Agencies Tap Into B-to-C Skills to Land B-to-B Clients

Data Often Does the Talking in a B-to-B Client Pitch

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Credit: Taylor Callery for Ad Age

As the line between b-to-b and b-to-c marketing continues to blur, predominantly consumer agencies that are starting to take on business marketing clients are finding that what it takes to win that business isn't all that different -- with a few exceptions.

Agencies find that businesses that primarily market to other businesses still do take a bit more hand-holding, need a bit more time and -- of course -- plenty of data before moving forward on a campaign or signing on with an agency. But overall they are still marketers and, more importantly, people and it is these truths that are winning the day for agencies that have historically served consumer clients.

Having clients like Coke, Daffy's, Chanel, and Bacardi didn't exactly hamper Johannes Leonardo in its recent win of large b-to-b client, but it did take some specific convincing.

The agency had started doing some b-to-b marketing work with Google and YouTube, mostly to help showcase how business marketers can use the respective sites to help as part of a media spend. It was this work that helped the agency land "a well-known Fortune 200 company in the northeast," earlier this year; the agency's first, pure-play b-to-b company, according to Johannes Leonardo CEO Mike Duda. He declined to reveal who the new client was, but said they share a problem that many b-to-b companies face.

"They are such a left-brained company and don't have a large track record of doing much external marketing and they realized that when they did it was hard to shape their own story," said Mr. Duda. "Like a lot of b-to-b marketers, they want to become more consumer friendly. Really strong agencies have the ability to solve business problems, the art of going about it is not all that different. That said, it helps that we are doing more b-to-b type work with YouTube and Google and even Coke. Yeah we want more people to drink Diet Coke, but we want to make bottlers and distributors happy too."

For an agency like Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, winning b-to-b clients like Cisco and Seagate within the past couple of years wasn't all that different from how it pitched Frito-Lay, Corona or the California Milk Processor board; it has a track record of effective and creative work to lean on. There was, however, more data involved.

"The key thing that helped us in the Cisco pitch was we had detailed research results on work we were proposing. B-to-b companies won't do something because we say so or think it's the right thing to do, we have to heavily use data to show that the creative solutions we want to put forward are going to work. We also gave them a story that makes sense, like any other client," said Goodby's Worldwide Group Account Director John Coyne. "One thing we've been able to do with our b-to-b clients is proving that marketing work with an emotional, human element is more effective than the traditional b-to-b path of rationale and numbers or hard facts. We did a lot of research around the world with C-level executives and it's the same process where we win consumer business. Instead of recruiting moms or teenagers, we recruited C-level executives. Other than that, our approach isn't different."

Establishing that emotional, human element in a b-to-b marketing effort, as Mr. Coyne says, is something that RAPP had become quite familiar with in its recent work with chip maker AMD. With the majority of its marketing steeped b-to-b, AMD with RAPP's help took a more consumer-oriented approach to help turn around the company's slumping revenue as it had been under pressure from declining PC sales and strong competition from rival Intel.

Using the tagline "If It Can Game," the chip maker launched its first consumer-facing campaign in January. The global campaign used print, digital and in-store ads to deliver the message that if its processor chips can make the most graphic-intensive games more enjoyable, it can deliver a better experience in any device a consumer uses that needs a chip.

Making the pivot from b-to-b to b-to-c wasn't much of a challenge for RAPP, in fact it was "almost organic" according to the agency's CMO and Managing Director Tracey Brown.

"Our perspective, is we've always had our focus at the customer level. Understanding their needs, how to add value, all of those things are part of our DNA," said Ms. Brown. "With AMD what we tried to do is balance the push and the pull of marketing. We knew if we could help them understand the power behind the processors they could walk into a retailer and demand an AMD product. It didn't take much of a pivot to get their CMO on board with idea that the power lies with the consumer. This is a natural evolution of how consumers are behaving and thinking."

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