Dos and Don’ts to Beef Up Your B-to-B Advertising

If you’re in a business that sells to other businesses, you know how difficult it can be.  Whether you’re a small business or a global enterprise, the daily challenges of communicating can add up to quarterly headaches and annual recalibrations.  But if you’re marketing as actively as you need to, then some simple rules can help.

For much of my career, I’ve been involved with businesses that need to convince other businesses to engage.  From media companies to industrial businesses to distributors and exhibitors, I’ve seen the challenges of articulating compelling messages that resonate and drive response. B-to-b marketing is indeed a unique discipline, and it has rules that its consumer counterpart cannot even imagine having to navigate.  However, that doesn’t mean that it has to be cold, or impersonal or the mother of all sins:  boring.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to formulating business-to-business advertising or other marketing outreach:

DO talk to a PERSON
Despite what we may think about business-to-business marketing, we’re still in the persuasion business.  And it’s critical to talk directly to one person, understand his or her needs, promise him or her benefits and build a case for your product or service.  You can’t do any of that to “an organization.”

DO be willing to SELL
A fair amount of b-to-b advertising approaches will highlight some random case study about Bob, of Company Y, who increased productivity 400% while using Solution X.  No call to action, no contact name, no direct connection.  Now, in fairness, not all b-to-b advertising has to be direct response, but it should have an articulated point of view, and should clearly define what the value proposition is through some means.  It should sell in whatever way works best for your brand and in whatever way makes it easiest for your prospect.

DON’T run a competitive ad unless you can back it up with verified third party data.
Your opinion of your competition means nothing unless there’s a tangible difference to your prospect.  It’s okay to establish a clear difference between your brand and competitive offerings – but if you’re just beating your chest over a nominal difference in features, you’ll coming out looking mean.  And nobody wants to do business with a meanie.

DO use a strong CTA
Someone I admire very much constantly reminds me of the phrase “don’t ask, don’t get.”  While I’ve just said that all b-to-b advertising doesn’t have to be direct response, the best business conversations do include an appeal to interact.  So propose a demo.  Ask for the call.  Heck, ask for the business!  But do it in a way that makes the prospect’s life/business/daily challenges easier, and then ensure that at the end of the road, things get even brighter! Remember the important lesson that hope is not a strategy for success.

DON’T be afraid to be emotional
Regardless of the “professional” nature of b-to-b, every buying decision – whether it’s technology, or information or industrial steel – is an emotional process.  The CEO, or the CTO or the procurement manager of a municipality still has to “feel” good about your offering, your pricing, your service guarantee.  Don’t abandon this core principle.  It could mean the difference between getting a response or not.

DO be visually arresting whenever possible
Advertising, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful forces in global business. We have the opportunity to persuade and entertain using interrelated words and pictures.  Many executives agonize over the words, (because we all have opinions, whether or not we can articulate them,) but leave the pictures to an afterthought (because not everyone is a visual thinker or an artist.)  When you can be visually arresting (in print or moving pictures,) you can elevate the corresponding language to a level that the words alone could not have achieved.  Sure, use a chart or a graph to visually demonstrate, but make sure it’s designed to delight as much as it is to inform.

DON’T be blah
As mentioned above, it’s important to talk to a PERSON.  Unfortunately, a lot of b-to-b advertising tries to sell to the whole organization, or a department or an executive team.  But the only way to do that is to use generic, bland, SAFE language.  I’ll remind you that generic, bland and safe do not compelling advertising make.  Be excited!  Be visual.  Dramatize the benefit.  Claim the highest possible ground for your brand and then differentiate the snot out of it.  Get out of techno-speak for techno-speak’s sake…start using hard-hitting language that proves you understand the prospect’s challenges, proves your product or service can meet and exceed those challenges, and proves that choosing you will make that singular prospect feel empowered, excited and engaged.

Image source:  DeviantArt

Eat Marketing for Lunch

Looking for a fresh perspective on your business?
Start by consuming some of what you produce.

Here’s an interesting paradox. I’ve been in and around advertising for my entire 22-year career. And throughout that time, I’ve become increasingly desensitized to the type of work I produce… and that’s largely the result of a sort of self-imposed effort at OBJectivity.

However, over the past two years or so, I’ve been engaged in a new and evolving experiment to become more SUBjective to advertising messages. (In a really objective and observant way. Told you it was paradoxical.)

Since I’m involved in strategic brand activities and message development, I’m trying to avoid myopia. I’m trying to allow messages to sink in. I’m trying to see what strategies really break through, and which ones just get lost in the clutter and the noise. I’m trying to continually become better at what I do, and my competitors provide a mountain of useful information on the subject every day.  I’m consuming a LOT of advertising and marketing messages these days.

Marketers in any category can fall into these I’m-living-in-the-bubble-of-my-business patterns. If you’re a CMO of a large corporation, or the Chief Idea Girl in a lean startup, you’re focused on what’s right in front of you. You’ve got operational challenges. Staffing issues. You’re reviewing the plans. You’re considering hiring a shop to handle your social media. You’ve got a LOT going on. There’s simply not bandwidth to consume more stuff, or to consider more inputs.

But you must. Because it’s simply the only way to gain any real perspective on your own business-side matters. Here are a few simple steps that I’ve been taking that can help you gain some insights and ensure that you’re not operating – or investing in marketing your business – in a vacuum:

Go shopping (or searching) in your category.
This is the fun part. (Warning: it can also be a challenge for certain businesses, like orthodontia for example.) Be a browser. Be a consider-er. Look at your competitors first, and then look at anybody who does what you do. If you’re selling at retail, go to the stores you’re in and see who else is on the shelf. Better yet, go to the stores you WANT to be in and see what’s going on there.

One cool thing I do is pick specific markets far from NYC (where I’m headquartered) and then do online searches there. Why’s the restaurant scene rocking in Reno? Whose hand-made jeans are jumping off the shelves in Joplin? Is there somebody is Topeka who’s peddling test prep? Whatever your category, (b-to-b or consumer,) engage in the art of careful consideration.

Take note of what made you notice: was it the packaging? A promise embedded in the brand? Did you look at the ads?

Consume your competitor’s stuff. And some of your own.
Next, take it a step further. It may seem like sacrilege, but open up your wallet (virtual or otherwise) and buy some stuff made by your competitors, and some stuff made by your company. This is the ONLY way to truly immerse yourself in how your customers might feel when they buy your (or their) products or services. Follow the process from start to finish. Take note of everything, from the customer service if that applies, to the shipping, to the packaging when it arrives. Put it on or boot it up.

How do you FEEL? That’s the ethos you want to capture. There are deep emotional bonds being formed between brands and consumers every day. You must choose and manage the emotions you want to convey and the way you want them conveyed very carefully indeed.

Be brutally honest about your assessments.
One of the things we all like to do is assume superiority. “Their stuff is inferior to our stuff” is a common collective agreement at virtually every organization. (Seriously, don’t try to deny it.) So now, you have to shake that tribal mentality off and really observe what’s going on for you when you consume other products in your category. Is the ride smoother? Does it work better? Are there fun features you didn’t know about? Were you SURPRISED beyond your expectations? Make notes. Make lots of notes. Was it the marketing? What did you experience when you browsed the website? How did you feel when you bought your own stuff? Did you measure up?

Leverage your learning. Hard.
Now that you’ve done this, it’s time to take a good hard look at your own stuff and your own processes for delivering it to customers. If you can honestly you say you kick everyone else’s ass, (and your name is not already Musk, or Zuckerberg, or Brin,) then congratulations. You’ve outwitted, out-efforted and have come to dominate your market. But for the rest of us, you have an opportunity to thrust your organization forward on objectivity. Take the things you learned and put them to work. You’ll be surprised at the ancillary ideas that are sparked. A competitor’s label might jar your memory about a data capture form on your website. A competitor’s ad might help you formulate some platforms for your next product innovations. Your own ideals about your own products might be improved or elevated in some way.

Engage your team (or your partners, or your cat) with your new ideas. If you’ve got one employee or 10,000, your newly found observations can have a profound impact on how things go. They may be threatened at first, but they’ll likely be inspired to go above and beyond and really start to wow people.

Use what you’ve experienced, purchased and learned – on a first-hand, completely subjective basis – about your competitors as a starting point for positioning against and amongst them. Ultimately, you’ll find new ways to move your organization forward in a much more objective and holistic manner. Plus you’ll have a bunch of new stuff to play with in your office.