Surprise: Most B2B Advertising Isn’t Good. Or Is It?

A recent report by LinkedIn and research agency System1 found that the bulk of B2B advertising is ineffective.  I’ve written elsewhere in this space about the sorry state of B2B creative in general, so the headline came as no surprise. 

What was surprising, however, was the criteria by which the two firms rendered the advertising in question as unsuccessful.  As part of the study, 1,600 B2B ads were shown to a sample of 6 million people, and 75 percent of those ads scored one star or less on what System1 refers to as an “emotional measurement tool.”

B2B advertising

More specifically, those same ads failed to demonstrate the principles that System1 believes define a five-star ad – namely: a strong story arc, characters, soundtrack, emotion, and a “fluent device that drives brand recognition.”

To which I say: rubbish.

As someone who’s had a hand in developing hundreds, if not thousands, of B2B ads, emails, creative content and campaigns over 25+ years, I can honestly say that not once has story arc, soundtrack, or emotion played a role in determining the success of that creative.  Brand recognition is the exception if only because certain B2B brands drive engagement no matter what, but even then, that brand recognition is never (at our demand gen agency, anyway) a goal unto itself.

For most B2B marketers I know, the goal of advertising in whatever form is to drive engagement, leads, and revenue.  B2B creative works when it generates measurable results and drives business, period.  It doesn’t work when it fails to accomplish those same objectives.  That’s a different standard from the one that consumer brands like Starbucks or Nike or Coca-Cola adhere to, companies whose success derives as much from a buyers’ allegiance to that brand, and the feelings that the brand engenders.

There’s much that B2B marketers can learn from our B2C counterparts, but to pretend that B2B advertising should be held to the same fuzzy standards is to miss the point of B2B marketing entirely.

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One of the authors of the report is quoted thus: “You’re trying to tell very rational people that you need to run very emotional advertising and that isn’t a very easy thing to do.”  It’s not an easy thing to do because B2B marketers are driven by, and measured by, numbers.  I may visit my neighborhood Starbucks based on emotion and comfort and brand allegiance, but if I’m making a six-figure decision about enterprise software, I’ll be doing so based on the cold, hard facts, thank you very much.

Does emotion have a role to play in B2B advertising?  Can you design a successful B2B ad that pulls at the heart strings?  I guess you can.  But if that emotional response becomes the measuring stick by which B2B ads and campaigns are judged, we’re heading down a road where creative looks cool, wins awards, but doesn’t generate the results our clients are hoping for.

Personally, I’ll opt for advertising that generates revenue, not feelings.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash


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