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C2B is the biggest idea in marketing yet but grafting C2B onto long-established B2C operations and cultures is not easy says Alan Mitchell

If there's one marketing opportunity that's consistently underestimated it must be C2B. Think of any basic marketing activity and there's probably a better, cheaper C2B way of doing it.

Take market research. One way for companies to understand where they mess up is to analyse customer complaints. Web sites like complainer.co.uk are designed just for that purpose.

Or take NPD. The classic pitfall is to shoehorn development priorities into things the company wants to sell, whereas C2B marketers, who are free of this selling pressure, are better able to identify what consumers really want to buy.

Traditional marketing communications, which are driven by the need to ram selling messages into consumers' heads, are not only very expensive but often counter-productive. They breed resistance among 'target audiences'.

In contrast, C2B companies, which are in business to help buyers buy, go with the flow. When consumers can say 'here I am, this is what I want'‚ many a traditional marketing campaign becomes unnecessary.

The most extreme form of C2B business - the buying club - presents marketers with the end product of all their marketing: customers wanting to buy on a plate. Which is why wise sellers are often prepared to offer hefty discounts.

But if C2B marketing is such a great win-win, why hasn't it swept the board already?

First, it doesn't fit traditional marketing agendas. Second, traditional brand managers tend to be terrified of it because it implies a loss of power and control. Third, reaching critical mass is difficult. When it comes to demand aggregation, traditional businesses such as retailers are streets ahead.

Furthermore, ideas like special-interest consumer communities, complainer.co.uk and Letsbuyit are just the ingredients of a viable C2B business model. They won't really fly until they're brought together into a single, easy-to-use and value-adding service.

Going C2B requires boldness and vision - and big budgets. The risks are huge: Mongrel's total launch budget is £100m, and it's not expecting to start making a profit for five years.

On the other hand, grafting C2B onto long-established B2C operations and cultures is not easy. But that's the nature of all breakthrough innovation. It's the pioneers who make big ideas work that win big. And C2B is the biggest idea in marketing yet.

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Published 15 February, 2001 by NMA Staff

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