The voice-over announcer explains that the chain of trucks is
part of Genco Services in McAllen, Texas. "In here, heavy-rental
equipment in the middle of nowhere is always headed somewhere." A
computer screen shows a truck's ID number, time of arrival and
location. A guy in the field pulls out his cellphone and pushes a
button -- and up comes a map with trucks arriving at the home
office at that same time and location. "AT&T created a
mobile-asset solution to protect and track everything. So every
piece of equipment knows where it is and how it's doing and where
it goes next," the announcer says.
Another campaign, for GE, shows how the company's industrial
prowess brings other companies' consumer products to life. A TV
spot features a guy who helps make turbines at its Schenectady,
N.Y., plant and borrows consumer-ad techniques such as storytelling
to show the worker up close and personal. "When I was a kid, I
wanted to work with my hands," the worker tells us. "That was my
thing. I really enjoy building turbines. It's nice to know that
what you're building is going to do something for the world."
Then he switches to a product we can relate to. "When people
think about GE, they don't think about beer. A lot of people may
not realize that the power needed to keep their Budweiser cold and
even to make their beer comes from turbines made right here."
Cut to a local bar. "So you guys make the beer?" a patron asks
him. "No, we make the power that makes the beer," our GE worker
Today's B2B marketers need to approach their business target as
a person with a story to tell, not just a buyer of their products.
That realization has had a profound effect on the creative approach
-- B2B marketers don't sell nuts and bolts anymore, they are more
likely to emphasize emotional reasons for buying their
Bob Felsenthal, publisher of Crain's BtoB
magazine, doesn't believe that B2B marketing has morphed into
consumer marketing. What has changed, he says, is that the business
prospect is now engaged on all types of content channels, so
there's a need for business communications to be relevant
"anywhere, anytime." Social media makes any interaction a two-way
conversation, and word-of -mouth is now much faster and potentially
"But at the end of the day, B2B is still a very different
messaging, sales cycle, language and feel than business-to-consumer
marketing. Even if it has emotional pull and humor, it needs to be
business-relevant as well. And often it needs real vertical
industry understanding, context and messaging," Bob told me.
When my father, G.D. Crain Jr., started Class, the forerunner of
BtoB magazine, in 1916, he boasted in a "why we are here"
editorial: "We don't know a blooming thing about general
Back then you didn't need to know, because industrial
advertising was distinct from consumer advertising. But today the
same products often serve both B2B users and consumers, so
advertising often plays dual roles as well.
Al Ries, a former president of the old Association of Industrial
Advertisers, said since high-use products like personal computers,
smartphones, printers and scanners are purchased by both business
and consumer users, most companies prefer one campaign appealing to
Even with products sold primarily in the B2B marketplace, ad
messages are being consumed in many places away from the offices,
and B2B customers are seizing control of the conversation.
"Companies are getting amazing results by letting their customers
do their marketing for them," said Rob Fuggetta, CEO of Zuberance,
an agency that helps marketers harness brand advocates on social
What's more, B2B marketers are generating leads themselves on
their own websites. Customer testimonials and webinars can be
posted on YouTube. Spreadsheet templates, RFPs and catalogs can
live on scribd.com. Frequently asked questions can be debriefed
about a conference in an audio interview that becomes a podcast,
consultant Paul Gillin told BtoB magazine.
Whether or not you agree that B2B and business-to-consumer
marketing are coming closer together, B2B has come a long way since
The National Industrial Advertising Association's founding in 1922.
The NIAA, now the Business Marketing Association, recently
celebrated its 90th anniversary.
My dad and Keith Evans, advertising and sales promotion manager
of steel distributor Joseph T. Ryerson & Co., were prime movers
behind the NIAA formation. My dad said, "There never was a clearer
example of a need than the case of the National Industrial
Advertising Association. All through the country industrial
advertisers were groping for information, so they rallied to the
colors, and it was not long before we had the largest advertising
association in point of numbers in the world."
Their numbers are still growing. BMA has 2,450 members, up 12%
over last year. The association is expanding with conferences in
Beijing and London, and Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-CMO at Motorola
Solutions and chairman of BMA, sees marketers taking a broader
role. "For decades, marketers functioned in task-oriented roles --
product launches, lead generation and media hits," he wrote in
BMA's 90th-anniversary program. "But today we need a more strategic
perspective that reflects the impact marketing has on the
organization as a whole." He sees the marketing function as "the
seamless conduit that connects everyone" in the company.
My dad and Keith Evans (whom my brother was named after) were
best friends and did a lot more than cook up trade associations.
Dad and Keith and their families (including my brother and me)
would go fishing in Canada every summer, and I vividly recall Keith
Evans cooking his famous fish chowder for our shore lunches. More
than 50 years later, my wife, Merrilee, and I, along with Al Ries
and his wife, Mary Lou, still enjoy those shore lunches and great
bass fishing at the exact same spot.