What is C2B?
B to B (aka B2B, business to business) and B to C (aka B2C, business to consumer) are standard acronyms often described in marketing and business strategy books. Their origin is not clearly known, but it probably dates back to the early 50s, when the first modern marketing theories came up. Reviewing those definitions is very helpful to understand what C2B concept is really about. Let’s look into it…
B2B – pronounced [ˌbiːtəˈbiː] – describes commerce transactions between suppliers (first B) and intermediary companies for processing or integrating operations (the second B). Roughly, B2B consists in selling a service or product to other companies, as a resource they can use to achieve their own production. A very common example is the mining company selling ore to an industrial who turns it into metal (for more details, see this very informative post). In the digital field, B2B is about selling a technology or service (e.g. production of video animations) to marketing agents who integrate those resources in their own productions (e.g. by integrating videos into websites they build for their customers).
B2C – pronounced [ˌbiːtəˈsiː] – describes the direct trade from the manufacturer, the producer or the service provider to the consumer. For example, selling cars to those who buy for their personal use is a B2C transaction. In the digital world, developing and selling your software directly to users is a B2C transaction. So it is right to say that B2C is the final and ultimate value addition in the supply chain (final customer is then called « end-user »).
All B2B steps until the final B2C transaction converge on the final product (or service). There are often several steps in the production process. Such a supply chain can be described as B2B2C with several successive suppliers and one final vendor that caters to the consumer. In fact, nowadays, we would rather talk about B2B2B2B2B2B… 2B2C, as the production process becomes more and more complex and involves more and more intermediaries. Just imagine how long is the supply chain for an Airbus A380…
But there is more: look into the way most industries supply goods and soon you realize this chain is far more complex than it seems ; in fact it is similar to some kind of hierarchical graph, converging on the final consumer (grey B’s are original suppliers, black B’s are processing suppliers and C is the end-user).
Of course, things get even more complicated when suppliers are selling to several customers and final distributors to different consumers (targets) who themselves are buying from different vendors… The graph becomes something like this:
Um, OK. What is worth remembering is this fundamental property: even if there are multiple entangled graphs, they always converge on some point ; in other words, whatever the number of suppliers or producers, the whole process always converges on a single thing: a product or a service. Now, we must count with the fact that each consumer regularly buys several products or services from several vendors (we usually carry more than one product in our shopping carts). And the graph forks again :
Here is the most interesting here: the only thing really unique is the relationship between the seller and the end-user when purchasing the product. Everything converges on the consumer. This is why B2B and B2C are top-down systems: the consumer is the universal recipient and the final link of this supply chain that ends selling to him or her.
As far as marketing and communication are concerned, the drawing above is still applicable. Marketing and communication are just one step before the consumer’s reach (the right side of the diagram, with a C at the center).
It is no surprise then if consumers (at least consumer sample groups likely to have the same purchasing behavior) are called “targets” (in the diagram below, each concentric circle may be considered as a different step of product or service development, with the end-user at the center, and each arrow as one production activity).
B2B and B2C concepts arose from the second half of the twentieth century. They are well-adapted to a pattern of maximum consumer society. This model has been very successful in western and wealthy countries of the post-World War II era. As long as the demand for products and services was in balance with the needs or desires expressed by most consumers, this process (one-way top-down chains converging towards sales based on the same model of production) could be widely used. Products and services design were commonly forecasted according to hypothetical sales opportunities (supported by market researches or simple thinking, sometimes just taking a shot in the dark), production lines were set up with perfect waterfall effect, sales were strongly supported by pressure marketing and communication, always strictly informative and top-down, catchy at best, built on the same pattern as for the production process.
This system was proved successful in the 50s, but it started losing efficiency in the 2000s. At that time, consumers are overwhelmed with advertising messages, at such point that it has become simply impossible for them to react to all the sales stimuli. Media pressure (marketing – communication) has become unbearable, a source of annoyance some say, with terrible effects on sales. B2B and B2C are on a wild race, and the flows generated by the production and marketing do not reach the consumers anymore. A bit like sperm competing to reach the ovum… many candidates, but few winners !
Due to economic crises and globalization, B2B and B2C transaction systems, which had temporarily found new outlets at the end of the twentieth century with emerging countries (and thanks to the reduction of production costs), is now facing a problem: only the very big companies can expect significant results in sales with pressure methods and top-down marketing, communication or advertisement. The consumer has moved from feeling “prey-target stress” to resignation (when advertising is no longer noticed despite being everywhere), and finally to opposition. Similar to antibiotics excess making bacteria stronger.
It was the consumer who broke the B2B and B2C models. In the 60s, to avoid consumer society, some of us used to retreat to countryside. Nowadays, we all resist, setting our conditions before we consume anything.
So, from a C2B point of view, consumers have shut their door and choose who they want to hear from. For the first time, access to consumers is no longer guaranteed. Even worse, some companies may end up facing strictly prohibited access: consumers have tools now they can use to prevent being exposed to brand communication (e.g. e–mails spam filters, anti banner systems included in Internet Explorer browser, ads prohibited in mailboxes, lawsuits for advertising harassment…) some of them even acting aggressively against companies to damage their reputation. This is especially true since the development of social networks and other means of communication among consumers (in the diagram below, the same company offers a product to consumers – dotted line – if a consumer refuses this product and communicates with others, soon his refusal will spread among the population, generating a difficult situation to handle with for the brand).
Internet turns the consumer into a very efficient media. Instant mob effects sometimes leading to spontaneous lobbying, even to class action suits has become possible and cost almost nothing to their leaders. A power struggle has begun, and not necessarily at the brands’ advantage. Yet consumption remains high, and most consumers remain kind to the brands. So it is not chaos, « the times they are a-changin’ », that’s all, and not necessarily in a bad way! The new situation requires a bit of ethics and compliance in the sales process, requires more value to the offers and communication improvements (in the true sense of this word : exchange, in both directions !).
Today’s marketing policy must take into account this new social & economic environment in order to build new strategies. Biggest brands already started to integrate these modern approaches. Methods are evolving, new habits arise. This is what we try to decipher in this blog ” Cee2Bee.”
 Bob Dylan, from the song called « The Times They Are A-Changin’ »