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While there is growing scepticism among general management about the value of brand advertising, the truth remains that advertising is crucial to growth. In the B2B industry, marketers might be inclined to believe that while brand advertising might work on the more “irrational consumers” purchasing B2C products. According to research by IPA (UK’s professional association for advertising), B2B marketers believe that their clients are more profoundly rational and describe their decision-making as more hard-headed.
Nonetheless, as time passes, many B2B brands often find growth immensely challenging. This is because when a company first enters a market, sales tend to grow naturally through word-of-mouth and repeat business – so long as its products and services are decent and well-priced.
And if the business is sufficiently innovative, efficient and committed to quality and service, with an energetic sales force, strong organic growth can continue for some time. But eventually most businesses hit an inflection point. Innovation slows. Costs and prices have been driven as low as they can be. The pool of easily exploited business prospects begins to run dry.
According to another research by the B2B Institute titled “The Objectivity Trap”, this is where the inherent bias in the minds of B2B marketing professionals, hold them back. The study explains that by preferring the false-certainties that arise when B2B marketers pretend their business customer is a rational economic agent possessed of stable preferences, businesses are leaving many millions of dollars of potential economic value on the table through an emotional aversion to the use of marketing, psychology and behavioural science.
Garnering top of mind recall crucial to growth
With so many brands out there, it is never easy to get buyers thinking of your brand first during the purchase process. To aid in garnering top-of-mind recall, B2B brands need to turn to advertising. The same study argues that while technological advantage can be copied in months by competitors, it is the psychological connection and monopoly that may endure for years and set a B2B brand apart.
So how does one go about achieving top-of-mind brand recall? One approach is to find relevant, motivating and functional things to promote about a brand’s products and services, and to communicate them clearly. This will result in, primarily, “rational advertising”, with emotions and feelings either secondary or perhaps absent altogether.
The other approach is to create associations between the brand, the buying occasion and a relevant set of emotions and feelings that prime buyers to want to choose the brand. Known as “emotional advertising”, in such forms of advertising, explicit product messages may not be necessary at all.
What matters more is that when people think of the brand, they feel positively towards it, even if they can’t quite say why. Such emotional associations give brands an advantage of being more firmly embedded in memory than functional product messages.
SME buyers, for example, are unlikely to be experts across their range of buying tasks, and are also likely to be time-poor and so are likely to rely heavily on “heuristics” in their choices – much like B2C consumers. Heuristics is a term used by behavioural economists and refers to instances when people choose to make decisions based on mental shortcuts, rather than applying logic and analysis. On the other hand, enterprise buyers may rely on heuristics less, but are still influenced by them, simply because they are human beings.
In B2B marketing, just as in B2C, rational persuasion works well for short-term sales activations because people who are actively buying find product messages interesting and useful. However, the rational approach does not work well for long-term brand building, which requires talking to people before they come to market. These people are much less interested in product information, so they either screen product messages out or quickly forget them.
And, just as in B2C, emotional priming is also a very effective way to communicate for B2B brand building as it does not require people to be actively interested in buying the product, the brand or the category in the moment itself.
So long as the advertising itself is engaging, people will pay attention and remember it. And if it’s well-branded, the ads can evoke appropriate feelings and create the right associations. This can increase demand for the brand as serving time-consuming product messages to people who are not actively buying would be unlikely to ever achieve such a result.
For maximum effectiveness, B2B marketers need to employ both rational and emotional strategies. As experiments in behavioural science have repeatedly shown, value can be created in the mind just as much as it can be created in the physical world.
Long before they come to market, B2B marketers need to start priming potential buyers with emotional, and ideally, famous advertising. When clients are ready for purchase, B2B companies should then serve them with persuasive product messages that help close the deal.
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