B2B Advertising: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

1081 1081 Audrey Merritt

B2B Advertising:

What's love got to do with it?

As it turns out, a lot.

When was the last time you saw a B2B advertising campaign that really knocked your socks off?

I’ll give you a minute.

Still nothing?

That you’re having difficulty calling something to mind is unsurprising to me. As a partner in a B2B marketing and advertising agency, I am intimately familiar with the particular challenges of this industry.

Namely that most B2B marketers aren’t given the freedom to elevate emotion.

This is especially true, I’ve found, when dealing with technology. Clients are so in love with the coolness of their product — The features! The integrations! The innovations! The acronyms! — it’s often difficult to convince them that we need to give their buyers more.

In a campaign briefing recently, I pressed the CMO of a large UCaaS company to get a deeper understanding of why someone would want their product. He looked at me, slightly nonplussed, and said: “Because we have the best technology. Period.”

Likewise, a data storage company we worked with listed the following top-level message in their campaign brief: “We’re No. 1.”

Stirring, isn’t it?

If this were enough to convince buyers, these brands would already dominate their industries;  so would every other brand whose technology is “the best.”

The problem is that, with few exceptions — engineers, I’m looking at you — most people don’t feel moved by a feature list. And it’s people who buy products — including business products.

While this conclusion reflects years of my personal experience, it isn’t only that. We recently conducted some research that confirmed it. In a survey of several hundred B2B decision-makers, about half said they find B2B advertising boring, half felt most B2B websites aren’t as interesting and creative as consumer websites, and a vast majority (82 percent) wished B2B advertising had the creativity associated with B2C advertising. Fewer than a quarter of respondents said the B2B advertising they see often prompts them to take a next step toward making a purchase, and 81 percent believe they’d make better decisions if B2B advertising did a better job of engaging them.

What does this look like?

I see a lot – I repeat, a lot – of creative work in development. One day a few months ago, I ducked into our creative department to get a sneak peek of a new brand development in progress. I expected to get a few minutes of backseat creative director time — questions, feedback, hopefully some kudos. I did not expect tears.

“Are you crying?” I heard from behind a monitor.

The entire creative department prairie-dogged up from their desks. I was, in fact, crying. And I could see the satisfaction on the art director’s face.

This was not a data management company, or a security company, or robotics, or productivity software, though we work with clients that do all of the above. The images tacked to the wall did not show servers or clouds or people looking at iPad screens. We’d been hired by a startup that uses nanotechnology to make diamonds more sparkly — and less expensive — than the traditional diamonds on the market. So in this case, you could say that B2B stood for “bride to be.”

What I was looking at was incredibly authentic. I’ve been married 15 years, so it had been a long time since I’d thought about those giddy pre-wedding months. But the images I saw on the wall transported me back to the 24/7 butterflies, the happy expectations, the look on my husband’s face when he saw me on the big day, the way my father’s arm felt as he walked me down the aisle.

Sniff.

Someone handed me a tissue, and I headed into the back-to-back meetings that make up most of my workdays. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the power of emotions and the ability of the right image — coupled with the right words — to evoke them.

This is the goal of all advertising, and B2B advertising is no exception: find an emotion and tap into it.

Start with your customers:

What do they need?

What do they fear?

What are they facing?

What do they wish for?

Then make an emotional connection with them.

This could involve a developer’s motivation to come up with the next great solve. It could address a CISO’s fear of making the wrong choice in a technology partner. It might entail a marketing executive’s struggle with the insane volume of data at her disposal. It could explain a project manager’s reliance on her company’s UCaaS system for collaboration when she’s up against the most important deadline of her life. It could explore how an IT guy who just read about the latest terrifying malware threat is frantically poring over his data center’s SLAs to see if he’s protected. Every person — every business — has something on the line.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a time and a place for talking about technical features and market position. It’s just usually not the best hook for those first brand interactions. For those experiences, you need to begin with the audience. What those people are feeling, wish they were feeling, and could feel, if only they had your product.

In other words: Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them fall in love. And then talk about all of the awesome technical features that set your B2B product apart.

Audrey Merritt
Partner