February 2nd 2014

Power to the People: The Digital Shift from B2C to C2B


Last week, the One Net Marketing Team published a post on Convince and Convert, the awesome social media powerhouse blog by the illustrious Jay Baer. In that post, we talked about the importance of popularity for increasing your website’s rankings. Our article showed that Google’s algorithms, as advanced as they are, are basically about listening to the armies of voices out there.

In the digital world, the people have the power. And they know how to use it. This power, as your probably know, is both a threat and opportunity to your business.

Over the last decade, the big shift that has taken place is that digital channels have created a marketplace where buyer demands always win. In the past, it was a business-to-consumer (B2C) world, where sellers would more or less tell the consumer via various media channels (TV, print, radio) what they offered. If “Don Draper” was successful in convincing the consumer that cigarettes were better because they were “toasted” – sales for a product would go through the roof. The Ad Men (and women) held all the power.

But it’s a different world, now. Consumers don’t sift through catalogues anymore. They don’t wait to see a TV ad to decide what anti-virus software to buy. They hit the search engines and social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) and they ask their friends what product or service to buy. They consult the likes of Yelp, TripAdvisor, PriceLine, FourSquare and Google Places to hear what others have to say about your businesses before they commit. They perform long-tail searches (multi-word search queries like “Coach watch with gold strap”) and sift through dozens of websites until they find the product and price they want to pay.

Technology, smart marketing, and the almost limitless capabilities of ecommerce to make buying a highly customizable experience has shifted the old model of a seller-controlled marketplace to a buyer-centric world.

The advent of C2B (consumer-to-business) means that companies have to find out what a consumer want–immediately and with highly personalized results that filter out the noise and zone in on the exact match.

This article touches on some of the core points of a shift from the traditional seller-centric (B2C) model to the world we live in today: where consumers expect, demand, and most often get exactly what they want.

When the seller’s marketplace becomes the buyer’s auction

Is it really that new? Playing to consumer demand?

In the past, yes, we did market research and tried to match our products to consumer needs and wants. Consumers had choice. But sellers still controlled much of the flow of information and access to those choices.

The helpful print ad telling the consumer about their “large selection of cookware” was supposed to be useful information that the consumer would store and then act on the next time she was shopping for a new kitchen set. Sellers told what they offered. Buyers listened and knew what they wanted. And if those two circuits made a match, a purchase could happen.

In contrast, the C2B model operates in an auction setting. Consumers set their parameters for demand. And companies rush to fill them.

For example, Priceline.com provides a “name your price” service. Consumers decide what they want to pay, where they want to stay, and when they want to access the product. If the company can’t deliver on that, they typically leave and go onto to the next site. Or if your interface is hard to use and your selection slim, the customer might head over to their favorite review site and talk about how terrible your ecommerce site is.

Here at One Net Marketing, we believe that here in this new buyer-centric marketplace lies a golden opportunity. There are tons of powerful software solutions, analytics, and talent that can make your customer an advocate for your brand.

So let’s look at some ways to navigate and profit from the C2B model.

Listen and manage

Social review sites like Yelp, Yahoo Local, Google Places, Urban Spoon, user tips on Foursquare, and other review applications allow anyone to express themselves at the push of a button. In fact, if I have 500 friends on Facebook and say something nice about your product–that probably has more effect and reach than buying space in a local newspaper.

You can’t just let the conversation go on without you. Customers are expecting you to respond. I don’t write a bad review to tell other people how much I hate your products. I write a bad review because I want YOU to know how bad of an experience I had and how dissatisfied I am. My review isn’t for other users. It’s a communication aimed right back at your company, your employees, and your brand experience.

Will you win back all those negative experiences? Probably not. Those customers might be gone. But you might stop it at one bad review—instead, of a 10-part blog post series about the “how X-Y-Z company is a scam and stole my money.”

I actually want to talk to you

It’s Thursday night. I’m enjoying a great chocolate beer from a local beer brand. And so I tweet the company, complimenting them on their mean stout-making abilities.

A reply comes in… And then the brand’s reply is retweeted by a local Twitter celebrity, who also tells her 5,000 plus followers how much she enjoys their beer.

Excellent beer. Excellent brand interaction. A positive experience which I store up and talk about.

Consumers, these days, want you to be present. They actually want to talk to you (not the interface), they want to reach out and hear you say something.

Don’t be shy. Say something funny, nice, or insightful and you’ll make a bigger impression and deeper relationship than you probably realize.

Data means good experiences

Ecommerce offers powerful technology. Take advantage of this, and make customer experiences personalized and differentiated.

You can’t expect your customer to find what they are looking for. You have to anticipate their demand before they click the back button and disappear.

With advanced analytics and behavioral marketing technology (customer profiling based on past browsing and shopping habits), this type of experience is not only relatively easy to set up–it’s highly profitable.

You can bring customers back to your site, recover lost sales, and craft offers based on past buying and browsing habits. (For some behavioural marketing strategies, see our post last week).

Relevancy and return

In a C2B model, campaigns have to begin with the database. You can’t run a simple banner ad campaign, hoping that the right customers out there will find you. You have to track them down, and hit them with the right message at the right time.

Brand recognition, frequency, reach–these are all outdated metrics for getting inside consumer’s heads so that when they enter the store, they choose your brand over the next.

In contrast, the store doesn’t exist online. I don’t choose Amazon because I feel they understand me as a reader and middle-class male. I don’t come to browse their vast selection. I buy books at Amazon because they display in seconds the exact book I want, at the price I want (from the old, yellow $1.99 copy to the digital copy to the new edition.)

I buy from Amazon because the moment I login, they suggest wonderful books on writing and marketing that I might like. And, thanks to the help of Facebook integration and my historical purchase history, they are usually right.

But has it really changed?

The grumpy old direct mail guru will say it’s business as usual. Nothing has changed. People are people. And that consumer demand has always driven business.

This is partly true. Human psychology doesn’t shift every ten years.

But here’s what different. If a physical store doesn’t have the selection and experience I want–I have to drive across town to another one. It’s easier to stay. It’s easier to accept the seller’s terms.

In the digital world, the situation is reversed. It’s easier to leave a website than it is to navigate through your poorly designed shopping cart. It’s easier to find a thousand other online stores if you don’t have the price and product I want.

And if I want to complain I don’t have to wait for a customer service representative while hearing elevator music. I don’t have to ask for the manager. I can push a button and have my review visible within seconds.

We need to respect their power.

And the One Net Marketing Team can help. Send us a tweet, contact us, or browse our search, social, and display services. We will respond.

Some related articles to help navigate the new C2B marketplace

Remarketing: the Basics of Creating Relevant Ads Online

“I Can Feel Death Creeping Up On Me As I Write This” This is One Net Marketing’s coverage of Amber Naslund’s keynote about social media and real-time business at Social Media Camp 2011.

CMO Council’s 2011 State of Marketing

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