliberate decisions, interact with other stakeholders and ensure favorable ROI.

Why we should care

As business professionals, we use broad categorizations and labels to help us better understand what we do and what others do. When we use B2B and B2C in marketing, we need to remember that these two broad categories aren’t as clear-cut as they may appear.  Thus, we may make inaccurate assumptions and decisions regarding a situation or interact amongst ourselves.  

For instance, when we discuss different case studies and tactics, we sometimes discount the value of listening and considering insights than the other context. While insights may not translate from a B2B situation to a B2C one (or vice versa), the different categorizations may not be the driving force in that disconnect. Something else might be the culprit. Further, a B2B insight may apply to a B2C situation. Finally, B2C insights don’t universally apply to all B2C situations, and vice versa.



The B2B and B2C categorizations certainly offer value. But do they provide significant value in the context of marketing operations and technology? At least when it comes to maestros and overall stack orchestration, they don’t seem to offer much value — at least not from my perspective.

I’m interested to hear what you all think. For instance, should we indicate which type of marketing we work in? I’m going back and forth on how to represent this, for instance, on my LinkedIn profile.

About The Author

Steve Petersen is a marketing technology operations manager at Zuora. He spent nearly 8.5 years at Western Governors University holding many martech related roles with the last being marketing technology manager. Prior to WGU, he worked as a strategist at the Washington, DC digital shop The Brick Factory where he worked closely with trade associations, non-profits, major brands, and advocacy campaigns. Petersen holds a Master of Information Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Brigham Young University. He’s also a Certified ScrumMaster. Petersen lives in the Salt Lake City, UT area.

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8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them



8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

As email marketers, we know we need to personalize the messages we send to subscribers and customers. I can’t think of a single statistic, case study or survey claiming an email program of one-to-everyone campaigns outperforms personalization.

Instead, you’ll find statistics like these:

  • 72% of customers will engage only with personalized messages (Wunderkind Audiences, formerly SmarterHQ)
  • 70% of consumers say that how well a company understands their individual needs affects their loyalty (Salesforce)
  • 71% of customers are frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences (Segment)

But what marketers often don’t understand, especially if they’re new to personalization, is that personalization is not an end in itself. Your objective is not to personalize your email campaigns and lifecycle messages. 

Rather, your objective is to enhance your customer’s experience with your brand. Personalization is one method that can do that, but it’s more than just another tactic. 

It is both an art and a science. The science is having the data and automations to create personalized, one-to-one messages at scale. The art is knowing when and how to use it.

We run into trouble when we think of personalization as the goal instead of the means to achieve a goal. In my work consulting with marketers for both business and consumer brands, I find this misunderstanding leads to eight major marketing mistakes – any of which can prevent you from realizing the immense benefits of personalization.

Mistake #1. Operating without an overall personalization strategy

I see this all too often: marketers find themselves overwhelmed by all the choices they face: 

  • Which personalization technologies to use
  • What to do with all the data they have
  • How to use their data and technology effectively
  • Whether their personalization efforts are paying off

This stems from jumping headfirst into personalization without thinking about how to use it to meet customers’ needs or help them solve problems. 

To avoid being overwhelmed with the mechanics of personalization, follow this three-step process:

  • Start small. If you aren’t using personalization now, don’t try to set up a full-fledged program right away. Instead, look for quick wins – small areas where you can use basic personalized data to begin creating one-to-one messages. That will get you into the swing of things quickly, without significant investment in time and money. Adding personal data to the body of an email is about as basic as you’ll get, but it can be a start.
  • Test each tactic. See whether that new tactic helps or hurts your work toward your goal. Does adding personal data to each message correlate with higher clicks to your landing page, more conversion or whatever success metric you have chosen?
  • Optimize and move on. Use your testing results to improve each tactic. Then, take what you learned to select and add another personalization tactic, such as adding a module of dynamic content to a broadcast (one to everyone) campaign. 

Mistake #2. Not using both overt and covert personalization

Up to now, you might have thought of in specific terms: personalized subject lines, data reflecting specific actions in the email copy, triggered messages that launch when a customer’s behavior matches your automation settings and other “overt” (or visible) personalization tactics.

“Covert” personalization also employs customer preference or behavior data but doesn’t draw attention to it. Instead of sending an abandoned-browse message that says “We noticed you were viewing this item on our website,” you could add a content module in your next campaign that features those browsed items as recommended purchases, without calling attention to their behavior. It’s a great tactic to use to avoid being seen as creepy.

Think back to my opening statement that personalization is both an art and a science. Here, the art of personalization is knowing when to use overt personalization – purchase and shipping confirmations come to mind – and when you want to take a more covert route. 

Mistake #3. Not maximizing lifecycle automations

Lifecycle automations such as onboarding/first-purchase programs, win-back and reactivation campaigns and other programs tied to the customer lifecycle are innately personalized. 

The copy will be highly personal and the timing spot-on because they are based on customer actions (opting in, purchases, downloads) or inactions (not opening emails, not buying for the first time or showing signs of lapsing after purchasing). 

Better yet, these emails launch automatically – you don’t have to create, schedule or send any of these emails because your marketing automation platform does that for you after you set it up. 

You squander these opportunities if you don’t do everything you can to understand your customer lifecycle and then create automated messaging that reaches out to your customers at these crucial points. This can cost you the customers you worked so hard to acquire, along with their revenue potential.

Mistake #4. Not testing effectively or for long-term gain

Testing helps you discover whether your personalization efforts are bearing fruit. But all too often, marketers test only individual elements of a specific campaign – subject lines, calls to action, images versus no images, personalization versus no personalization  – without looking at whether personalization enhances the customer experience in the long term.

How you measure success is a key part of this equation. The metrics you choose must line up with your objectives. That’s one reason I’ve warned marketers for years against relying on the open rate to measure campaign success. A 50% open rate might be fantastic, but if you didn’t make your goal for sales, revenue, downloads or other conversions, you can’t consider your campaign a success.


As the objective of personalizing is to enhance the customer journey, it makes sense then that customer lifetime value is a valid metric to measure success on.  To measure how effective your personalization use is, use customer lifetime value over a long time period – months, even years – and compare the results with those from a control group, which receives no personalization. Don’t ignore campaign-level results, but log them and view them over time.

(For more detailed information on testing mistakes and how to avoid them, see my MarTech column 7 Common Problems that Derail A/B/N Email Testing Success.)

Mistake #5. Over-segmenting your customer base

Segmentation is a valuable form of personalization, but it’s easy to go too far with it. If you send only highly segmented campaigns, you could be exclude – and end up losing because of failure to contact – many customers who don’t fit your segmentation criteria. That costs you customers, their potential revenue and the data they would have generated to help you better understand your customer base.

You can avoid this problem with a data-guided segmentation plan that you review and test frequently, a set of automated triggers to enhance the customer’s lifecycle and a well-thought-out program of default or catch-all campaigns for subscribers who don’t meet your other criteria. 

Mistake #6. Not including dynamic content in general email campaigns

We usually think of personalized email as messages in which all the content lines up with customer behavior or preference data, whether overt, as in an abandoned-cart message, or covert, where the content is subtly relevant.

That’s one highly sophisticated approach. It incorporates real-time messaging driven by artificial intelligence and complex integrations with your ecommerce or CRM platforms. But a simple dynamic content module can help you achieve a similar result. I call that “serendipity.”  

When you weave this dynamic content into your general message, it can be a pleasant surprise for your customers and make your relevant content stand out even more. 

Let’s say your company is a cruise line. Customer A opens your emails from time to time but hasn’t booked a cruise yet or browsed different tours on your website. Your next email campaign to this customer – and to everyone else on whom you have little or no data – promotes discounted trips to Hawaii, Fiji and the Mediterranean.


Customer B hasn’t booked a cruise either, but your data tells you she has browsed your Iceland-Denmark-Greenland cruise recently. With a dynamic content module, her email could show her your Hawaii and Mediterranean cruise offers – and a great price on a trip to Iceland, Denmark and Greenland. Fancy that! 

An email like this conveys the impression that your brand offers exactly what your customers are looking for (covert personalization) without the overt approach of an abandoned-browse email.

Mistake #7. Not using a personal tone in your copy

You can personalize your email copy without a single data point, simply by writing as if you were speaking to your customer face to face. Use a warm, human tone of voice, which ideally should reflect your brand voice. Write copy that sounds like a one-to-one conversation instead of a sales pitch. 

This is where my concept of “helpful marketing” comes into play. How does your brand help your customers achieve their own goals, solve their problems or make them understand you know them as people, not just data points?  

Mistake #8. Not personalizing the entire journey

Once again, this is a scenario in which you take a short-sighted view of personalization – “How do I add personalization to this email campaign?” – instead of looking at the long-term gain: “How can I use personalization to enhance my customer’s experience?”

Personalization doesn’t stop when your customer clicks on your email. It should continue on to your landing page and even be reflected in the website content your customer views. Remember, it’s all about enhancing your customer’s experience.

What happens when your customers click on a personalized offer? Does your landing page greet your customers by name? Show the items they clicked? Present copy that reflects their interests, their loyalty program standing or any other data that’s unique to them?  

Personalization is worth the effort

Yes, personalization takes both art and science into account. You need to handle it carefully so your messages come off as helpful and relevant without veering into creepy territory through data overreaches. But this strategic effort pays off when you can use the power of personalized email to reach out, connect with and retain customers – achieving your goal of enhancing the customer experience.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Kath Pay is CEO at Holistic Email Marketing and the author of the award-winning Amazon #1 best-seller “Holistic Email Marketing: A practical philosophy to revolutionise your business and delight your customers.”


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