Be honest. Is your advertising devitalized, dull, or just plain failing? If yes, it could result from over-reliance on the product and underperforming creative.
Creativity and science have never been mutually exclusive. New drug advances, life-changing research, discoveries, and breakthroughs: it’s a fact – science is innovative and exciting. Why, then, does scientific B2B advertising rarely reflect this vibrancy?
Changing from product-focused to emotive advertising is a business leap of faith. But, thought-provoking ideas from industry experts prove that adopting B2C approaches pays off in market growth, profit, and mental availability.
Time then to look beyond the confines of B2B and do things differently.
Stop self-limiting behaviors
B2B has much to learn from B2C, particularly when it comes to creative advertising.
LinkedIn’s B2B Institute analysis showed that of 600 B2B tech ads, ‘71% had no effect on market share growth 6 months or more past an ad’s initial showing’. And recent B2B and System1 research to determine creative effectiveness showed that 75% of B2B ads score only 1 star on a scale of 1-5.
These are sobering statistics. And prove something that the B2B Institute has long been saying—that B2B’s over-reliance on rational product-centric advertising (what Peter Weinberg calls ‘product delusion’) is the very practice limiting the effectiveness of B2B customer communications.
In Lemon, his influential book on the decline of advertising, Orlando Wood discusses creative limitation. Wood posits that the rise of more linear, factual, abstractive advertising is part of the widespread societal adoption of ‘left-brain thinking’. The left-brain favors’ [s]tandardisation, centralisation and categorisation’, and these tendencies reflect in advertising that focuses on words, clarity, and certainty.
Wood argues that to stand-out, grow your brand, and build brand recognition, you must entertain and sustain attention by adopting right-brain principles. Right-brain thinking uses humor, metaphor, relationships, and contexts to explain and understand the world.
B2C companies are less opposed to employing tactics like emotion, characters, and storytelling. In other words, a right-brain approach.
Emotion, characters, creativity, help brands come to mind more easily in buying situations (see Byron Sharp’s ‘mental availability’). So the more powerful your creative is, the more buying situations abound and sales are made.
The value of creativity, or things to tell the CFO
Nielsen’s analysis of 500 campaigns in 2017 found that creative was the biggest factor affecting the sales outcome of a campaign (see illustration). And Peter Weinberg of LinkedIn’s B2B Institute agrees; ‘[c]reative is the biggest driver of financial performance and is a major multiplier on profits’.
Kantar’s analysis ranks creative quality as the second largest driver of advertising profitability (after brand size), while research from the Ehrenberg Institute suggests that great creative is 10-20 times more effective at driving sales.
Binet and Field note that: ‘Emotional campaigns, and in particular those that are highly creative and generate fame/buzz effects, produce considerably more powerful long-term business effects than rational persuasion campaign’.
Furthermore, research carried out by System1 using campaigns and business data from the IPA Effectiveness Databank showed that advertising eliciting feelings achieved profound and positive business results, including ‘in-market penetration gain, share gain and reductions in price sensitivity’.
For further proof, here’s a B2B success story:
|Maersk, the Marvellous
In 2016, Maersk, a B2B company and the world's biggest container shipping company, reported a loss of $1.9bn. The same year, the company announced a reinvention by adding logistics and supply chain management to its portfolio.
Maersk's marketing plans encompassed a five-year brand-building plan with increased spending. To make this new direction successful, it eschewed traditional B2B tactics. Instead, Maersk used B2C strategies, including PR, innovative media planning, and alternative ways to better understand customer behaviours in and out of work. The creative concepts were humorous, fun, and imaginative and used storytelling to change brand perceptions.
The B2C approach helped drive a net profit of $18bn in 2021 and Maersk won multiple marketing awards, including a B2B Grand Prix from Cannes Lions, and appeared in Time Magazine's 100 most influential companies in 2021 and 2022.
We’ve given examples of what not to do, so what makes a good ad? Below are some best practice principles of creative advertising that can be applied to B2B work:
- Branding and distinctive elements.
- Branding and distinctive assets should feature prominently, regularly, and early on in your ad (‘Anatomy of a Great B2B Ad’). Don’t fall into the trap of having them only appear on the end card.
- This Liberty Mutual ad is a great example of branding – see how many branding opportunities are present in the first frame alone.
- Use creative that integrates with the branding – like Coco-Cola’s branded Christmas delivery truck where the creative is designed around the branding.
- Use scenarios and copy that provoke positive emotions.
- The most important emotion to elicit is happiness; surprise is a close second (see LinkedIn’s analysis).
- Also, consider the intensity of emotion.
- Characters or fluent devices.
- ‘Fluent devices’ carried over from advert to advert help viewers recognise something quickly. Great fluent devices deliver positive emotion more quickly.
- Examples of fluent devices include characters, like Meerkats and Salesforce’s Astro (see the ‘living’) , or straplines, like ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’.
- Music or soundtrack.
- Good music has a powerful effect on positive emotions (see LinkedIn’s analysis).
- All music must match the sentiment of the ad.
- Buying situations, context, and storytelling.
- All advertising needs to link to ‘situational awareness’. Customers need to connect your ads to how and why they will buy your products, so invest in campaigns that showcase your core buying situations.
- Focus on citing your products in societal or medical contexts to make them relevant, interesting, and alive (rather than listing product features).
- Create memories and commit to your creation: run campaigns for longer and use more channels.
- Say no to stop-and-start advertising campaigns and disposable ads.
Being creative and using tactics such as storytelling and characters to build emotion into advertising campaigns pays dividends by creating memory structures that, in turn, make your brand memorable. This memorability helps you be the brand of choice and therefore gets you more market share.
A final word from a customer’s perspective
It is tempting to view B2B customers solely through a B2B-business lens. But remember that these people who buy toothpaste, holidays, and home insurance are also your customers. Your B2B audience is already aware of and moved by B2C creative advertising. So why not B2B creative advertising too?
A creative approach elicits emotions, creates memories, and increases market share.
So, what’s stopping you? Be more creative!