Not just a big splash: the role of digital advertising in B2B campaigns

Why marketers need to be smart, persistent and use all of their skills if their brand is to achieve its full potential.

It’s all very well to open doors with ads and create a good first impression, but without the support of the rest of the marketer’s toolkit they won’t grow revenue, says Shabnam Gangar, AVP Marketing, iResearch Services.

Don’t blow your whole budget on a quick hit or a rebrand – you need to be able to nurture the new audience you have found.

A recent study from the LinkedIn B2B Institute and market research agency System1 found that most B2B creative campaigns are “ineffective” – and called for a more emotional connection.

For anyone operating in the media industry, and agencies, this is old news. When it comes to digital advertising, a more accurate description would be that it is ‘uninspiring’. Those that do hit the mark too often end up being a one-hit-wonder, focusing on a single big play for the business never to be replicated. Rebrands, for instance, are an example of where these adverts work particularly well.

Emotional engagement

Rebrands act as an opportunity for businesses to redefine who they are, their purpose and what they stand for. In the B2B world, this is a rare opportunity to change perceptions and build the foundation for new relationships and audience groups.

However, to successfully build a dedicated online following, an audience must be identified, and this is even more important to B2B brands than it is to consumer-facing brands. Although there is an age-old perception of the fun, creative consumer campaigns versus dull business campaigns, tactics to build an online B2B community needn’t be boring these days. 

Advertising this change is powerful because the company ties its messaging to two types of audience: the business and consumer sides. More specifically, an advert focusing on something in the real world will resonate with consumers on a personal level, drawing emotion, followed by a business connection. This achieves the core aim of any digital advertising – to resonate and improve awareness.

Personalisation is vital in all types of digital advertising, yet it is most impactful in driving value in a B2B setting. From identifying the target market to reaching them through ABM [account-based marketing] campaigns to test your approach and tailoring your approach accordingly, you can provide the end-user with the kind of bespoke engagement that they crave. And the data you gain from these campaigns can be utilised to perfect your strategy by exploring the various metrics you may incorporate to find out what worked and what didn’t. 

With paid social media campaigns, personalised targeting and content optimisation are at our fingertips; therefore, marketers can effectively advertise in a personalised way by using the data that is readily available within platforms like Hootsuite, Bambu, or the social platforms themselves. 

The difference between B2B and B2C

The problem with advertising in the B2B sector is a misalignment in what it is meant to achieve. This is one of the key differences between B2B and B2C.

B2C advertising offers direct sales opportunities, often backed by millions of pounds in spend and many years of brand awareness activity across multiple channels, ensuring products and services are well known. But they also have the benefit of consistency. They do not change their resolve and, in so doing, continue to impress.

By contrast, B2B advertising was initially used to broadcast a business to a wider audience and build brand awareness. But over time, companies became lazy and deviated from this initial goal – and expected new outcomes to follow. As a result, adverts are now being used as a form of lead generation. This is either direct and deliberate, like promoting products and services, or sugar-coating clickbait ‘intelligence’ by directing them to something that will generate and nurture leads, such as an e-book or event. The trouble, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, is that most companies are doing the same thing, with similar visuals and creatives, causing advertising fatigue. It simply becomes white noise.

Sometimes people expect clicks to somehow turn into magic leads that generate revenue. Unfortunately this is naive and misleading, but some pressures come from outside the marketing team and the need to drive growth.

Instead, B2B advertising should focus on the company’s expertise, sharing knowledge to generate meaningful conversations with prospects, thus enhancing the brand’s credibility and presence.

Back to basics

While the advertising game has changed, the best response is actually to go back to basics. That is, to focus on brand awareness and brand awareness alone. And this is not easy.

Everyone knows the importance of the sales funnel, the movement from awareness to intent, to purchase. If the contents of the marketer's toolkit, such as advertising and thought leadership events, are working in harmony, they will provide that key outcome – sales.

Like the human body, a series of complex processes need to occur to do something so simple, yet so essential, as breathing. Taking this back to rebrands, a strong rebrand advert is simple. It defines what the business is doing and their purpose, while connecting at a consumer (that is, more personal) level. Sustainability initiatives are a great example of this. They can provide a sense of purpose and connection at a consumer level while showcasing your business values.

Tips for creating online B2B adverts:

  • Words should be minimal Ads are creative assets, so if more words are required, it means the creative itself is not strong or inviting enough to encourage click-through.
  • Invest in video Interactive (as opposed to static) visuals, give more information to the consumer.

  • Drive customers to a destination, not an asset A web page that provides a range of options for the visitor will have a broader appeal than a specific asset, which should be used further down the funnel.

  • Switch up the visuals While the underlying message must be the same the visuals must be different, so you engage and appeal to a variety of people. Coca-Cola are a great example of this. All they make is a fizzy drink, yet the visuals in their adverts are constantly being refreshed.

  • Keep a core message Learning from Coca-Cola, ensuring the brand has a strong central message that is malleable enough to be adapted for different audience groups, will provide a strong foundation for marketing and sales activity.

Measuring success

Powerful adverts then lead to the next area of the campaign – more engaging thought leadership. This powerful tool for B2B markets ties back to relationship building and engagement. It is here that relevance is key. Research-led content, showcasing expertise in a particular sector, will show the conviction of your messaging and the services you offer that will solve challenges.

This is all about building trust with the content consumer – developing a more deeply rooted relationship. It can work well when time is spent on persona mapping to build the specific audience you’re advertising to, identifying their key touchpoints and segmenting the audience data, before using different online tools to capture the prospect. 

Working inter-departmentally within the business is also a significant driver in ensuring the campaign relates to the audience. The sales teams, for example, will understand the end-customer’s pain points and can help build messaging to approach different individuals across channels. 

Engagement from here will snowball, but so will the opportunities for measurement. From organic traffic to followers and subscribers, this demonstrates growth in your community. They are either buying or considering at this stage, which can be supported with events and engagement through advocates and influencers.

A consistent framework

The sales funnel can be a complex beast. But once it has been set up, the main challenge then becomes consistency. This is where rebrands never appear again. All that investment, time and resource in orchestrating a strong launch never moves beyond that ‘big splash’ into a sustained campaign that creates more deep-rooted relationships.

This is because ultimately the objective of B2B advertising isn’t about ROI at all, but the intent to purchase. Building brand awareness through data-driven strategies is the long game, after all – it’s about creating a trusted audience to nurture going forward.