Business Insights

Business Insights

Why Isn't My B2B Advertising Working?

“B2B advertising doesn’t work.” It’s a statement we hear from business owners too often here at The Marketing Centre. And it’s simply not true. B2B advertising does work - but only when businesses know what they want to achieve before planning and running their advertising campaigns. Understanding why adverts aren’t working and where budgets are being misspent is simple, says marketing director Selina Noton. Businesses who’ve given up advertising must think again.

Here are some more common refrains from business owners, and why they should be questioned.

“We spent a huge amount on advertising and didn’t get a single lead”

“It may be true that a B2B advertising campaign had zero effect, but unless a business has a tracking mechanism in place for the campaign, it will be unable to know for certain”, says Selina. “Too few businesses consider tracking and dismiss their advertising efforts without justification.” For print adverts, a mechanism could consist of a code for customers to quote when contacting a business or a unique URL to track website referrals. Video, display, search and other digital ads can be tracked in multiple ways, giving businesses a rich understanding of campaign effectiveness.

“We advertised in [insert name of generic publication]”

The most unsuccessful ad campaigns run in publications or newspapers not targeted at a business’ market. Often this is due to “that ‘last-minute deal’ an account executive called about. Read: any advertising space sold at a knock-down cost. Selina’s advice? Ignore the price: “If you didn’t know you needed the ad before the sales person called, then you probably don’t need it after they’ve called either.” B2B brands should focus on regional general business publications or national industry-focused titles for better results. Print ads do more than garner sales: they also help to boost brand awareness, engagement and loyalty. And while many claim that print is dead and digital is king, the truth is not quite so definitive—print still matters. A B2B-focused survey from the Association of Business Information and Media Companies recently showed that 96% of respondents read B2B magazines in print, while 45% say they read them at least on a weekly basis. All of which is great news, so long as adverts are well-crafted.

“Our message was about our product/service”

Nobody cares, says Selina: “Readers don’t want to know about a product or a service; they want to know how they can resolve an issue or problem that they have, and whether your product or service can help them to do so.” IBM’s “Smarter Planet” campaign is a good example. The print-digital campaign didn’t go into great detail about the company’s products, but instead recounted stories of how each had helped business owners across the globe. This approach doesn’t only work for large multinationals. “An accountant may, for example, advertise how using their services saves their clients’ time, and possibly reduces their tax burden as the accountant knows the right tax loopholes”, says Selina. It’s sales 101: sell the benefits, not the service.

“It was quite wordy – we have a lot to shout about”

An advertisement must be brief, says Selina - particularly in the B2B space. “Make any blurb on adverts short and punchy. Less is definitely more. If there is some small print, fine: make it small or ask people to look at it online instead of including it on the advert.” While there’s a time and a place for long copy ads – including for unusual products or those requiring great financial commitment – short copy works best for time-poor B2B buyers wanting to cut to the chase.

“We included a picture of our product, and a photo of a suited person, smiling”

Businesses shouldn’t sell products; they should sell dreams, says Selina. “If you sell farm machinery, show a picture of a farm in great working order and not just the machine itself. If you sell a service rather than a product, illustrating benefits can be harder but is still possible. If your ad is conceptual for this reason, ensure it’s not so off the wall that no-one gets it. Try to tie in with the main headline.

Stock images: Not the greatest way to sell a product. Sell the dream instead.

“There’s no harm in using a product photo as an inset, but the remaining space should be used to show how it will make life easier, better or more enjoyable. This applies in both the B2B and B2C markets. Says Selina, “In both the B2B and B2C space, the fundamentals should be the same: we advertise to raise awareness of our product or service, push the benefits, and hopefully drive sales.” So, B2B advertising can and does work, it simply needs to be approached in the right way. Plan your activity, set goals, run the campaign, check if it was a success and make the necessary changes. Selina Noton has over 20 years of B2B marketing experience and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Working across a range of sectors, she has a particular interest in developing solid marketing strategies that include integrated communications plans to increase profit, generate revenue and deliver impressive ROI. To work with a marketing director like Selina in your own business, get in touch.


Written by Richard Hancock

Richard Hancock is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years experience working across the FMCG, Digital Entertainment, Technology & Telecoms industries, both in the UK & overseas.

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