B2B Solution of the Week: Strategic mass media advertising

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B2B companies generally don’t use mass media advertising, but forward-thinking firms do it for various purposes. Leading pure-play B2B firms use mass media in very specific ways, and they do know it works and how. If they didn’t know it works they would not advertise at all.

Some companies such as RingCentral, a cloud-based phone system provider, and Violin Memory, a maker of enterprise storage solutions, chose some of the more unusual mass media moves. For example, during drive time San Francisco Bay Area commuters can hear issues of the day discussed on the RingCentral-sponsored news segment on all-news radio station KCBS. This certainly raises the profile of RingCentral with its SMB customers.

And in the past, Violin Memory has used an unconventional method to recruit engineers by placing slide-based ads on movie theater previews. In an über competitive hiring market, any new wrinkle to attract techies can give a B2B firm an advantage. Other companies have chosen equally mainstream but out-of-the-ordinary methods of mass media for B2B.

Billboard advertising

In Silicon Valley, standing out in a crowded field remains a big challenge. For example, in the marketing automation sector, Act-On Software finds itself cheek by jowl with rivals Eloqua, HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot and others. To break out of the pack, the B2B software maker decided on billboard advertising, specifically along US Route 101, the main north-south freeway running between San Francisco and San Jose. But to do so its management needed defined metrics.

“We evaluated mass marketing across three objectives,” says Kevin Bobowski, CMO, Act-On. “Will it drive demand that is measurable? Will it build brand awareness and name recognition? Will it build our presence in local markets—which might support recruiting—and energize the local team?”

At the time it started billboard advertising, Act-On existed as one of the fastest growing SaaS businesses, according to Bobowski. “But we were a well-kept secret,” he says. “We wanted to change that.” Result: billboards dramatically improved name recognition in the area and boosted recruiting efforts in the region, too.

Digital signage

A newer arrival, Splunk, a leading platform for operational intelligence, has also used billboard advertising, albeit of the digital variety not the traditional, static type. Billboard advertising is a departure for Splunk, which usually concentrates on trade ads and other more targeted forms of paid promotion.

“We turned to billboard advertising as part of our campaign around Super Bowl 50,” says Sherry Lowe, Splunk vice president of corporate marketing. “Splunk has focused more on print and online advertising, targeting our discrete market with focused messages vs. out-of-home advertising to catch their attention outside traditional channels and build corporate brand. But the opportunity to do billboard advertising around the Big Game here in Silicon Valley was impossible to resist.”

Even so, many inside Splunk remained skeptical random drivers passing a digital billboard along US Route 101 would make a difference, according to Lowe. But the potential reach of the campaign—8,585,255 impressions—made sense for corporate awareness. And producing “fun” ads specific to the Big Game such as “No More Fumbles” with Splunk and “We Encourage End Zone Celebrations” garnered the company a tremendously positive reaction, according to Lowe.

Stay couriers from their appointed rounds?

For 20 years, direct mail has been in decline, and the rise of the Internet as a direct response medium has been a major factor, according to Victor Clarke, owner of Clarke, Inc., an integrated print, web and digital marketing firm. He also states that:

  • Postage increases discourage marketers from using direct mail
  • The term “snail mail” has tarnished direct mail’s image
  • Up-and-coming, hip marketers only learn about digital and don’t bother with direct mail marketing—or so it seems

In spite of all these discouraging trends, Clarke counsels that B2B marketers should counterintuitively consider direct mail, all the same. Because of lack of competition.

“B2B marketers should capitalize on the decline of direct mail marketing because while everyone’s email box is full of spam, their real mailbox has much less junk mail,” Clarke says. “So rather than B2B putting all its marketing eggs into one media basket, the smart solution uses direct mail to lift online marketing results with a campaign that integrates the two. Use direct mail to break through the clutter of email.”

Elevator ‘air cover’

A Boston-based B2B company, HourlyNerd, a marketplace for business expertise, leverages mass media in a targeted way, according to Devon Petersmeyer Johnson, director of marketing. By focusing closely on where ads are placed, it ensures they get in front of a specific audience—large enterprises.

“For example, we placed a billboard outside Boston Logan airport to capture business travelers,” Petersmeyer Johnson says. “And we advertise on elevator screens in buildings that host specific target companies. Our primary goal with mass media is to drive brand awareness.”

According to Petersmeyer Johnson, this provides valuable “air cover” for outbound sales in the minds of prospects. She realizes that brand awareness—a time-tested tactic of marketing—improves likelihood that prospects will engage with HourlyNerd as well as the firm’s credibility.

“It shifts their perception of the company from that of a small startup to a legitimate technology company,” Petersmeyer Johnson says. “While our primary marketing goal has been to drive brand awareness, we also see significant impact on site traffic and inbound leads. For example, we get inbound leads from large enterprises who specifically mention our advertising, which demonstrates mass media channels have a true impact on business results.”

Beyond B2B: B2H (business to human)

As much as businesspeople talk about B2B communications, the wisest remember that despite the fact the Latin root for corporation, corpus, means body, actually nobody’s home. Companies don’t respond to ads. All B2B advertising is consumed by human beings acting on behalf of corporations.

“There is no such thing as advertising to a business,” says Maxim Shomov, marketing lead at Fair Point, a B2B accommodation and travel services provider. “This is a common B2B marketing misconception. Marketers always advertise products or services to humans—the B2B owners or other decision makers.”

The key to reaching these B2B buyers through mass media such as television exists in the ability to tap into emotions of customers, according to Shomov. In that way, the main aim of mass media advertising should be brand awareness.

“On its own, brand awareness means little but combined with another channel such as SEO—the biggest lead-generation source—or social media, you will have a successful campaign,” Shomov says. “A marketer should embrace all the tools at her disposal and take advantage of every medium.”

Stand out by thinking outside the ‘inbox’

Considering the human equation, one marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies and fast-growing startups, says B2B customers have a life outside the corporation. According to Ross Simmonds, content strategist and founder of Foundation Marketing, it’s easy for B2B marketers to forget that simple fact.

“The best marketers understand customers live lives that don’t solely revolve around what’s in their inboxes, LinkedIn feed or ads following them on Twitter,” Simmonds says. “In a world where mass media is flooded with ads for headphones, blenders and the latest hoverboard, it’s easier than ever to stand out as a B2B brand.”

It’s key to understand the circumstances and environment the audience will experience when consuming B2B ads, according to Simmonds. Messages must be relevant, engaging and have a memorable call to action.

Image copyright: Bokeh & Travel

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).