Thursday, March 18, 2010

Is selling to a consumer different than selling to a company?

Should you develop ads that are different and compelling to stand out among all the bland ads in their targeted trade publications…or ads with the typical copy points and photos?

Time to Debunk

This is a common occurrence that happens in conference rooms across the country every day. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with copy points and product shots, but there seems to be a powerful gravitational pull towards the bland in business-to-business advertising. The reasons, I believe, are because of a handful of persistent myths that permeate the industry's thinking. Here are a few:

B2B is different. This is probably the most common misunderstanding—that somehow the rules of everyday marketing don't apply in a business-to-business context. Sure, selling to a company is different than selling to a consumer. But it's no more different than selling toothpaste is to selling paint, or even than selling wine is to selling beer. In each case, you're trying to win over a unique group of people with an existing array of preconceptions and a distinct set of needs. No two marketing assignments are alike, yet every marketing assignment is subject to the same fundamental and unchanging principles (see below).

Information trumps emotion. Anybody who has spent time working in business-to-business advertising will hear this refrain (or some variation of it): "Make the product the hero," or "Get right to the point," or "Just make sure it has a strong call to action." It's as if the people who read B2B ads don't buy Nike shoes, attend Cirque du Soleil, or shop at Target on the weekends. Or if they do, they somehow disengage the right sides of their brains Monday through Friday.

That's not to say that information isn't important, and especially so when you're dealing with purchases that can run into the thousands or millions of dollars. But the bigger the purchase (typically), the longer the sales cycle. This affects the role that an ad can be expected to play.

In most advertising—consumer as well as B2B—it's the job of the ad to open the sale, not close it. And just because you want your prospects to know something doesn't mean they want to hear it. At least not at first. There's a saying that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, and there's truth to that even in advertising. First you must demonstrate that you understand the challenging world in which your prospects live, and then perhaps they will be willing to listen.

Creativity isn't important. This myth is less likely to be articulated but still widely held. It's why ads in trade magazines tend to be riddled with bullet points. There's nothing wrong with making advertising for even the most mundane products tasteful and aesthetically appealing. Even people who wear pocket protectors enjoy a good wine, a well-crafted movie, or a beautiful piece of art. The prospect isn't a robot; he is your neighbor.

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MY OBJECTIVE:

To share common sense lessons learned with 40-plus years experience in marketing, sales and as a B2B publisher.

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I'm really just a "mature" guy picking up experience along the way. If only by osmosis, I've observed what works and what doesn't work under the marketing umbrella -- with 11 years in sales and marketing at Procter & Gamble; 30-plus years in B2B publishing (including three years as a publisher); and 1,000's of calls on every size company starting with the likes of Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard all the way down to small, brash start-ups.

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