Thinking B2B: The seven key principles of B2B ATL
by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) B2B brands always ask me: “Should we do ATL advertising?” and my answer to that is, “Of course — but it depends what for.” ATL has a big role to play in B2B marketing but it serves a completely different function than it does in B2C.
The role of ATL in B2C is primarily around driving awareness, brand-building and developing share of voice but, in B2B, really strong ATL can drive top-of-funnel engagement — and it should. In order to drive that engagement, we’ve developed a very specific framework which may be used to create quality ATL advertising in the B2B space. That framework is based on seven key principles.
1. Never commoditise
Never commoditise your advertising in B2B. B2C is the place to advertise your price, your cost-effectiveness, your saving or your discount. In B2B, the reality is that most products and services are pretty similar so, if you commoditise them, all you’re doing is driving a race to the bottom. Selling on commodities in the B2B space just isn’t effective because it makes your proposition around what can be commoditised instead of promoting why your B2B customer really buys from you, your company values, your people and the value that you bring them.
2. Is your USP a USP?
Never commoditise your USP in the B2B space. In classic B2C, you see companies advertising dedicated teams, the depth of their experience and 24/7 support structures, which works for them. In B2B, again, brand products and services are quite similar, so the USPs aren’t really defensible because competitor offerings are near-identical. There are one or two exceptions to this: a truly defensible USP can be promoted, while a ‘first-to-market’ offering should be strategically shouted from the rooftops.
3. Value exchange is key
The third key principle is that B2B ATL should always offer a value exchange. Too many ads say “Hey, this is what we do, here’s why we’re brilliant, so buy our product/service”, but they never offer the reader some type of genuine value, knowledge or information. Using ATL effectively in the B2B space is a way to help grow a business, and offering your target market genuine value in the form of content that may benefit them is a great way to differentiate your brand.
4. Give the reader a reason to reach out
B2B ATL should always have a call to action, not simply a link or a phone number. The call to action needs to be direct, too, giving the reader a firm reason to get in touch. “Contact us because X” or “Contact us to get Y” offer tangible benefits — with an attached name and contact method which promises to deliver a solution to a very specific problem.
A strong call to action also filters out potential customers who are unsure by qualifying exactly what they should contact you for. If they’re unsure, they’re possibly not at the right stage of the research or buying process for getting in touch, anyway.
5. Speak to the right part of the funnel
In B2B, it’s key that the ad speaks to the top or the middle of the funnel. There are better channels to communicate bottom-of-funnel content, such as white papers, emails or conversations. Putting up a billboard alongside the highway that tries to explain a complex product or service isn’t an effective use of time or budget. One that says “Buy this system to solve these five problems” offers a much-broader scope and builds awareness in a much-better way.
6. Context is key
It’s also vital that B2B ATL is always contextual. I remember getting off a long international flight and seeing billboards from a big bank, pushing B2B services with a call to action to visit a website. That placement and messaging shows a failure to understand the context of a person getting off a long flight, tired, irritable, facing the prospect of queuing at passport control, the luggage carousel and, possibly, customs control. They’re just in a rush to escape the airport or dash to their next flight, and having a brand ask them to stop and engage isn’t going to improve their mood or give them any value.
7. Know your audience
Lastly — and it seems a given but is often misunderstood — is the importance of always having a clear target market. Show a layperson the piece of communication and they should be able to tell you that the message is targeted at the CFO of a mining company. The definition of who the ad is speaking to needs to be so tight that there’s no chance of the message being wasted or lost in translation.
Warren Moss (@) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.
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