The best investments – in finance and marketing – are contrarian and right.
In B2B marketing, one of the best investments you can make is top-of-funnel brand advertising. It’s contrarian, since most B2B marketers spend all their money at the bottom of the funnel. And it’s proven to be the right path as well, since evidence indicates that brand can create more long-term value than lead generation tactics.
But let’s assume for a moment you’re already investing in brand advertising. What else can you do to gain an edge over your competition? Well, may we politely suggest you take a hard look at your creative? Because according to our new research, 77% of B2B creative is…well…terrible. As in, not effective. As in, *zero* impact on the bottom line. Your campaign may still be delivering profits, but it’s the media doing all the work, not the creative.
Having not-terrible creative is not only contrarian it’s also right. Creative may be the single most important variable in advertising profitability. According to the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, great creative is 10 to 20 times better at driving sales than mediocre creative. And if you can combine great media with great creative, you can create extraordinary growth for your business.
The formula for great B2B creative
But what exactly makes creative great? And are there any creative metrics that correlate with better financial performance?
Before we can answer that, we need to answer a more important question: how does creative brand advertising actually work and why does it increase sales? Here we must reference the work of professor Jenni Romaniuk and introduce her good friend “mental availability”. What exactly is mental availability, you ask? Well, to quote Romaniuk, “mental availability is about making your brand known and easily thought of in buying situations”.
In other words, the B2B brand that gets remembered is the B2B brand that gets bought. The marketer’s job is to create long-lasting memories in the minds of category buyers.
So, how do you create more memories? By following three simple creative rules.
Rule #1: More emotions, more growth
The human brain tends to remember emotions and forget facts. And the stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory.
Applied to B2B marketing: if your ad makes a buyer laugh or cry or smile, your message is much more likely to be recalled in a buying situation. That’s why our 2019 research with Les Binet and Peter Field showed that in B2B, emotional advertising drives significantly more long-term growth than rational advertising. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of emotional advertising in B2B. But if you look hard enough, you can find examples.
Our brand measurement partner System1 surfaced this recent ad from Mastercard, which scored higher on emotional intensity than any B2B ad System1 has ever tested. If you watch the ad, you’ll see it’s an optimistic message that cuts through the rational clutter. If you want to tug on a buyer’s heartstrings, furry pets remain a reliable bet.
And if you want more growth, you need to make your buyers feel something.
Rule #2: More branding, more growth
Now let’s assume your creative has IT decision makers shrieking with childish delight. But what if you wait until the last second to brand the ad? The most likely outcome is that your IT buyers won’t remember who ran the ad and won’t buy your products. Luckily there’s an easy solution to that problem: you just need to “brand the shit” out of your ads (technical term).
By leveraging what System1 calls ‘fluent devices’ (“brand codes” in Ritson-speak, and “distinctive assets” in Romaniuk-speak). Logos, fonts, colours, taglines, and jingles are all fluent devices that ensure the ad gets linked to your brand.
The Mastercard ad did a great job evoking an emotional response but, sadly, it didn’t score well on ‘fluency’. By waiting until the end of the ad to show the Mastercard logo and the ‘Priceless’ tagline (its fluent devices), the marketers missed an opportunity to increase brand recall.
You’ve got to brand early and often. Overkill is underrated.
There are many fluent devices you can use, but characters are the most underrated approach by far. Characters are like super-logos, giving the buyer a character to relate to emotionally, while also increasing brand recall.
For some reason, every B2B marketer we meet thinks their brand is either too cool or too serious for character-based advertising. Except for Colin Fleming, the senior vice-president of brand at Salesforce, who makes sure Astro (the feral racoon child who loves CRM) is featured in all its creative communications, both online and offline.
If you really want to win more market share, create a character.
Or at least slap your logo on every frame of the ad.
Rule #3: More commitment, more growth
Ok, so profitable creative needs to be emotionally intense and clearly branded. But once you develop an ad that scores well on those two metrics, you need to do something else: commit. And by commit, we mean spend astronomical – or at least stratospheric – sums of money running that creative in every relevant media channel, every single year.
Recent research from James Hurman and Peter Field shows the more you commit to a creative concept, the more likely it will contribute to your bottom line.
Mastercard is an excellent example of creative commitment, having invested in Priceless ads every year since 1997. Coca-Cola, meanwhile, has been running the same Christmas ad for 25 years in a row. The evidence shows brand advertising wears in and becomes more effective over time. So please, for the love of God, stop launching new creative every quarter.
Instead, invest in durable, repeatable creative platforms.
Buyers remember things they’ve seen a thousand times before, not one-offs.
Better ads, bigger profits
The next time you see an ad, ask yourself three questions:
1. Do I feel anything when watching this ad?
2. Do I know within two seconds which brand ran the ad?
3. Do I think this creative could become a repeatable brand platform?
You’ll notice that even B2C marketers fail to follow these evidence-based best practices. You’ll also notice that in B2B, the situation is downright depressing. B2B ads are often overly rational, poorly branded and chronically inconsistent. That’s a big problem. But also a big opportunity.
Your competitor’s ads almost certainly suck.
If you can make non-sucky ads, you can steal their market share.
We are rooting for you.
The LinkedIn B2B Institute’s webinar presenting the full results of the research can be watched here.