B2B Advertising: Why You Should Change Your Creative Right Now

According to a recent study, nearly all (96%) B2B marketers spend most of their effort on bottom-of-the-funnel activities (e.g., lead-gen) rather than top-of-the-funnel (brand awareness/image/reputation). But evidence shows that lead-gen tactics are short-term and create less lasting value than a brand focus—that is, months-worth of impact versus years-worth.

But even if you focus on brand advertising over bottom-of-the-funnel marketing, the prevalent problem in B2B advertising is that the creative is not emphasized enough, and therefore not good enough. One study finds that a whopping 75% of B2B creative is ineffectual, going so far as to call it a “crisis in advertising.”

Just skim B2B ads and you will quickly realize that most of the creative is weak, especially when compared to B2C advertising.

Part of this is due to the fact that marketers are reluctant to use creative beyond what’s “pretty” and eschew humor, attitude and personality in their creative for fear of standing out too much or offending someone or, worse, being viewed as too “consumer-y”. It is almost as if creative in B2B is viewed as “trimmings” to add a bit of visual appeal (wallpaper, if you will) as opposed to being the cynosure of the ad. As a result, much of B2B advertising creative is plain and boring.

But professional customers are still people and we know that funny, thoughtful, interesting, moving creative creates impressions and builds top-of-mind-awareness and interest. That is, after all, the raison d’être of the marketing department in B2B.

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The human brain remembers emotions and forgets facts, yet much of B2B advertising is very functional and data driven. There is little risk-taking in B2B advertising and, as a result, little that moves people.

What this means, of course, is that there is a significant competitive opportunity to build brand image and brand preference by focusing on the quality of the creative: When everyone is poor to mediocre, it’s easier to be great.

To create advertising that makes your brand memorable and top-of-mind, follow these three steps in the development of your creative:

  • Focus on impact and emotion and use functional features and benefits as support
  • Use a unique look & feel as well as branded elements (logo, symbols, characters) consistently and throughout a campaign
  • Emphasize brand over product (you always have new products to tout) and stick with a given campaign for more than a quarter (resist the prevalent “launch and forget” mentality)

Be guided by three questions:

  • Will a prospect FEEL anything when seeing this ad? Or will they simply move on?
  • Will they recognize the brand that ran the ad and have associations with that brand as a result?
  • Does the FEELING instilled by this ad/brand last?

As the data shows, most B2B ads have weak creative. That means your competitor’s ads are likely to be weak and you can steal mind share simply by improving your creative! Creating an impression that is out of the ordinary creates long-lasting brand value.

Of course, we are not advocating taking your creative to extreme levels. After all, you are marketing serious products to serious buyers. But you can and should make that creative do more to build your brand image and appeal by bringing in some humor, emotion and/or style that meaningfully differentiates your brand from competitors. People don’t leave their humanity at home when they go off to work.

Improving your creative really does work. For some examples of how better creative yields better business results, consider the experience of the companies listed in this article.

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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