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Inside Ad Age’s Favorite B2B Marketing

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Worried that your B2B marketing is a little uninspiring? You’re not alone. While the web has unlocked massive potential for generating new awareness of your brand, it has also created a significantly higher standard for what audiences choose to engage with. It’s no longer enough to create a revolutionary product or service—its marketing has to do the heavy lifting to get shared online and attract a wide audience.

But aren’t clever ad campaigns, social media marketing and viral videos just for consumer products? Not anymore. A well-executed ad or promotional strategy can net views, shares, visits, and yes, even sales.

Advertising industry magazine Ad Age recently published a list of five notable B2B ad campaigns from brands like Adobe, Moen and IBM. By taking a closer look at these five ads, we found three lessons to be learned about crafting a better B2B advertisement.

So, what’s the secret?

1. When Writing Ad Copy, Demonstrate Why Your Product Exists

Every product or service is a solution to a problem, and a highly shareable ad puts that into the context of a story. Ad Age highlights a recent ad promoting Adobe researching and analytics, which illustrates that point perfectly.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 9.18.24 AM

In this 60-second spot, an encyclopedia publisher increases production in response to user engagements with a banner ad. As the increased production creates a comically-overblown ripple effect across different industries, the viewer sees that the increase in banner ad clicks was only a tap-happy baby playing on a tablet—not legitimate engagements.

What stands out about this ad is everything is doesn’t tell you about its product. In 60 seconds, not once do we see Adobe’s analytics programming at work.

What we do see, however, is a compelling, fast-paced story that ends with a memorable punchline and a clear message that many businesses can identify with: “Do you know what your marketing is doing?” The story in this commercial is an extreme example of what can go wrong when you don’t, and it sheds new light on what web data can really mean. It entertains, but its message resonates.

When you start writing ad copy for your next campaign, think not just about your product, but what problem it solves. What can it accomplish? What can it prevent? Remember: one of the best ways to engage your audience is to show them what you can do for them.

2. Rethink Your Swag

Pens, keychains, fabric swatches—promotional swag is more ubiquitous than ever, and that means you have to work harder to get noticed.

How many times have you been given a trinket emblazoned with a brand name? How many of those trade show pens do you have stuffed into a coffee mug somewhere? Putting your company’s name on something doesn’t make it stand out anymore. You have to be more creative.

That’s what Moen and Forbo did, and why Ad Age highlighted some of their recent B2B marketing efforts. Moen partnered with jewelry designers, who created necklaces inspired by Moen faucets. The jewelry toured home improvement trade shows, and Moen produced commemorative pendants based on the necklaces for their trade partners.

Forbo, an interior flooring company, took a break from the usual sample tiles and swatches. Instead, it commissioned flip flops made from their new flooring materials, which their leads could then slip on to experience the feeling of standing on Forbo floors.

By creating something that hasn’t been done before, you make your brand stand out to your audience. It wasn’t the Moen or Forbo name that made the first impression—it was what they did. Engagement came first, and positive brand association came second.

3. Demonstrate the Unexpected

Ad Age’s last two picks for notable B2B advertising both come from tech companies. The first is Triumph Adler, a German business that makes an uncommonly fast photocopying machine.

Rather than simply explaining how many sheets it could produce per minute or releasing a demo video, the company launched a Twitter account for the photocopying machine. The account was connected to one of the machines, which photocopied every tweet sent to the account in real time.

The campaign became a notable social media marketing sensation, and within three months, the machine had printed more than 50,000 tweets and the company’s Twitter following had grown significantly. (And compared to the same period from the year before, sales had climbed 500%).

IBM had a similar viral hit on its hands this year when it released “A Boy and His Atom,” the final pick on Ad Age’s list. This 90-second stop-motion animation video was filmed by manipulating single atoms under a massive microscope, demonstrating the potential power of harnessing something very, very small.

IBM’s video established itself as an authority by doing something both novel and painstakingly difficult (four scientists worked 18-hour days for two weeks to make the video). The payoff? A place in the Guinness Book of World Records and a viral hit that racked up nearly 5 million views in 2013 (no other IBM video has reached even 1 million views).

Why did Triumph Adler and IBM score so big? It wasn’t just by showing what they could do. It was by demonstrating it in an unexpected way—one that would arouse curiosity, invite interactivity, and gain traction socially. Social media marketing, even for a B2B company, isn’t just another way of delivering a message about your product—it’s a way of leveraging patterns of discovery and sharing to spread that message organically.

Conclusion

As you can see, a little marketing ingenuity can go a long way, even for B2B industries. By changing the way that you tell your brand’s story, you can change the way that people think of who you are and what you do, and even find a new audience that will continue engaging with you online in the future.

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