Covid-19 Could Lead to the End of B-to-B Brands as We Once Knew Them

Due to a convergence with b-to-c brands

The b-to-b label no longer applies in the current climate—and it’s likely to stay that way. - Credit by Westend61 / Getty Images
Headshot of Tim Harvey

It goes without saying that everyone’s day-to-day lives have been turned upside down by the Covid-19 outbreak. In the short term, this upheaval abruptly changed consumers’ interactions with a brand, from how we perceive and define them to which ones we engage with. But the long-term effect is even greater. It could spell the end of b-to-b brands as we know them.

Just look at the emergence of one of our Covid-19 hero brands, Zoom. What only two months ago was viewed almost exclusively as a business tool to connect professionals in conference rooms from New York to New Delhi has become a mainstay of people’s professional and personal lives (security issues aside).

Why are so many of us choosing Zoom, which is perceived as a business platform, over a product like Skype, which long ago established itself as a consumer-oriented connection service provider? The reason is that the b-to-b label no longer applies in the current climate—and it’s likely to stay that way.

The convergence of b-to-b and b-to-c brands

For years, we’ve talked about the merging of business and personal life, but we couldn’t have imagined how quickly and how completely the two would become intertwined in the wake of something like a public health crisis.

We couldn’t have imagined how quickly and how completely [business and personal life] would become intertwined in the wake of something like a public health crisis.

Right now, people are learning more about colleagues and client’s personal lives in an hour than they once did in a month. As it turns out, the day we left the office to start an indefinite period of working from home is the day we invited businesses into our homes and welcomed b-to-b brands into b-to-c territory.

In this new universe, consumers are repurposing brand utility. A workflow management system that was once crucial for helping you manage office tasks and get to your lunch meeting faster now also allows you to spend a little more time in the garden. Or consider different uses of your work laptop, which now doubles as a YouTube cinema for your children.

Changing the way we treat b-to-b brands

I personally welcome the transition, not because I think work belongs at home, but because I hope this shift will inspire agencies to rethink how they treat b-to-b brands. These brands may finally get the same cachet and focus as b-to-c brands as we collectively recognize that the end customer is a person, not an institution.

As Covid-19 makes the b-to-b label obsolete, we’re likely to see a greater emphasis on the emotional value of products and services, as opposed to pure function. As this outbreak proves, it doesn’t matter that a productivity tool was originally designed for the workplace. Everything that consumers take home with them will assume some role in their personal lives.

Maybe instead of the occasional Volvo truck (the go-to b-to-b creative pinnacle), we will see more frequent examples of world-class b-to-b creative in advertising, a sign that we’ve finally recognized the significance of this segment in everyday life.


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Tim Harvey is chief growth officer and partner at BBH.
Publish date: April 21, 2020 https://dev.adweek.com/brand-marketing/covid-19-could-lead-to-the-end-of-b-to-b-brands-as-we-once-knew-them/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT