B2B vs B2C Email Marketing

Email — and by proxy, email marketing — has been with us for a long time. It predates by far any form of the internet that we’d readily recognize these days and, because of its lack of novelty, this OG of marketing often doesn’t get the respect it truly deserves. It’s a little difficult to characterize email marketing as being cutting edge on the whole, but whether we’re talking about B2B email marketing or B2C email marketing, the platform offers some distinctive advantages that really can’t be matched elsewhere. 

As an example: whether your social media efforts include regular organic posts or paid ads on Facebook, Instagram or anywhere else, you’re playing on borrowed turf. Regardless of the size of your ad budget, your annual revenue or any other metric, you’ll always be a guest on these platforms. The “house rules” can change markedly in very short order and, should those changes ever lead you to focus your marketing efforts elsewhere, platform users who have engaged with your ads and posts aren’t usually your contacts to lead down your sales funnel in the future — unless, of course, you’ve effectively ushered them onto your email list.  

By contrast, your email list remains YOUR email list, assuming that you’ve grown it yourself and have properly nurtured it along the way. It’s an asset that can yield benefits for many years to come. Because of its proven staying power over the long haul, email marketing continues to be used effectively for both B2B and B2C purposes. In fact, in a study conducted by Mailchimp just last year, open rates across a wide variety of sectors suggest that the industry being targeted, as opposed to whether or not a given product or service is B2B or B2C in nature, is a greater determining factor in an email marketing campaign’s open rate.  


Nonetheless, B2B and B2C email marketing are decidedly distinct environments, so let’s take a look at some of the aspects that B2B and B2C email marketing have in common, as well as some of the distinctions between the two. 

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First, Let’s Start with a Definition of Both B2B and B2C Marketing

Whether we’re talking about email or any other platform, B2B (business-to-business) marketing is considered to include any efforts that are focused on a business or organization — in other words, NOT individual consumers. Naturally, most common practitioners are commercial interests that sell products or services geared specifically to businesses, but both the practitioner and the target prospect may be individuals. The distinction in this case is that the prospect is making a decision as a representative of a business and not as an individual consumer. 

B2C (business-to-consumer) encompasses the process of a business selling products and services directly to consumers who are the end-users. 

Here Are a Few Things That B2B and B2C Email Marketing Have in Common:

Both B2B and B2C email marketing will follow the ACD (Awareness, Consideration, Decision) model of the buyer journey.

In the case of the former, the purpose of email marketing efforts is to initially get businesses to become aware of a problem they have that needs to be solved (Awareness Stage), then position the company as a viable solution for that problem (Consideration Stage), before, ideally, presenting these businesses with a value proposition so undeniable that they choose to do business with the company that has engaged them through email marketing (Decision Stage). 

In B2C email marketing, the progression of the buyer journey remains essentially the same. 

Both B2B and B2C Email Marketing, when executed properly, rely on developing buyer personas.

Without carefully crafted and well researched buyer personas, a campaign’s chances for effectiveness are pretty slim, as emails will land in the inboxes of many recipients for which they won’t resonate in the least. 

As a result, open rates will suffer while bounce rates will climb. Taking this one step further, “unsubscribe” demands will fast become a problem, and for good reason. Think about it — we all have regular “in box” content, courtesy of email marketers from whom we just haven’t gotten around to divest ourselves from, and yet we know right away they aren’t likely to be offering anything compelling. In contrast, we also receive emails that we consistently feel compelled to open right away — even if there’s no particular time imperative. 

The former example has almost certainly never crafted meaningful or accurate buyer personas, while the latter has. 

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Because of the importance of buyer personas, both B2B and B2C email marketing benefit greatly from properly executed email list segmentation.

The buyer’s journey got its name for a reason — the process is very much like an actual expedition. And if a company’s email marketing efforts don’t reach the prospect during the right step in that journey, which is arguably the most compelling rationale to focus on proper segmentation, they’ll lose most, if not all, of their effect. 

There’s no point in offering a new copier to a business that recently purchased one from you, nor does it make any sense to offer snow boots to someone who has long since left the cabin. 

In both B2B and B2C email marketing, the skillful and effective use of subject lines is of paramount importance.

Naturally, each discipline has its own set of motivators, but for both, a well-crafted and relevant subject line stands only inches behind — if not right beside — a properly compiled and segmented email list in garnering results. 

The subject line is an email’s de facto headline and, in the display advertising world, there’s a very practical reason why creative agencies focus the bulk of their time on the headline — it’s a primary determinant of whether a prospect will engage further or simply move on. 

When properly executed, both B2B and B2C email marketing put a high premium on A/B testing.

Consider this scenario — a company sends out what it believes to be a well-crafted and compelling offer to its properly segmented email list. In analyzing its efforts, the company then finds its open rates to be as good as could possibly be hoped for, with strong clickthrough rates that have led to proportionately high conversion rates. Whether it be a product or service, it’s getting purchased in good numbers. 

Could those numbers be even better? Almost certainly, and the only way to find out is to conduct A/B testing on variables that can be altered. That might include experimenting with the subject line, the actual copy being used or the offer being extended — provided only one variable is tested at a time.  

Here are Some Distinctions between B2B and B2C Email Marketing

A notably greater percentage of products and services in the B2B realm are designed to appeal purely to logic.

Of course, logic itself can take a variety of forms, but in the business world, financial prudence and overall efficiency are generally primary motivators. Persuading a purchaser to arrive at the desired conclusion to take action might take time, because a good deal of research is often involved — that purchaser will be often be under pressure to make a decision that is fiscally logical, after all. 

In contrast, in the B2C email marketing world proportionately more purchases are prompted by appeals to emotion. Sure, there are notable exceptions — we’re right around the corner from tax time, for example and individuals might well choose their self-filing platform based on its efficiency and ease of use in anticipation of a bigger return — but on the whole, purchases are generally made based on how a product or service will make the buyer feel. In that Mailchimp survey we mentioned a little earlier, emails promoting the arts and entertainment events, which appeal purely to emotion, enjoyed among the highest open rates. 

This distinction would also tend to suggest that campaigns centered on B2C email marketing enjoy more latitude for the use of fun themes and humor. By contrast, in the B2B world, although tasteful humor can help make a campaign memorable, too much levity can detract from the central message, obscure vital information and render the campaign less effective. 


Because decisions in the B2B realm are generally more carefully scrutinized — careers can potentially be at stake, after all — there’s greater emphasis on the purchaser obtaining a substantial amount of product information.

Because of this, the promise — and delivery — of useful information, starting as early as with the subject line of the very first introductory email, takes center stage. The decision maker will need to be properly educated on the product or service itself, the overall universe in which the product or service dwells, as well as the various benefits it will yield over the other potential options in that universe. 

In the B2B world, it’s more common to find a person entrusted with making a buying recommendation but not necessarily having the discretion to make a purchase, and then running it up the proverbial flagpole. This only increases the need for the purchaser to build up plenty of “evidence”. This evidence, of course, comes in the form of accurate and relevant product information and it’s the responsibility of the B2B email marketer to not only provide it, but to do so at the right point in the buyer journey. 

While there may be an emphasis on obtaining the right amount of product information in the B2C world — many would-be car buyers peruse the JD Power Report for just this reason — it’s not usually considered as important. Purchases in this realm are more often made on subjective perception, such as a given prospective customer merely having the feeling that the product or service is a good fit, and there are almost always fewer people involved in the decision-making process. 

Because B2B products and services are often purchased to obtain a more long-term solution, their sales cycles are, for the most part, relatively longer as well.

This is another reason why effective B2B email marketing usually requires a concerted effort to provide prospects with ongoing information to facilitate the buying decision, while also augmenting those efforts with other aspects of content marketing — blog posts, YouTube videos and the like.

A regrettable by-product of this longer sales process — at least from the B2B email marketer’s perspective — is a potential lack of continuity. That initial company contact entrusted with compiling all the relevant information needed to make a prudent buying decision may well be promoted to a different position, transferred to a different and unrelated department, or may leave the company altogether. When this happens, the whole B2B email marketing process may need to start over.

There are far fewer products or services in the B2C realm that require a long sales process. Purchasing decisions are less likely to require the approval of multiple parties, let alone multiple departments. Because of this distinction, while providing the motivating information a B2C prospect will need to complete the buyer journey is absolutely necessary, there can at times be a tipping point where additional information for information’s sake can actually be counterproductive and cause the prospect to reconsider the purchase decision. 

This is why, when a potential customer is presented with an irresistible product or service, accounts of that prospect uttering some variation of “I’ve heard enough. Take my money” resonate with us. 

So, whether you’re working in the B2B or B2C email marketing realm, what do you feel are your most difficult challenges in getting maximum results from your campaigns? We’d love to hear from you.

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