How to Keep B2B Marketing Simple and Focused

4 lessons learned from years of trial and error

B2B advertisers need to focus on the fundamentals before getting ahead of themselves when strategizing. Getty Images
Headshot of Brian Stern

Since I started in media over 20 years ago, I’ve been hearing the same thing from my B2B clients: “I can’t prove our efforts are having any impact on the business.” Or to quote the overused Wanamaker quote, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

A lot has changed in the last 20 years, but the B2B attribution problem still persists, mostly because a lot of B2B advertisers don’t transact online. It’s not a problem easily solved since there are far too many complicating factors to seamlessly connect advertising to real-world B2B transactions.

So what do we do? How about this: Let’s stop trying to solve this problem.

Instead, let’s refocus our energies on B2B efforts we can track and measure. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I have learned some valuable lessons that shape my recommendations. There are four basic rules I employ in putting together a solid brief that can lead to trackable results.

Rule #1: Custom content is not always the answer

One of the most ubiquitous phrases of the last 10-plus years in B2B marketing is “thought leadership.” This manifests in every B2B brand scrambling to create custom content via white papers, microsites, advertorials, town criers, sponsored sections of sites, publications, etc.

There are only two fundamental objectives B2B advertising should focus on before creating any grandiose branding efforts: bringing your product into the consideration set and/or generating leads.

I’m not against custom content in its entirety, but I’m suggesting it’s not the solution to all brand challenges. It certainly should not be the first thing brand managers and media strategists jump to in response to every brief. Simply put, does every business decisionmaker looking for an equipment finance solution need a four-minute case study video and a series of thought-leader pieces on cash flow management? No, they do not. Never be more complex than needed to prove your relevance and expertise.

Rule #2: Focus on what you really want from your audience

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Ad tech has dramatically improved our ability to measure every detail of our campaigns. But here’s a basic question: How many data points do you need to know something is a tree? Sure, we can easily come up with hundreds of data points about a tree. In reality, however, we only need a couple to confidently say, “Hey, that’s a tree.” We often get caught up in measuring anything and everything we can. We then suffer from data overload, spending countless hours debating how to optimize for clicks and shares and form fills and cost per download and bounce rate and engagement and… Then we worry about aided versus unaided awareness, favorability and familiarity. What was the campaign objective again? Simplify, my friends, simplify. Focus on what you really want from your audience. Do not chase ancillary metrics just because they sound cool.

Rule #3: Target intent before targeting demographic profiles

Our audiences are smaller than you think. A job title alone does not make a prospect qualified. They are only relevant to you and, more importantly, you are only relevant to them when they are in the market for your product. Today, it’s easy enough to identify intent signals from online behavior to understand when a prospect is most likely to be receptive to your message. This is where efforts should be focused.

Rule #4: Set pragmatic goals and stick to them

Advertising can’t solve everything. There are only two fundamental objectives B2B advertising should focus on before creating any grandiose branding efforts: bringing your product into the consideration set and/or generating leads. Awareness metrics don’t matter if there is no intent. And your advertising won’t close a sale. The best you can do is exhibit relevance in a time of need. The rest is up to the sales team.

B2B marketing is not easy, but it’s not rocket science either. Like most things in life, it comes down to simplicity and focus. These four basic rules help to maintain both.

Brian Stern is group director for The Media Kitchen.