Three Reasons Advertising Isn’t the B2B Branding Answer

Ahh, brand. You want a strong brand, right? A strong brand opens doors for sales. It puts your company on the short list.

The Problem: Advertising will not create this brand. Not today. Not in B2B.

You are selling an experience good. Before someone buys (and even for a period of time after), whether they are choosing an advertising agency or an ERP solution, they do not know the value. They have not worked with you yet, they have not used your product. No demo, trial or consultative sales process can change this.

  • Your prospect is doing their own research. Google is the gateway to editorial, blogs and content published by you and your competitors. More information is available every day and this information quickly overturns conflicting impressions created by advertising. This information is far more influential than the advertising message within your direct control.
  • Your buyer is finding you. Yes, being the first brand that comes to mind in the category will help them find you. But buyers do their homework and discover potential providers. When your solution is discovered, what do they discover about it first? You need to create a positive discovery.
  • Your future customer is connecting with your current customers. Customers that have experienced your product are the ultimate reference. They have used it, can validate assumptions and provide insight into its value. Due to the rise of social media and user generated content, prospects can connect directly with customers, bypassing your careful selection of reference clients. Site like ITToolbox.com and Spiceworks.com have extensive forum discussions about actual product usage and experience with providers.

These impressions of your brand are far more powerful than a traditional advertising campaign and they happen before your prospect ever connects with sales.

Advertising isn’t the answer to your brand dilemmas. Instead, focus on influencing these far more powerful drivers of your brand perception.

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  • http://brainseason.wordpress.com brainseason

    Eric – I think this feels instinctively right – it’s what I think of as working our way into the circle of trust (http://www.b2bmarketinginsider.com/strategy/the-circle-of-trust-in-b2b-marketing).

    Do you think advertising still plays an important component of the discovery process, even though it doesn’t carry nearly as much “klout” in driving brand perceptions?

    Bill Strawderman @brainseason

    • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com Eric Wittlake

      Brian, I saw the Circle of Trust on Michael Brenner’s blog earlier this week, I really like this concept.

      I do think advertising can play an important role, yes. Media companies have your audience, and for a cost, you can get access to them. However, rather than a traditional branding campaign, where your advertising message and creative do impact perception (and I still believe they can), in some B2B markets, use that space to connect and start down one of the paths that creates a stronger impression of your company. A guest post i wrote on LaurenOnDemand.com gives more information on opportunities I see to apply an inbound marketing mindset to traditional outbound marketing channels.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • http://jlwatsonconsulting.typepad.com/my-blog/ James Watson, Portland, Maine

    Eric, great point – I heartily agree! (hey, even if I didn’t agree with you, it would still be a great point! :)

    Back in the pre-web, and pre-SM era, the primary source of information that customers had, was advertising. So we drank it all in, because we had no other choice.

    Today, advertising has taken a back seat to so many other channels of information (and in some cases, advertising has even been stuffed into the trunk, if not thrown out of the car completely!)

    I expect the investments made in push advertising will gradually be migrated over to a more customer-focused “listening first, engaging second” approach through the various social media channels.

    Thanks again for the Article, Eric!

    Jim Watson
    http://bit.ly/efrxOg

    • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com Eric Wittlake

      Jim, thanks for the kind words. Advertising, when the marketer completely controls the message, simply can’t compete with the influence of real experiences shared by others, can it?

      I discovered your blog through your comment here for the first time, I really like your perspective, thanks!

  • Mirko Mueller-Goolsbey

    Thanks Eric for your thoughts. I’d like to pick up on your response to Brian as it pertains to advertising.

    Like in any other form of communication, if advertising fails to create a conversation, spark a dialogue, challenge a convention or ask and answer difficult questions, it simply fails. On the other hand, if you use advertising well and manage to start a conversation at scale, if none of your other touch points are connected to the same truth (and I include products/services here) in the prospects’ mind the brand will fall short. Think about Toyota For Good campaign. Fantastic idea, which I wouldn’t call advertising but connecting with individuals on a deeply social level. Now, unfortunately this great idea coincided with Toyota’s recall nightmare, overshadowing all the good things Toyota was up to.

    At the end, if you start from a place of relevancy and value, and connect individuals with ideas, thoughts and opinions that are being thread and continued throughout all communication layers, advertising can scale your targeted conversation opportunities. But you need to be ready to provide relevancy and value at every touch point, otherwise your brand fails. No matter if it is advertising, PR, DM, SM, or Sales.

    Good discussion Eric and sorry to be late to it.

    Mirko

    • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com Eric Wittlake

      Mirko, thanks for the comment. Well said and I agree, advertising needs to create a dialogue or other more impactful touchpoint. If the last impression made was simply an advertising impression, the impact is already gone. If it sparked a conversation, the impact is much longer lasting.

      I would argue that advertising can drive growth, but it not the key to influencing prospects. Advertising drives scale around more meaningful touchpoints, but those touchpoints still exist, with lower frequency and impacting fewer potential buyers, without advertising. In this environment, advertising amplifies the impact but it isn’t the real source of it.

      Look forward to carrying the discussion on in the future, and thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it!