Business-to-Business Advertising

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Long before the term business-to-business advertising was coined, the practice known as "industrial marketing" flourished. Regardless of the name, the goal of the practice is to prime the pump for the sale of a product or service to another business or a government entity. While personal selling is the primary technique for generating B-to-B sales, advertising can reach those who influence corporate buying in a way that a sales representative cannot, and an effective B-to-B ad campaign can help lower selling costs.

Crucial distinctions

Advertising has traditionally taken on a different look when its goal is to persuade a business customer rather than an individual consumer to buy a product or service. Compared with print ads directed at consumers, B-to-B print ads tend to include more information and more visuals of the product or service. Fear-based appeals are common in B-to-B advertising because there is so much at stake.

B-to-B ads also tend to be more technically oriented and more narrowly targeted than consumer advertising, as the advertiser may be attempting to reach a purchasing manager, a design engineer, a chemical engineer, a chief information officer, a department head or a distributor.

Unlike a consumer, who can act individually and sometimes impulsively, a business decision-maker must carefully consider his or her purchase and often has to justify the buying decision. Buying decisions often are made by committees, and advertising is often the best way to communicate the existence of a product to a diverse group of people, all of whom influence purchasing within the target company.

Industrial products—such as telecommunication systems, mid-range computers, office furniture, jet engines and assembly line equipment—are vastly more expensive than most consumer products; the orders are larger, the products more complex and the risk to the purchaser far greater. It is no wonder that the same marketing communications strategies cannot be used for these two very different categories.

Another key difference between consumer and B-to-B advertising is the level of respect each discipline commands. B-to-B advertising was long dismissed as a creative backwater, while consumer advertising was considered glamorous and big budget. TV was the favored medium for consumer advertisers starting in the 1950s. B-to-B advertising put its roots down in print, primarily in highly targeted trade journals and direct mail.

Evolution

In the 1990s, however, multinational advertising agencies whose stock in trade had been consumer advertising began to take on computer, e-commerce, Internet and telecommunication accounts. The work-print ads, TV spots, direct mail or online advertising-was impressive and equal to the work that big agencies did for their consumer clients.

In the 1980s, the early days of high-tech B-to-B advertising, marketers made heroes of their products, banking on the notion that superior technology would allow a product's gadgetry to stand apart from the competition, just as their predecessors at the beginning of the century had done to sell electricity and the telephone. The ads boasted a stupefying laundry list of performance features accompanied by several visuals and daunting blocks of copy. It was dull stuff, but it usually worked.

As the technology revolution accelerated, product life cycles became shorter and technical product distinctions between one competitor and the next all but disappeared. It was no longer the horsepower that mattered, it was the message.

No longer merely dry recitations of product features, the messages being delivered by high-tech B-to-B advertisers today are increasingly focused on benefits to the business customer. Single visual elements tend to dominate. Emulating their consumer counterparts, high-tech B-to-B advertisers in the 1990s began selling on the strength of their brands, not their product features.

The best B-to-B advertisers today present their brand or product messages in fresh, new, surprising and relevant ways. Most important, ads offer a solution to a customer's problem. The solution-based messages have impact, which comes from stating a message in a way people never before considered.

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