The best investments – in finance and marketing – are contrary and right.
In B2B marketing, one of the best investments you can make is top of funnel brand advertising. It’s contrary, as most B2B marketers spend all of their money at the bottom of the funnel. And it turned out to be the way to go, too, given evidence that a brand can add more value over the long term than lead generation tactics.
For a moment, let’s say you are already investing in branding. What else can you do to differentiate yourself from your competition? May we politely suggest that you take a close look at your subject? Because, according to our new research, 77% of B2B creatives are … well … terrible. As in, not effective. As in, * zero * impact on the bottom line. While your campaign is still making a profit, it’s the media that do all the work, not the creatives.
Not only is not being terribly creative, it’s right. Creative is possibly the single most important variable in advertising profitability. According to the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, great creativity is 10 to 20 times better in terms of increasing sales than mediocre creative. And if you can combine great media with great creativity, you can achieve extraordinary growth for your business.
The formula for great B2B creatives
But what exactly is it that makes you creative? And are there creative metrics that correlate with better financial performance?
Before we can answer that, we need to answer a more important question: How does creative branding actually work, and why does it increase sales? Here we have to refer to the work of Professor Jenni Romaniuk and introduce her good friend “spiritual availability”. What exactly is mental availability you ask? To quote Romaniuk: “Mental availability is about getting your brand known in buying situations and thinking easily.”
In other words, the B2B brand that is remembered is the B2B brand that is bought. The marketer’s job is to create long lasting memories for the buyers in the category.
How do you create more memories? Follow three simple creative rules.
Rule 1: More emotions, more growth
The human brain tends to remember emotions and forget about facts. And the stronger the emotions, the stronger the memory.
Applied to B2B marketing: If your ad makes a buyer laugh, cry, or smile, the more likely it is that your message will be recalled in a buying situation. For this reason, our research in 2019 with Les Binet and Peter Field showed that emotional advertising in the B2B sector leads to much longer-term growth than rational advertising. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of emotional advertising in B2B. However, if you look carefully you will find examples.
Our brand measurement partner System1 released this recently published ad by Mastercard, which scored higher than any B2B ad System1 has ever tested for emotional intensity. If you look at the ad you will find that it is an optimistic message that transcends the rational clutter. If you’re looking to pull on a buyer’s heart, furry pets remain a reliable bet.
And if you want more growth, you have to make your buyers feel like they are.
Rule 2: more branding, more growth
Now let’s assume that your creative department has IT decision-makers who are screaming with childlike joy. But what if you wait until the last second to brand the ad? The most likely outcome is that your IT buyers won’t remember who ran the ad and won’t buy your products. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this problem: you just have to “brand” (technical term) the shit from your ads.
Using what System1 calls “fluid devices” (“brand codes” in Ritson and “distinctive assets” in Romaniuk). Logos, fonts, colors, slogans, and jingles are fluid devices that make sure the ad is associated with your brand.
The Mastercard ad did a great job of generating an emotional response, but unfortunately it didn’t do well on “Flowability”. By waiting for the Mastercard logo and “Priceless” tagline (its flowing devices) to finish the ad, marketers missed the opportunity to increase brand recall.
You have to brand early and often. Overkill is underestimated.
There are a lot of flowing devices you can use, but signs are by far the most underrated approach. Characters are like super logos that give the buyer a character they can emotionally identify with while increasing brand recall at the same time.
For some reason, every B2B marketer we meet finds their brand either too cool or too serious for character-based advertising. With the exception of Colin Fleming, Senior Vice President of Brand at Salesforce, who ensures that Astro (the fierce raccoon who loves CRM) is included in all of his creative communications, both online and offline.
If you really want to gain more market share, create a character.
Or at least slap your logo on every frame of the ad.
Rule 3: More engagement, more growth
Ok, so profitable creative things have to be emotionally intense and clearly branded. However, once you’ve developed an ad that does well on these two metrics, you need to do something else: commit. And by commit we mean spending astronomical – or at least stratospheric – sums of money that are so creative every year in every relevant media channel.
Recent research by James Hurman and Peter Field shows that the more you commit to a creative concept, the more likely it is to contribute to your bottom line.
Mastercard is a great example of creative engagement. Since 1997 it has invested in priceless ads every year. Coca-Cola has been running the same Christmas ad for 25 years in a row. The evidence shows that branding is wearing off and becoming more effective over time. For the love of God, please stop starting new creatives every quarter.
Instead, invest in permanent, repeatable creative platforms.
Buyers remember things they’ve seen a thousand times, not one-off things.
Better ads, bigger profits
The next time you see an ad, ask yourself three questions:
1. Do I feel anything when I see this ad?
2. Do I know which brand the ad was shown to within two seconds?
3. Do I think this creative could become a repeatable branding platform?
You will find that even B2C marketers don’t follow these evidence-based best practices. You will also find that the situation in the B2B space is downright depressing. B2B ads are often too rational, poorly branded, and chronically inconsistent. That is a big problem. But also a great opportunity.
Your competitor’s ads are almost certainly bad.
If you can run non-sucking ads, you can steal their market share.
We root for you.
The LinkedIn B2B Institute webinar with the full results of the research can be viewed here.