Knowledge@ESCP Europe

Marketing & Branding

B2B2C: when industrial businesses beat the crisis through consumer orientation


Fabrizio Zerbini is Professor of Marketing at ESCP Europe, Paris Campus & new Academic Director of the Executive Marketing Digital Certificate at ESCP Europe and Affiliate Professor at SDABocconi, Milan.

If you ask industrial marketing executives what they urge nowadays, the most frequent answer is a B2B2C focus.

B2B2C stands for shifting the marketing intelligence system of industrial companies, from the industry they sell in, to the markets they sell out.

Nowadays, it is not odd to see a manufacturer of weaving machines for knitwear, sportswear, and technical solutions, to become an opinion leader for household trends, garments for athletic competitions, or car airbags applications. This is because the airbag manufacturer seeks suppliers who can build a competitive advantage for its downstream market. The supplier can only make a difference if it is knowledgeable about safety performance in the car cockpit, and capable of designing weaving machines that deliver.

The challenge is, if you are the supplier, to gain expertise in several domain applications, have buyers learn about your expertise, and avoid being considered by them as a threatening player, willing to integrate forward.

One solution to this problem is to keep very narrow technological expertise, while broadening significantly the market knowledge scope: this strategy lets the industrial supplier leverage on technology replication, while concentrating the efforts on the development of market expertise. This is what some Belgian businesses did, resisting the adverse conditions that were shaking the European textile industry.

Another response is to target similar end-user profiles, while serving them throughout as many different industrial buyers as possible. This strategy has been successfully implemented in the coating industry in Germany.  Coating suppliers in Germany have developed some advanced technologies to allow a dynamic response of the colour to the light. They have then sold these technologies to car manufacturers who introduced pearl white and graphite black to coat cars such as Range-Rovers, Lamborghini, Audi, or Mini, fostering added-value colour options as a premium segment. Of course, these white and black cars had something different from a Fiat 500 or Ford T our grandparents were driving. They were capable to look shining white on the snowing mountains, and to look almost Cote-d’Azur blue on the seaside.

But coating suppliers did not stop at car manufacturers. They moved then to house appliances producers such as General Electric or Smeg, and helped them to revamp their market by targeting the same premium customers with Country lines of fridges and woven that incorporated the same coating technology. As such, they were critical in rejuvenating an industry, that of household appliances, which had been flat for over two decades.

At ESCP Europe, we conduct research programs to publish original research reports on key business trends like B2B2C. We use these reports to teach students in our specialized masters in marketing, and executive education programs.

If you are interested in learning more or in getting updated, you are very welcome in our business-to-business conversation.

Contact Fabrizio Zerbini