Who Said B2B Is Boring?

Having worked with more B2B companies recently, I am noticing that many brands, while they have dipped their toe in the digital waters, have not leveraged the medium fully. While industry-targeted publications are on the media plan, there is now an expansion to include its online arm. While this allows relatively simple integration, there are challenges: triple digit CPMs, lack of inventory, clutter against direct competitors, and few options for creative executions beyond standard banners or “packages” already defined. All of these factors are not ideal and certainly not going to move the needle to create impact and engagement on behalf of a target audience.

What can be done to change this? A lot, and if done right, a lot more. In my opinion, the golden rule for consumer-based advertising within the digital space should apply to B2B advertising as well, and that is to continuously test. Test different strategies, tactics, messaging, media, measurement, etc. Consumption patterns and trends are continuously changing; just because something works one day, certainly does not mean it will work forever, so being able to stay ahead of the curve is essential in advertising – particularly true of digital, which is so accountable. Testing is crucial.

Setting a few fundamentals in place will truly help to grow the overall reach and engagement with your brand, without setting you back a ton of additional dollars – just used more efficiently.

  • Measurement. While many B2B brands understand the importance of analytics, it is important not to track advertising efforts exclusively through a website analytics tool alone, but ensure when launching campaigns to use an ad server such as DoubleClick, Atlas, MediaMind, etc. By doing this and establishing your key performance indicators off of overall objectives, ad servers help to accurately see the picture of a consumer’s interaction with your brand and how it relates back to the engagement they have with your brand, post-click or post-impression.

    Also, it is necessary to stay current on additional integration opportunities launched through analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnels, its attribution modeling tool. Looking at the whole picture allows you to optimize the media, but also to see how users interact with your website on a larger scale in regards to conversion and user experience, as this is all part of the process in being able to refine and optimize. You can work on the media end to drive traffic to a website; however, if the website is not working well, then your media plan is a fruitless effort.

  • Display advertising. Retargeting has created an opportunity to target a message to your specific audience, while ensuring no waste beyond users who have been to your website, searched for a highly qualified term, received your email, or seen your banner on one of the vertical websites you are already advertising on – pending on the type of retargeting being used. While retargeting does not increase overall reach, it allows potential consumers to receive your message in an unexpected environment. This is probably the most positive feedback I have received from clients, publishers, and targeted consumers – the ability to have the opportunity to target something so specific to them while they were checking their mail, sports scores, shopping, etc. There is a more widespread knowledge of this occurring within the consumer world, but I have found that the element of surprise is still highly engaging within the B2B environment.

    Also, many advertising networks specialize in B2B targeting options based on industry, SIC codes, company size, occupational area, title, etc. These are all technically done through some form of behavior users have exhibited online and cannot guarantee exact accuracy that someone not in the B2B targeted area sees your online ad, so if there is a high degree of necessity to qualify the target, it may not be the best option for you, but is worth investigating prior to making the decision.

  • Data integration. Many B2B companies set a foundation of lead generation, which heavily entails direct mail and email. Through data integration today, you have the ability to match cookies with email and direct mail lists – all non-personally identifiable to target these users or develop lookalike models.
  • Search engine marketing. According to the Google research study “Incremental Clicks Impact Of Search Advertising” released this summer, paid search advertising drives 89 percent of incremental traffic from search engines. While results may vary by vertical and advertiser pending on a multitude of factors, there is an opportunity to increase website traffic by testing paid search keywords. These could be keywords of your brand, a competitor’s, or targeted keywords often used by customers that drive website traffic through SEO or are highly mentioned in message boards and forums. The beauty of only paying when someone is qualified enough to click on your ad is alone reason enough to test and try – see what encourages clicks, what leads to conversion, and continually testing new keywords, ad copy, and landing pages is always helpful at identifying new opportunities.

    Also, beyond the major search engines, there are opportunities for search advertising on more niche platforms like Business.com or directories.

  • Social media marketing. While there are many things you can do from a general social media marketing standpoint, such as monitoring, I will focus on paid opportunities to leverage. LinkedIn is an obvious choice, as it is a social networking platform that allows for a granular level of targeting options. However, if you are using other social platforms already, such as Facebook, there is an opportunity to do self-serve ads within the platform, or target users who show close connections to your brand. Additionally, there is an opportunity to target users based on content they are sharing or receiving from others online.
  • Mobile. It is important to consider how your customers are using their mobile devices to search, research, or connect with your brand. From paid search ads specifically set up for mobile, click to call, or geo-fencing options; the rise of smartphones now allows for usage and functionality to be a big part of the solutions you can offer. Do not miss the boat on this. Analytics can provide some insight on the amount of traffic to your website from mobile devices. This is often a great place to start to support the need for budget toward a mobile website or advertising campaign.

While I have mentioned many opportunities for B2B advertising within the digital space, the game is always changing, and in order to continually stay ahead of competitors, it is necessary to not evaluate media in a silo. With a little brainstorming and creative thinking, there are always new opportunities and options to try and test, or at least consider. Never be afraid to mix it up; clients and customers will appreciate the creativity.

Amy is off today. This column was originally published on Sept. 28, 2011 on ClickZ.

Related reading