B2B Marketing Has a Perception Problem

Do you care if potential prospects see your services as high value or a complete rip-off? Of course you do.

This is about the perception each individual has about you. This is about your brand.

Perceptions are created by experience with your products, service and people, through what other people say about you (even competitors) and through your own marketing.

No one buys from a company they distrust or pays a premium for a solution they see as a low cost provider.

However, in B2B, the value of perceptions have been set aside, in favor of the new holy grail of B2B marketing: lead generation.

B2B Marketing’s Lead Generation Focus

B2B marketers are pitching white papers, webinars and other content at every turn. Even traditional “branding” venues are filled with lead generation offers and publishers are bundling traditional media programs with lead generation. Here are three examples from magazines or proposals that are within arms reach on my desk.

  • In a recent logistics magazine, 60% of the full page ads are lead generation focused.
  • More than 80% of the full page ads in a recent enterprise technology magazine are lead generation!
  • A recent proposal offers full page ads bundled with lead generation for only a few hundred dollars more than the publisher’s similar lead generation program alone.

Today’s approaches to marketing and measurement are giving marketers tunnel vision. All they see are leads. Here are the issues that may be blinding you today.

1. Focusing on Linear Results Measurement

Marketing measurement starts when a contact is captured and continues as contacts move into and through the sales pipeline. Any marketing that does not directly deliver contacts or move contacts through the purchase process in an observable way is not valued in this environment.

Marketing that increases awareness of your solutions, positions it against competitors or introduces your offering, but does not deliver leads, is ignored by today’s measurement.

Holistic measurement is hard and it can be expensive. But if you don’t embrace it you will miss these opportunities.

2. Using Marketing Automation for Demand Creation

Marketing automation has significantly improved your ability to educate and create demand within an identified and receptive audience.

However, marketing automation works with identified audiences only and can completely miss today’s self-directed buyer.

If pipeline and revenue fall short, marketers turn to lead generation to feed the marketing automation machine and in doing so you may completely miss the real issues causing the shortfall.

This Is Not Just About B2B Advertising

Yes, advertising is one way marketers can broadly distribute a message, but the focus on lead generation is impacting marketers approach to social media, content marketing and events as well.

It is time for marketers to get back to developing a marketing strategy and creating demand instead of capturing contacts.

Your Turn

Is creating and changing an audiences perceptions a missed opportunity in B2B marketing or a relic from the Mad Men era that is no longer relevant today? What perception is today’s marketing creating? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Thank you to Casey Carey (@caseycarey) and Michael Brenner (@brennermichael) for a twitter exchange that inspired the overall topic for this article.
Photo Credit: Day 55/365 by Яah33l on Flickr

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About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs at Babcock & Jenkins. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my B2B Digital Marketing blog.

  • carmenhill

    Great points, Eric. I’ll be looking for a follow-up post on holistic measurement :)

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Thanks for the kind words and the new writing assignment!

  • michaelbrenner

    Great post Eric. You are absolutely right. Everyone is focused on getting more leads, using the same old tactics and our potential buyers in B2B are just looking for a brand that can help them. I call it the “conversant brand” one which stops speaking like a press release and starts answering customer questions.

    And I agree with Carmen, looking forward to your post on holistic measurement.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Thanks Michael! Sounds like everyone is looking for the holistic measurement post. Time to get to work…

  • http://twitter.com/dschulenberg Dara Schulenberg

    Great points Eric. Focusing only on the outcomes of lead gen without understanding and measuring your consumer’s journey holistically is missing key aspects of what matters to your audience and meaningful business opportunities which may exist. Thanks for emphasizing the need for and value of B2B marcom strategy.

  • http://twitter.com/onrampmktg On Ramp Marketing

    Eric –

    You definitely hit on many of the key points I’ve been contemplating for some
    time. The focus on demand generation, while hugely important, has taken almost all attention away from building great B2B brands.

    This issue is not really about a tactic of running “brand” print ads. (BTW, I was surprised by your observations of lead generation focused print advertising. Not only is it hard to measure, it really isn’t a very effective way to spend money.) The issue at hand is more foundational. It is about telling the company’s story. It is about having a unifying purpose – a brand promise. And, it is about language – words and messaging matter. We are talking about the soul of the company and many of today’s emerging B2B companies seem to be soulless.

    These companies do a great job of creating content, driving demand through the
    funnel, engaging with prospects and customers in social media, all with the single purpose of trying to sell you something in the process. However, the piece that is missing is “Why you do it or what do you stand for?” The human brain does an amazing job of synthesizing and organizing the tons of information we are exposed to everyday. The resulting information is placed into buckets where it can be easily recalled and understood. This process also applies to how we think about companies and their brands. Every brand and every company is known for something, whether you like it or not.

    Here is where it gets interesting. I agree with Michael that today is much more “conversational.” And, while many people say, “You no longer control the message” or “The market will decide what your brand is,” it our responsibility as marketers to build a strong position in the minds of our target market. To build a brand that is
    compelling, relevant, enduring, and most importantly, real. This is the foundation and guiding platform from which conversations occur, marketing programs are developed, and prospects are discovered, nurtured, closed, and retained. Without it, your marketing does not have a soul and competes on a very unsteady platform of undifferentiated sameness. Which from a holistic standpoint, impacts the effectiveness and efficiency of all your marketing indlcuding demand generation.

    Casey

  • http://www.WhitepaperDepot.com/ Daniel Waas

    Hey Eric, I agree with many of your points. Measuring the direct impact of above-the-line media on revenue is hard. Measuring digital channels is easy. This leads to misattribution and budgets gravitating towards digital and direct demand gen. Really interested to see your views on holistic measurement.

    Yet I see many B2B start-ups with small budgets leveraging content marketing to build their brand, unaided by large spend. My take is that if you drive your lead gen efforts through well-written, well-integrated content this can get you a long way towards a positive brand image. But as you say: You need an overarching strategy so that the assets you take to market have a recognizable feel to them.

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  • http://twitter.com/julieitsma Julie Schwartz

    Eric,

    Once again you hit the nail on the head! We see this in our research. An almost myopic focus on lead generation has cost marketers their reputation among members of the C-suite. Senior leadership’s view of marketing is that they are too tactical and lack business acumen. Marketers need to remember that one of their roles is to drive business value for both the company and the customer. This means that in addition to lead generation, marketers must instill an outside-in orientation to drive business strategy and provide insights on customer wants and needs. Marketers must also collaborate with the line of business/P&L owners to innovate and shape new offerings. And of course, marketing must work with the business leaders to determine the right marketing programs and campaigns to execute the business strategy. There is so much more to marketing than generating leads!

    I often wonder why Mad Men has such appeal. There isn’t a likeable character on the show! Perhaps that is the secret to its success? But another explanation is that our world has gotten so complex that we long for the days when marketing was simpler.

    Julie

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  • http://twitter.com/rwrosenquist Roger Rosenquist

    Excellent points and well-said. I believe that in many cases focusing only on lead generation is being driven by a perception that, by doing so, an enterprise can easily short-cut its way to improving its marketing ROI and at the same time eliminate those marketing activities where the return can’t be easily measured, like brand-building and audience perceptions. Good marketers and successful companies know that lead-gen is only one part of a good overall marketing strategy.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Well said, thanks Roger!

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