BtoB

Making a list, checking it twice: gosh, these b-to-b ads sure look nice

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It's that time of year again when we're bombarded by advertising urging us to buy that perfect gift for that special someone. Look at a newspaper, leaf through a magazine, flip through the TV channels; you just can't escape the constant push to run out and buy, buy, buy.

And what is it I'm planning to procure for my loved ones based on all these messages? It seems like a strange list, but I have the strongest urge to buy some uniforms from Aramark for Mom, even if she is retired, and maybe a networking package from Nortel for Dad to tinker with until golf season starts again. I have a warm, fuzzy feeling for Compaq, so I'll probably pick up something for my brother-in-law, and of course any computer stuff under the tree must be branded with Intel. Plus, there's that cool printer from Epson that I heard about on the radio the other day, complete with classical music, which my sister loves, and besides, the letters from her kids will be that much crisper.

These days, people are as likely to hear or see a message targeted at businesses as one targeted at consumers. B-to-b marketers are getting sharper and savvier when it comes to pushing products, and their advertising messages are spreading far and wide. While it's easy to take it for granted after a while, the increasing prevalence of b-to-b advertising is actually pretty amazing, and it's growing rapidly.

The media are shifting and the messages are changing. B-to-b marketers are getting into branding campaigns in an effort to set themselves apart, and they're exploring television, radio, newspapers and business magazines. They're looking into new ways to get their messages heard, to get their corporate images across, and the opportunities are almost boundless.

But there's also a lot of room for error. Just because you can advertise on network television or in a national business magazine doesn't mean you should. It's glitzy, it's glamorous-and it's a gamble.

If you're doing it so you can say you did it, don't. If you look at it as playing with the big boys, forget it. You're not ready yet.

One company that did see its gamble pay off this year was CrossWorlds Software. A small software company, CrossWorlds took a risky, edgy creative strategy-one that drew a fair amount of criticism-and went for it, placing Dewars-style ads of its CEO in business publications including Fast Company, Business Week and Fortune. And it worked because it was risky and edgy-and unusual.

Another great example of an ad that grabs readers' attention and holds it is this year's Sawyer Award winner for Epson America. Created by a team at Ammirati Puris Lintas, and now at DDB Needham on the same account, the ad dubbed "Body Paint" uses a striking image of an athletic woman in a swimsuit to demonstrate the difference in dots per inch in what may be the first explanation of dpi that has made the general reader's eyes focus rather than glaze over. The ad is eye-catching and educational; even better, it sticks in the reader's mind in a way that most ads, whether b-to-b or consumer, don't.

So what will make your b-to-b marketing great? You have to be willing to take risks creatively and financially. And it is expensive; after all, if you're branching out into television and radio, business publications and newspapers, you're buying a lot of eyeballs that don't want or need to see you just to get a few that do. And you have to take the creative risks to make sure people see your ads amid the clutter.

The amazing part of all this is that b-to-b marketers are looking at all these varied options and they are truly viable. Gone-or at least, with any luck, going-are the days of ads featuring a product photo and dense paragraph after dense paragraph of product specs. Those ads had their day and served their purpose. But as the '90s draw to a close, b-to-b marketers, like anyone trying to put out a message, are dealing with a populace with an interest span that can't be measured in minutes.

These days, marketers are looking to e-mail as a killer app, they're exploring branding campaigns to implant their corporate image before pushing their products, and even as the need for attention-grabbing creativity grows, they're putting these campaigns together in less time than it ever took to put together those product-spec ads of old.

As 1998 draws to an end, take time to look back over the past 12 months to see what you've accomplished. Take a look at the changes and how you've adapted and grown. Look at the new marketing tools you're using, and the ones you plan to use next year. Then pat yourself on the back.

From all of us at Business Marketing, have a safe and happy holiday season, and keep us posted on what you're up to in the new year.

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