I recently read an article in Marketing Week which cited a research piece by LinkedIn on the ineffectiveness of advertising, particularly in the B2B space, calling for a more emotional connection.
Having worked in media and agencies, I believe this insight is old news. Publishers and media agencies know it. People in these businesses ‘should’ tell you that most digital advertising is uninspiring. But if it is impressive, it is usually a one hit wonder focusing on a big play for a business, never to be replicated. Where I have seen these adverts work so well is on rebrands.
Rebrands act as an opportunity for businesses to re-define who they are, their purpose and what they stand for. This is as emotional as it gets in the B2B world with rebrands changing the perception and emotion of the audience and helping to build the foundations of new relationships and audience groups.
The reason why the advertising proves so powerful is that the company ties its messaging to two sides of an audience – their business side and their consumer side. What I mean by this is the advert focuses on something based in the real world, that resonates with the consumer on a personal level, immediately drawing on an emotional aspect, followed by a business connection. By connecting at a personal level, the advert will do exactly what it is supposed to do – resonate and improve awareness.
The real difference between B2B and B2C
Where the problem lies with advertising in B2B, especially for marketers, is the expectation of what advertising is meant to do. This is where there is a shift between B2B and B2C.
B2C advertising offers direct sales opportunities and this is because it is supposed to. Brands have spent millions and many years on advertising to consumers so that their products and services are well known, and consumers are advertised to by every channel necessary. But they have also been consistent. They have created quality content as every ad is the next impression of them as a business. They do not change their resolve and in doing so continue to impress.
B2B advertising was initially used to broadcast a business to wider audiences, to increase brand awareness. Over time, companies have got lazy and have used this channel to do multiple things deviating from this approach, expecting a new outcome. Adverts are now being used as a form of lead generation as part of their campaigns. This is either direct and deliberate, like promoting products and services, or sugar-coating clickbait ‘intelligence’ by directing them to something that will generate leads, like an eBook or event. The problem is that most companies, along with their competitors, are doing the same thing, in a similar visual or creative, which all look boring, causing advertising fatigue, so eventually all adverts become white noise.
I have been susceptible to this approach when working with clients, knowing that they are expecting clicks to somehow turn into magic leads that will generate revenue. This is naïve and misleading, but some of these pressures come from outside marketing to drive growth.
Back to basics
The advertising game has changed, and we need to go back to basics. This marketing tool needs to go back to its origins and focus on brand awareness only. And this is not easy.
B2B marketing has a diverse toolkit, each tool with its own role to play. Let’s take it back to rebrands. The reason why I use this example is because the marketing toolkit is used with such precision that each tool is used properly and for its purpose. You need the full toolkit to get to the opportunity stage and each have a specific function. Just like the human body, a series of complex processes need to take place periodically to do something so simple but so important like breathing.
Everyone knows the funnel and that you move from brand awareness, to intent, to buy. The toolkit includes things like advertising, thought leadership, events, etc. Use them properly and you get to where you want to be – sales.
A strong rebrand advert is simple, defines what the businesses is doing and their purpose, whilst connecting to a consumer viewpoint. An easy example of this is companies driving the message of technology for good (see some of the trends emerging). An example of an advert showing innovation leading to global sustainable outcomes is an easy way to portray this. It immediately attaches to a growing environmental challenge connecting on a consumer level but drawing back to the business. This can connect to your purpose, values, and relationship with the content consumer in a positive way.
Here are some tips when creating your ads:
- Ads are creative assets, so words should be minimal. If you must spell out the message in words, then your creative is not strong or inviting enough to click through.
- Invest in video or interactive visuals as opposed to static, give more to the consumer of the content, rather than less.
- Ads are there to drive content consumers to a destination site, not an asset. If you are driving to an asset, you are marketing the wrong thing. You want to give the consumer every opportunity to learn and engage with what you do through that campaign, providing access to an asset that is beneficial to them. Some people may enjoy whitepapers, some podcasts, but restricting the audience group to an asset only deters rather than promotes.
- Do not just have the same visual for all campaigns. Change them, but keep a consistent underlying message supporting your business throughout. Learn from B2C, for example, Coca Cola make a fizzy drink and they continue to advertise this product, but their adverts do not get boring… why? Because they keep a consistent underlying message, whilst re-purposing the content per campaign to identify with something affecting people personally at that time. In B2B, big organisations may have multiple areas of work which all have different messages. Is there one uniform message as a brand that they can sit under? If not, focus on what the message is for your prospective customers customer and align them. This can resonate well. Using the example above, technology for good could be the main message with different imagery/videos for campaigns in different segments based on your business, whether that is within financial services, agriculture, manufacturing, etc.
Connecting with the correct content consumer
These strategies will drive engagement and awareness, having an emotional connection to the content consumer. By doing this, the advert will have done its job – to resonate and engage. This is quite a change to the norm, so an intermediate stage is to create 2-3 visuals and have them per click through the website so that you tell the story. Create a hero ad, with a more obvious message and then follow with eBook/webinar etc. Careful on your choices of media partner for this; you will want an audience that is connected to the publisher and consistently reads a few articles per session, without placing your ad on rotation with others for the campaign to take shape.
Budget is a challenge. Most will spend minimally on the creative but huge amount on amplification through the media channels they are focusing on. One word: don’t. Focus on the creative and choose a couple of strong publishers with robust audiences that meet your needs. Remember that it is about creating engagement and a buzz around your campaign. If the campaign is good, this initial investment will be enough to light a fire, so that organic traffic increases through content sharing as well as organic uptake. Adverts are meant to get audiences moving to your website. No more and no less. Your content and assets hosted on your website is where you really build your relationship with the audience and content consumers. Social channels work slightly differently, with a hybrid of adverts and content. Adverts should act in the same manner, but you need a content strategy to also work.
The power of thought leadership
This takes us to the next stage which is your main campaign assets and strategy. Direction to the website through adverts, which then leads to a far more engaging piece of thought leadership. Again, a powerful tool for B2B marketers, which ties back to relationship building and engagement, but also trust. Relevance is key here, tying it back to something that resonates for engagement and relationship building. Research-led content across your specific segment or topic shows the conviction of your message and specialism across your campaign and the product/services in which you are trying to generate opportunities and growth.
Here you are building trust with the content consumer, and with trust comes a much more deeper-rooted relationship. This is where your campaign success is defined. If you have created product-related content, you might have killed your relationship with the engager. But if you have positioned the piece towards their own goals (business or personal, in the current climate) then you are on to a positive opportunity (see our B2B Marketing Playbook for tips on thought leadership).
Here is where your engagement will snowball from your initial advertising investment. If the media channel you have used has driven initial engagement and they find this content relevant, organic traffic will be a defining metric of success. Here is where you would hope content is shared with wider groups of organisations as well as be taken up by other media who will expand your reach.
As you build engagement and relationships, they take an interest in what you do as a business, and by connecting, following, and subscribing, they become a part of your community. This is where we then look at sentiment and the chance to then drive your product and services through, because they have become part of your community. At this stage they are either buying, or in a consideration stage to the needs they have, making them advocates or influencers. More connection and engagement might be required, and this will lead to bringing your community together through events.
A consistent framework
A lot of thought must go into each of these areas and it is complex, but once done, you have your framework. The biggest challenge to this is consistency. And here lies the reason why rebrands show a lot of this structure, but it never appears again. They place the investment, time, and resources into successfully orchestrating a strong launch, but never continue to follow this framework thereafter, aiming to make a “big splash” for the launch and not considering continuing sustained campaigns. Consistent campaigns following this approach create deeper rooted relationships, but also loyalty. In times like the pandemic, your community and their continued loyalty will help see them through difficult times, as well as the company.
Gear up for growth
In summary, ads are meant to open doors into a company and create first impressions. Use advertising to open the door and let your content strategy and the many other tools at your disposal provide the opportunities to generate growth.
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