Aug. 22nd, 2006

B2B advertising needs an image consultant. Part 1


Recently, I was in a client meeting and was asked to come up with truly revolutionary examples of ad concepts done by B-to-B advertisers. As I researched notable business to business advertisers, very few stood out as truly exciting, let alone mention worthy.

This notion baffled me.

What is making a whole category of advertising so blasé?

Are our expectations of business brands just not up to the same standards as consumer brands? Why should loyalty to a B-to-B brand be based solely on its suite of product specs?

I took a look at some of the notable B2B brands like Cisco, IBM and Intel, and even these still play into many of the same issues. They fail to create an image or an experience with their brand outside of the product attributes and benefits.  What does an IBM office look like vs. a Dell office? Is there a difference beyond configuration specifics? According to this the current view, the answer would be no.

At first look the problem seems to be two fold:

1. Business advertisers focus too much on their competitors and other B-to-B advertisers, creating an endless pool of variations of the same idea.

2. B2B companies don’t seek to enhance their understand of their customers beyond what they do for a living. 

The first of the two shouldn’t be that surprising if anyone has ever done work in this space. Rarely do B2B marketers look outside the realm of business for inspiration. This is by far the ordinary way of doing things, using the logic “That companies sinking millions into a purchase, want to be reassured that they are spending money with a legitimate vendor.” Sure, putting together an ad together that feels like what competitors also might do, but haven’t, keeps you in consideration with the rest of the pack. However, it doesn’t make you stand out either. Yes, your product should be helping you in differentiation, but as technology becomes more accessible and more advanced those lines will soon be a close as a Coke and  Pepsi taste test. The image of those brands is what keeps them from becoming a commodity. After all, who made the rule that road to legitimacy is spec-centric, chest-thumping product claims or slight humorous commentary of a process pain point? (See all ads by EMC, Microsoft, Dell, Novell, and the list goes on.) There is a great amount of learning that can be gained from looking outside the business category for inspiration.

This leads me to the second issue: B2B advertisers don’t really “know” their customers. People in their work environments are still people, they don’t lose human nature the moment they walk into the office. They still have feelings, drivers, emotions and desires just like they do when they buy shoes or cars or toothpaste. B-to-B ads focus on office decisions as purely rational. By the state of B2B advertising, you would think that we are speaking to a machine governed by purely logic. One could argue that because jobs, lives, brands and companies are at stake by these decisions, they are filled more so with the emotive aspects than that of consumer brands. The saying “It’s not personal, it’s just business” is about as far from the truth as we can get. There are key insights being ignored. What about emotional drivers? What about the societal values or the motives of the influencer? They exist in the workplace too.

— Posted by Nick.

Nick manages Communications Planning for Mortar. He can be reached at

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