Last night I was talking to a group of entrepreneurs who are all bootstrapping their own start-ups. Largely, their products and services were geared toward the B2B marketplace. Like many low-cost products and services in the B2B space, there were B2C elements in their sales cycle. Namely, the target audience they were going after didn’t necessarily need any special skills to buy their product. For example, when a company sells plastics to other businesses the other side needs to have the right engineering background in order to know what they are buying. That is pretty hard-core B2B. But when more mainstream products/services are involved (like business software or office products), the skill set needed to make a decision can be as simple as knowing how to search the internet. So, these broader, less sophisticated buyers (while still buying for a business) are usually approached in more of a B2C way.

The challenge is fitting B2C program elements into an otherwise B2B program without recreating the wheel. One of the easiest ways to do this is to employ tribe marketing. Tribe marketing is highly targeted marketing to specific groups designed to plug into the human desire to respect the preferences of peers and reject the preferences of people outside their peer group. Product placement is a good example of tribe marketing — J.Lo drinks Coke on American Idol. You like J. Lo and American Idol. Therefore it’s easy to assume you’d like Coke, too.

In a B2B program, knowledge and credibility are paramount. It’s not enough to just see someone else doing it. So, B2B tribe marketing needs to plug into the target audience’s need to get information and perceived value from their peer group. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is through — you guessed it — social media. Why? Because that’s where everyone interacts with friends and office peer groups. Pushing information out through media relations and marketing and then pulling them back in to your website or retail store can all be accomplished via social media.

Start by deciding which tribes you want to influence and build your program around them. Are you selling low-cost printers in bulk to offices? Then you are dealing with office managers and IT purchasing supervisors. Find their tribe, or create one for them to join. One of my favorites in the B2B space is Lighting the LED Revolution by Cree. They sell LED solutions mostly to commercial buyers (some then resell back to consumers) and this program effectively bridges the gap between their commercial and consumer buyers while supporting everyone’s need to feel like they are contributing to a cause. The most important part of this exercise is to focus on the emotion needed to make the sale and not on the product/service itself.

After you’ve identified your target audience and the tribes in which they “hunt” use media relations and social media to speak to them on a regular basis. Again, Cree’s program does this well, too: Don’t forget about bloggers, industry associations, or anyone else that leads the tribes.

If you are having a hard time wrapping your head around this concept consider one of the biggest tribes out there: mothers. With that in mind, is it easier now to see how a tribe communicates? When is the last time your mom said, “Oh, that commercial on TV was compelling. I’m going to buy that mac and cheese.” It’s more likely she said, “Tracey tried this mac and cheese and said her family liked it better than the stuff we usually make.”

Similarly,  do you think many office managers say, “Oh, I saw this amazing software last month at CES. I’m going to buy it.” No! What’s far more likely is, “My sister-in-law’s office uses this software to organize receipts. I saw on Twitter they are offering a free subscription this month. I’m going to check it out.”

Perception within a tribe is not created just in the store or on your website — it’s in places where the tribe hangs out.  Engineer meaningful dialogue with these groups through third-party credibility (good PR) and pull through marketing (coupons and deals). Doing so will support your B2B marketing efforts without adding the extra expense of a separate program.

Author: Christine Pietryla is a B2B PR consultant and freelance writer serving the energy and utilities, professional services, economic development and commodities industries. As a PR consultant her clients range in size from $20 to $100 million in sales. She frequently serves as a contributing writer to trade and business press.