In the era of self-service buying journeys, B2B advertising is simultaneously a marketer’s best friend and worst enemy. While serving up an advertisement is a surefire way to promote brand engagement, irrelevant, ‘spammy’ ad campaigns will have prospects clicking in the other direction.
According to Karen Murphy, President of B2B marketing agency FVM, the top three components practitioners must consider when creating engaging ads are:
• Content — “Advertisers in B2B are learning that content must actually be engaging and helpful, which isn’t always ‘snackable’ or ‘top-five’ style content”;
• Video — “Over the past year, we’ve found that viewers engage more with video ad content than static, especially on social: It’s always worth the effort to include sight, sound and motion to ad concepts”; and
• Paid search advertising — “This is always a top recommendation, as it reaches the audience of people who are actively searching for a solution to a problem; if your business can help solve that problem, you need to be in that conversation.”
Murphy continued that the backbone of those three tactics must be trust, specifically by demonstrating how a certain company can help prospects solve workplace challenges.
It’s clear that advertising is a necessary component of B2B marketing, as 71% of buyers noticed ads and, of that percentage, more than a third (38%) indicated that the advertisements positively influenced their view of the brand. But marketers are contending with an uncertain future, specifically in the face of budget cuts and the long-awaited depreciation of cookies.
As organizations rethink traditional advertising techniques and shift their resources toward digital advertising, this report will discuss the new B2B landscape with a focus on:
• How marketers are pursuing cross-channel diversification;
• Consumers’ changing preferences for advertising content, such as videos, influencer content, interactivity and more;
• How organizations are prioritizing inbound strategies to increase brand awareness by focusing on individual experiences tailored to consumers and increasing brand awareness; and
• The importance of connecting and matching first-party data and intent data to inform personalized advertising experiences.
The primary goal of advertising across industries and workflows is always static: Driving buyer engagement. But as the workforce cycles through generational shifts and buyer preferences for content consumption evolve, practitioners are tasked with keeping up with these changing preferences.
“The customer demographic is constantly changing, and businesses must understand their audiences to market to them effectively,” said Isha Kembhavi, Solutions Architect, Growth Marketing for Evalueserve. “For instance, by 2025, more than 27% of the workforce will be Gen-Z. This digitally native audience already has consumed media from different digital channels before talking to a sales rep. Ensuring that we incorporate channels and media they prefer (e.g., influencers, SMS, podcasts, etc.) adds diversification to a brand’s marketing mix.”
Kembhavi continued that she’s seen higher performance — in terms of watch and completion rates — from video, in addition to other consumable media such as podcasts or informative social media posts. Specifically:
• 45% of buyers prefer interactive content;
• 49% prefer video content;
• 35% prefer influencer/advocate-related content; and
• 34% get more content through social networks or peer recommendations.
“In the past year or so, within our advertising formats, we’re finding that viewers do engage more with video ad content than static, especially on social,” said Murphy. “When it’s possible to include sight, sound and motion to ad concepts, it’s always worth the time and effort.”
In addition to interactivity, John Arnold, Principal Analyst at Forrester, explained in his B2B Sales & Marketing Exchange keynote that 67% of B2B buyers said they want more relevant ads while concurrently demanding more privacy.
“Buyers want more privacy on their terms, but they also want relevance, which is a careful balance that’s hard to achieve,” Arnold continued. “End buyers want us to give them these personalized experiences, but they want us to do it blindfolded. Only about 12% of people agree it’s OK for companies to track their activities online to send relevant ads. You must know your buyers — and it’s one of the reasons to have a good data strategy.”
According to Arnold, a solid data strategy includes:
• Leveraging the expertise of a third-party solutions provider to append and enrich existing first-party data;
• Looking into vendors that “are doing things with content, natural language processing and reviewing pages of web content to tell you about the topics people are interested in”; and
• Analyzing those insights to determine buyer preferences.
Hexaware, an IT services and management company, needed to increase the specificity of its marketing efforts to reach prospects 1:1. The company turned to Influ2, a person-based advertising platform, to help reach decision-makers and influencers at target accounts. It also needed to gain person-level campaign analytics to know which target prospects interacted with which promotions. By combining person-based advertising with hypertargeted marketing assets, Hexaware saw:
• A 4X increase in sales-ready prospects;
• Thousands of target prospects reached monthly; and
• A 10X increase in targeted ad frequency
As an enterprise-level solution, Optimove needed to engage all members of the buying group to close deals. From the ability to target a decision-maker, gauge their interaction and act on that engagement, Influ2’s person-based advertising is empowering Optimove’s marketing and sales teams with insights and helping to shorten their sales cycles.
Founded in 2009 and serving more than 500 brands, Optimove is a multichannel marketing hub on a mission to help enterprises grow. Using AI and cross-channel data to create actionable customer insights and predictive modeling, Optimove drives personalized customer communications at scale.
The company markets to large-scale, direct-to-consumer enterprises from industries as widespread as gaming, telecom and apparel, and its sales cycles are a minimum of 100 days. Being an enterprise-level solution, it is important for Optimove to engage different members of the buying committees at its target accounts as soon as possible. Optimove has three different sets of decision makers, or buying groups, that it’s targeting:
• Decision makers: Executive-level individuals heading up the relevant departments of the target accounts;
• Influencers: Individuals whose opinion adds lot of the weight during the selection process; and
• Gatekeepers: All the people who need to know your brand to help seal the deal.
Optimove added Influ2 to its tech stack to customize its advertising. The company’s advertising goal was to engage potential customers and inform sales of what these prospects were reading in real-time. Sales then created highly customized emails, whether to schedule a demo or nurture the sales process.
Optimove’s main objective was to move accounts down the engagement funnel through the following stages:
• Unaware: Accounts that don’t know Optimove;
• Aware, not ready: Accounts that only had two or less engagements with buying group members via marketing in the last quarter; and
• Aware, ready: Accounts with two or more engagements with buying groups members via marketing in the last quarter, which triggers a sales handoff.
Adi Hagag, Director, Marketing Growth and Ops for Optimove, iterated that the last stage doesn’t denote a marketing qualified lead (a term that the company doesn’t use). Instead, the message to sales is: “There has been some engagement with the buying group members of this account. Let’s try to engage them based on their interests.” This helps sales to engage and potentially move them into the engaged stage, where they’ve responded to emails and discussions have progressed to an open opportunity.
Optimove has integrated Influ2 directly into HubSpot and then uses Zapier to automatically send engagement to Slack. The automation of this communication gives sales insight to act on engagement in a timely way and for the company to truly customize its responses. For example, if a COO were to click on an ad, the account executives could reach out. But, if the prospect is a CEO, Optimove’s dedicated CEO team would make the connection.
Person-based advertising also allows Optimove to hone and target its messaging to prospects across different stages of the funnel. From classic brand messaging at the top of the funnel, to customer and market reviews at the deal stage, Hagag and his team can “crank up the heat with every single engagement.”
Hagag explained that in terms of the classic metrics — impressions, click-through rates (CTR) and engagement — Influ2 has been a “game changer” for Optimove, because “not only are the numbers up, which is what you would expect, but because we’re now targeting a more interesting message to a more interested party.
“The most important part is that we’re completely filtering out all the non-interested parties, (the people that work for the company but would never be our target), so they’re no longer muddying the waters,” Hagag continued. “Even if I get the exact same CTR from my existing platform to Influ2, it will still mean that my true CTR is much, much, much higher. Why? Because if I only count true CTR as that which was gained from an interested target — then we’re talking about an exponential number.”
Optimove is in the process of building a data lake and automating the KPI analysis using the Optimove hub, including direct lead attribution. Specifically, because of its efforts, Optimove saw:
• A 2X lift in ad performance; and
• 100% influence on pipeline deals.
The B2B industry is making strides in shedding the infamous “business to boring” stereotype and setting its sights on creating engaging content. For advertising campaigns specifically, practitioners are tasked to stand out in a sea of banner advertisements and blanket-type content that casts a wide net.
“Generic ads or sponsored content have seen a considerable drop in performance, which stems from lower attention spans, more content and unique/multiple formats for users to garner information,” said Kembhavi. “Campaigns based on user journeys, customer intent and understanding where they might be in their search have done well for us.”
She continued that Evalueserve has seen success by creating campaigns that control the narrative of the information consumed by customers. For example, Kembhavi pointed to creating custom landing pages for traffic driven by LinkedIn ads targeting a specific industry versus directing them to a homepage.
Additionally, another advertising medium growing in adoption is the use of connected TV (CTV) marketing, which targets prospects in a B2C-esque way: Right on their Smart TV.
“TV has given B2B advertisers access to the TV screen in a way that linear TV never could,” said Ali Haeri, VP of Marketing for MNTN. “Linear TV didn’t have the features that B2B brands needed, from precise targeting to comprehensive measurement. These brands were mainly stuck with contextual alignment (and relegated to Sunday afternoon golf). Precision targeting allows them to get granular, targeting by job title or industry. And since CTV has transformed TV into a performance channel, B2B brands can know that each impression is reaching who it should and driving their KPIs.”
A subscription-based SaaS platform wanted to reach users who had shown interest in learning a new language, so it turned to MNTN’s advanced targeting capabilities, as well as its precise reporting to help measure success, to target buyers. The company wanted to reach prospects who purchased similar products over the last six months and leveraged MNTN’s geo-specific targeting to identify the correct buyers. As a result of its efforts, the company:
• Achieved 2X return on ad spend;
• Reached more than 932K viewers;
• Generated almost 10K site visits and more than 960K total page views.
Another caveat of advertising strategies is determining the best platform to reach buyers on. While there are thousands of articles discussing best practices and most popular channels, the “right” channel varies from prospect to prospect.
“The mix of ideal advertising tactics truly depends on where the target audience ‘hangs out;’ it’s not so much about what the coolest/up-and-coming platform to try is,” said FVM’s Murphy. “Where the audience ‘hangs out’ can be anywhere from reading top industry news alerts daily and attending in-person tradeshows for their industry, to reading an industry print publication or using a social media platform like LinkedIn.”
Once the most audience-appropriate platform is chosen, practitioners can then shift their focus to targeting buyers across those channels. Kembhavi explained that practitioners need to leverage a combination of tactics to determine content placement and identify which types of content resonate most strongly with buyers across different stages of the purchasing journey.
“The best way to implement a cross-channel strategy and think beyond traditional platforms is to create detailed buyer personas, choose channels that complement each other, create unified customer data (through platforms like CDPs), generate content based on user journeys and always integrate your data across all channels to evaluate your campaigns,” Kembhavi continued.
Additionally, the experts explained that pay-per-click (PPC) tactics are a key component to layer on top of a marketing mix.
“PPC provides deep targeting capabilities at a relatively low cost,” said Murphy. “Paid search advertising always will be a top recommendation, as it reaches that audience of people who are actively searching for a solution to a problem. If your business can help solve that problem, you need to be in that conversation with Google Search Ads. But it’s truly reaching prospects across several varied tactics that wins the day.”
When BASF Pest Control Solutions increased its product portfolio, it needed a smart plan to market the line and support its highly focused sales team. Once the content was created, the company then turned to FVM to broadcast it across different channels and mediums.
After being syndicated across trade publication print advertising, banner ads, pay-per-click, email marketing, webinars and event strategy, the efforts generated a varied portfolio of 70 products to a wider audience of pest management professionals.
For B2B advertising, practitioners are tasked with balancing prospects’ demands for relevance with their desire for anonymity. As the best channels and platforms for advertising continue to evolve and shift around in terms of buyer preferences, the core basics of advertising will always remain the same.
“Although the individual topics change over time, uncovering and hitting on your target audiences’ pain points plays a huge role in holding attention and promoting engagement,” said Murphy. “Getting to the bottom of what your target audience truly cares about is one of the most important steps to getting your advertising messaging right. Advertising that hits on the true pain points of the day, whatever those may be, will interest and engage every time.”