Last fall, The B2B Institute (a think tank funded by LinkedIn) published a research report that every B2B marketer should read. The 5 Principles Of Growth In B2B Marketing describes the findings of research conducted by Les Binet and Peter Field, two highly-regarded, UK-based experts on advertising effectiveness.
This report is based on an analysis of data contained in the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) Databank. The IPA is a trade organization representing the UK advertising industry, and the Databank includes extensive data submitted for the IPA effectiveness awards competition. This database includes information about almost 1,500 advertising and marketing campaigns.
In this report, Binet and Field discuss five principles of B2B growth and effective advertising. Most of these principles embody views that run counter to much of the current conventional wisdom about how B2B marketers can effectively drive growth. While Binet and Field accurately describe their findings as tentative – more about this later – this research is provocative and should be given serious consideration.
Below is a brief summary of the five principles discussed in the report.
Principle 1 – Invest in Share of Voice
Share of voice is typically defined as a brand’s share of all category advertising expenditures. A long-standing principle in B2C marketing is that brands tend to grow when their share of voice exceeds their market share, if all other things are equal. Brands whose share of voice is less than their market share tend to shrink. Binet and Field found that this principle is equally true for B2B companies.
Principle 2 – Balance Brand and Activation
Binet and Field argue that B2B companies should balance their spending on brand building activities and sales activation activities. They define sales activation as any marketing activity that is designed to produce an immediate response from a potential customer.
Sales activation activities usually produce results relatively quickly, and their short-term ROI can be high. But the effects of sales activation activities don’t last very long, so they don’t foster long-term growth. Brand building activities, on the other hand, excel at driving long-term growth because their effects last longer.
Binet and Field found that the effectiveness of B2B marketing is maximized when a company allocates about 46% of its marketing budget to brand building and about 54% to short-term sales activation.
Principle 3 – Expand Your Customer Base
The growing importance of customer experience, and the shift to subscription-based business models have led some B2B marketers to place greater emphasis on programs intended to improve customer retention and loyalty. However, the research by Binet and Field found that customer acquisition strategies are much more effective at driving growth than customer retention/loyalty strategies. They also found that reach strategies – strategies that seek to engage both customers and non-customers – tend to be most effective of all.
Principle 4 – Maximize Mental Availability
According to psychologists, human beings use a variety of mental shortcuts called heuristics when they make decisions. One of the most important mental shortcuts is the availability heuristic, which says that when people are facing a choice between several options, they will tend to prefer the option that comes to mind most easily.
Marketers have long known that the availability heuristic plays an important role in B2C marketing. The research by Binet and Field found that mental availability is also critical in B2B marketing, and that marketing activities that increase share of mind are highly effective at driving growth.
Principle 5 – Harness the Power of Emotion
Binet and Field found that emotions are almost as important in B2B buying as they are in B2C buying. Specifically, they found that B2B advertising messaging that appeals mostly to emotions is far better at creating brand preference than more rational content. Conversely, rational arguments perform better than emotional appeals when the main objective is short-term sales activation. The researchers also argued that emotional brand building programs can improve the effectiveness of rational sales activation programs.
As I noted earlier, Binet and Field acknowledged in the research report that their conclusions should be viewed as tentative for several reasons:
- The research was based on an analysis of less than 50 cases in the IPA Databank, so the sample size is very small.
- The campaigns analyzed may not be representative of B2B marketing in general.
- The campaigns analyzed tended to have relatively large budgets.
- Most of the campaigns analyzed were run in the UK.