B2B advertising is a multi-billion dollar a year industry and yet, very limited research has been done over the years on this topic. Historically, the largest professional industries such as financial services, construction or healthcare were either very conservative or extremely regulated which made them late to adopt the most innovative models.
They were slow with their digital transformation and (some) less driven by online marketing. As a result, digital models and measurement standards are often based on B2C benchmarks.
Nowadays, brands need to see changes because professional audiences are behaving differently even if, many B2C fundamentals could still apply.
Here are three important elements to consider:
Targeting the right individual, at the right time, at the right place is no longer the rule
Professional sales cycles are longer, buying audiences are more diverse and driven by different emotions. Buyers make decisions based on strategic requirements that will support many of their corporate colleagues, with long-lasting implications. The adoption of a new CRM platform, the validation of a group healthcare policy or the decision to outsource a back-end service is always important decisions.
It involves multiple stakeholders with different sets of expertise found in different business units, based on more than one location. The time needed to put together such procurement processes can be lengthy. Decision-makers and influencers may change during the evaluation phase as these individuals may be promoted internally. Targeting can, therefore, be a nightmare.
Professional marketers need to design their strategies for uncertainty, not precision as in B2C. Targeting should aim for broader audiences, influenced by long term and far-reaching thought leadership content. This is one of the keys to success.
The click-through model will not work forever. Share of voice against market share is one answer
Much of the digital marketing industry runs on click-through rates. Smart marketers have long argued that CTR is a worthless metric and some even argue that what gets you clicks will kill your brand as it forces you to produce bad creatives, attract bad audiences and encourage bad behaviours such as bot traffic.
If you need to track something, track reach and buy on a CPM. This will provide a good indicator of how well you have engaged with multiple target audiences.
It will also help compare your performance if you can measure it against your competition. Even better, as highlighted by AgencyInc in their article on ‘why is branding even a question in B2B marketing?’, if you can assess the difference between your share of voice and your market share, you create a powerful metric aimed at measuring how fast your brand can grow.
The balancing act between brand building and sales activation
Branding becomes very important for B2B solutions as you build a long term marketing strategy. The sales activation component and its shorter-term objectives (performance, call for action) will also be a key part of your strategy as sales conversion is the ultimate metric of success. As presented in ‘The ten best charts from the work of effectiveness experts Les Binet and Peter Field’, successful brands need both brand building and activation.
Branding and performance campaigns will deliver maximum effectiveness at a ratio of 60:40 in favour of branding in both B2C and B2B marketing. The two strategies will work over different timescales and the more market share is captured, the more investment in branding will be required. Further research to be released later this year should confirm there may be differences based on the vertical and the context and therefore these shall be taken into consideration as the brand grows.
B2B marketing targeting professional audiences need to juggle ever-changing environments. The brand element is an important part of a successful marketing strategy and many marketers rely on it heavily. Long term investment to grow the brand is a wise approach and doubling down on activation could accelerate, or even perpetuate business growth.
One could argue that innovative products with strong market differentiation (often seen with B2B Tech brands) need to invest largely in activation because the brand will build itself via word of mouth. Unfortunately, this might not be as easy as one may think.
A new study to be released by Les Binet will highlight a couple of challenges ahead. First, they may be missing out on additional growth if their strategy is not taking a long-term view. Second, as new competitors enter the market, the window for brand-free growth will be limited in time as they may see some slowing down of performance after a relatively short period.
We are only starting to formulate how B2B marketing should be conducted but two things are already clear: brand building and activation should always work together, and the models inherited from B2C thought to be universal need to be adapted for B2B.