What if B2B ads were fun? For decades, B2B has been haunted by an overtly professional tone. After all, business-to-business ads aren’t made for a person; they’re made for a business, right? From search committees to brokers, team members, and C-level decision-makers, the purchasing decision for business products is like an onion — it involves many layers.
But what if you didn’t market to all of those layers to the onion itself? What if you marketed them to each delectable layer? According to Google, 14% of business decision-makers are willing to pay a premium for better business value. Yet something amazing happens when you create hyper-emotional, creative, and compelling ads that target the decision-makers as humans. Those decision-makers are 50% more likely to purchase your product and 8x more likely to pay a premium.
What if SaaS ads were funny like Budweiser ads? What if business equipment marketing campaigns were as emotional as Hallmark ads? Welcome to the future of B2B marketing, where worlds collide.
Despite a 9.6% drop in overall B2B ad spend, digital B2B ads are skyrocketing — with eMarketer predicting a massive 22.6% gain in digital ad spend for business-to-business companies. The convergence of remote-enabled workspaces and social distancing guidelines has made the market ripe for digitally-driven campaigns, but this isn’t a crisis-induced strategy; it’s an acceleration of an existing trend. In 2018, McKinsey estimated that companies that position digital as the dominant force in their go-to-market platform grew over 5 times faster than their competitors.
We can also look at this from a purely growth-oriented standpoint. Digital ads have grown an average of 12% year-over-year since 2012. Traditional ads have shrunk by around 2% each year during the same period. So, this isn’t surprising. And we would venture to guess that no one’s mind is getting blown right now. But you may not fully understand exactly how much faster digital is outpacing traditional markets. For years, B2B has undervalued digital compared to B2C. Yet now, in the face of a digital-centric work landscape, eMarketer suggests that all growth in B2B ads is fueled by the digital side, and all market shrinkage is due to pauses in traditional mediums.
This shift in platforms has also transformed the creative side of B2B ads. In the past, B2C and B2B ads were clearly different, and the more serious, stoic, and clear-cut ads that littered B2B marketing mediums are starting to fade. In this digital-first ecosystem, B2B marketers are turning towards tried-and-true campaign strategies — which have largely been developed by B2C over the past decade.
For years, B2B ads have been drab, straightforward, and (frankly) boring sometimes. There’s been this vague, hidden line that separates B2C and B2B ads. Since B2B targets decision-makers, it has to take itself seriously, right? Wrong! The future of B2B isn’t about becoming more aggressively business-to-business; it’s about shedding that unnecessary coat of seriousness and embracing emotion, humor, and empathy.
To be honest, this is a surprising trend. Not because B2B ads shouldn’t be funny and engaging. It’s just taken far too long for them to reach this point. We remember Adobe’s Click, Baby, Click ad from back in 2014. It was funny, smart, and instantly viral (a hard feat to accomplish in the drab B2B space). But, despite the success of that ad, it didn’t fully catch on. Well… it is now.
There are plenty of reasons that colliding B2B and B2C makes sense. B2C ads are notoriously catchy, interesting, and entertaining. It’s how you stick out in a hyper-crowded consumer market. By dipping their toes in the B2C real, B2B marketers have a chance to forge memorable relationships instead of forcing themselves to adhere to traditional “B2B ad values.”
Simultaneously, we have the convergence of life and business. When you work remotely, you can be a CEO one second and a father or mother the next second. So, it makes sense to bring those core B2C values (e.g., emotion, empathy, engagement, etc.) to the plate. Creating sticky ads in 2020 involves hitting both of those notes. You have to retain your core value levers as a B2B brand, but you also want to play on those core emotions that drive consumers to purchase products. In other words, imagine putting day-to-day consumers on a high-speed train aimed directly at a mountain of plush ties and suits. The aftermath of that collision is exactly what you should be aiming for in 2020.
“ABM programs have been shown to result in significant improvements in pipeline growth. If economic uncertainty continues, these programs should remain a core element of the Marketing strategy.” – Todd Berkowitz, Practice Vice President, Gartner.
B2B is no stranger to personalization. Firmographics and Accounts-based Marketing (ABM) have been bulwarks of the B2B targeting and segmentation niche for years. But the value of personalization is growing exponentially. ABM, in particular, is showing strong value in 2020. Shedding ad spend by hyper-targeting key accounts and decision-makers is a smart play in a crisis environment — especially when many businesses are cutting costs. You want to find the needle in the haystack. Marketers bumped their ABM budget by 41% in 2019, with ABM eating away at 29% of the average B2B company’s ABM budget.
However, many businesses still struggle with personalization. To be clear, B2B needs to significantly outperform the B2C market in personalization. The lengthy sales cycles and cost-intensive lead capture in the B2B space requires fine-tuning. You need to hyper-target the exact decision-makers that are involved in the purchasing decision of your product. Remember, every ad wasted on a non-decision-maker is like throwing money out-of-the-window. Be funny, creative, and interesting. But target those interesting ads to the right people.
Your target CEO isn’t sitting on a plush leather throne in a dim-lit office surrounded by obscure books and sports memorabilia. They’re in their homes with the kids screaming and playing “the floor is lava” in the room next door. This shift in how we operate has also changed how we perceive ads. Those super-serious ads aren’t resonating with people like they used to. To be clear, the cookie-cutter B2B ads that used boring and bland to portray how “business-serious” your product was probably wasn’t working ideally in the first place. It was just what you were “supposed” to do in your market, right? Things have changed.
You can play with emotions, be funny, and engage in ways you never thought possible. We expect this change to stick around post-crisis. According to the American Association of Marketing (AMA), marketers are rating their level of innovation and improvisation as 5.6 out of 7 during the pandemic. That’s massive. We’re all in think-tank mode.
Unfortunately, a mere 31% of marketers are actually conducting experiments during this time. We get it! We’re all operating in a all-or-nothing cash-strapped atmosphere. But you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with new mediums and ad types. It may be experimentation that builds resiliency and recovery during this period.
Content is a long-game. For many marketers, content is in a weird space. It’s not sales focus, it involves long-term funnel optimization, and it requires some hefty investments without an immediate return (and it can even be difficult to accurately measure any returns you do gain). However, content marketing (especially when combined with ads) is incredibly powerful right now. Granted, it was powerful before. Research shows that a mere 1% of marketers think their content marketing strategies are unsuccessful, so there’s obviously power in content. But in a world where entertainment and news have gone nearly 100% digital, content is a great way to make steady gains. Better yet, content isn’t heavily sales-based. You want to build your branding during this period since there are plenty of customers who simply can’t afford your services right now. Their liquidity is sinking rapidly. Instead, use this time to build meaningful relationships that bear fruit once the crisis has ended.
The marketing funnel for a B2B product or service is far different from B2C. Decision-makers spend a significant amount of time in the mid and bottom layers of the funnel, so you need to create content specifically for these layers. Obviously, personalization also helps here, since it lowers the time-to-purchase and helps shave costs off of funnel optimization.
To really take control of your funnel, consider merging your sales and marketing data. Allowing marketing to share metrics and data with sales creates a more holistic funnel. It gives sales an opportunity to make a great first impression, and it lets marketing know where they should be spending their time in money in the funnel.
Creating hyper-scalable marketing funnels and sales pipelines mid-pandemic isn’t easy. But you shouldn’t give up. Instead, focus on putting your efforts towards this renewed and highly volatile marketplace. The simple truth is: things are changing. B2B digital spend is up, and marketers are betting big on more emotional, targeted, and connected marketing strategies. Do you need help? At T.A. Monroe, we build world-class B2B marketing strategies and systems to help our clients brave the storm. Contact us to learn more.
The material was written with the help of the following resources: