Like the proverbial cobbler’s children with no shoes, too many businesses in the direct marketing business have no business doing their own marketing. It’s a strange paradox: companies that do a brilliant job of elevating the campaigns of others, often fail to buoy their own prospects. They are guilty of the 7 Deadly Sins of B2B Marketing, which undermine their ambitions at every turn. To understand how these worst practices can work against a company, let’s be clear about what the purpose of B2B marketing is: to initiate a conversation. Assuming we have agreement on that matter then, let’s examine this blight in more detail and what one can do to remedy it.
- Making It About You, Not Them: The aim of a marketing campaign should be to win new business and reinforce good feelings among your current clients. Consequently, the emphasis should be on what a company can do to help advance a prospect’s business. But too often the emphasis in B2B marketing is on what the business pitching has achieved versus what they are capable of doing for you, meaning the target audience. We call this the “beautiful baby syndrome” where the marketing essentially comes across like this: “Isn’t my baby beautiful? Can’t you see how beautiful my baby is? Did I mention my beautiful baby is beautiful?” Meanwhile, your audience’s eyes are rolling back in their head because you haven’t bothered to do adequate needs assessment.
Sound B2B marketing is aimed at articulating a unique selling proposition (USP) that is meaningful and compelling enough for your target to want to engage with you further. For this reason, we are not big fans of the false cover that, instead of focusing on the core benefit the advertiser can deliver to the marketplace, chooses to portray their executives. There was a time when the industry was younger and this sort of approach made sense – after all it is a truism that people do business with people they like and trust. However, as the industry has matured, one’s marketing needs to move beyond what is essentially a mom and pop tactic. After all, vanity covers are not about fulfilling the dreams of prospective clients, now are they? There are far cheaper ways to decorate an office. Leave the headshots for the “Team” or “About Us” page of your website.
- Focusing Too Much on Benefits & Features vs. Outcomes: Part of the “beautiful baby syndrome” more specifically is focusing too much on features and benefits versus how a B2B marketer can help their prospects grow their business. Think of it this way: you have customers and your customers have customers. They grow their business by acquiring more customers. Therefore, the priority should be giving your prospects a vision of how you are going to create a more satisfying experience for their customers – one that will result in greater revenue and profit. Too often we’ve seen marketing that leads with bells and whistles. Often this approach only ends up creating a cacophony that causes prospects to stop listening. As the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People-fame advised, “Begin with the end in mind.” Once your audience understands and is excited about the kind of favorable outcomes you can create, they will more likely to want to look under the hood with enhanced curiosity and enthusiasm.
- Selling Steak Instead of Sizzle: Again, the aim of good B2B marketing is to whet your target’s appetite to learn more. Yet too many B2B marketers resort to “stuffing”, which is the practice of cramming every possible message into their marketing communication for fear that if they leave something out they might lose a sale. This kind of thinking has the exact opposite effect: prospects gloss over and walk away. Think about it: if your website gives prospects too much information, you’ve created a situation where your audience is having a conversation with themselves, instead of a dialogue with you. They may draw their own conclusions without ever bothering to contact you.
Another version of stuffing that should be relegated to a trash can fire is the bloated PowerPoint. You know, the one that has 108 slides and bullet points the presenter reads off the screen that make you fantasize about grooming your poodle? Experts say you can keep your audience’ attention for 20 minutes at best. That means 10 to 12 slides to advance the story and ignite a passion for further dialogue. Remember: stuffing is for turkeys.
- Inconsistency: The fundamental rules of good marketing are actually fairly simple and one that is often overlooked is this: be consistent. That means all stakeholders must be involved in identifying your USP and buy into it. Otherwise, you’re likely to get half way towards the goal line when your marketing turns into a rugby scrum. Why? Because there wasn’t clarity and agreement to begin with. Exacerbating the challenge: many entrepreneurs are not especially patient people, so they might try something once and then want to change direction – sometimes on a daily basis. But think about it: if you aim to attract blue chip prospects, shouldn’t your own marketing – your logo, tag line, graphics, messaging, etc. – in other words, your drum beat -- be the same wherever your audience might encounter you? If you wish to be credible, if your goal is to be aspirational to your audience, the obvious answer is ‘yes.’
- Clinging to Clichés: In this case our definition of cliché is a phrase or image that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. Remember that fabulous “Got Milk?” campaign? That was original. But every copycat that has come down the pike with “Got (fill in the blank)?” only exposes their own triteness. Resorting to old saws such as “Size Matters” and “The Industry Leader” are so tired they could cure insomnia. Certainly, with some concerted effort or by employing the services of a creative professional, you can do better. But clichés are not just relegated to words. There are also visual clichés in the form of stock images and illustrations. Ever seen a variation of this gal?
We’re fairly certain her name is “Jenny” and she and her sisters have been knocking around the industry for a while now. Look, stock photography is often a necessary device, but we recommend at least going past the first page of search on the stock photo site. What would be better? Spending the money to hire a professional photographer to showcase your people and operations. Canned images of a diverse bunch of beautiful executives smiling and pointing or shaking hands in a glassed-in conference room say nothing about what makes you special or unique. Avoid these boredom-inducing visual bromides for the sake of your fellow man.
- Confusing Sales with Marketing: Surprisingly, sophisticated C-level executives will often confuse sales with marketing. The rationale goes something like this: why should I waste a bunch of money on advertising when I can hire zero base salary, 100 percent commissioned sales people and set them loose on the street? But personal selling is only one spoke on the wheel of integrated marketing communications; it doesn’t and shouldn’t encompass the totality of a marketing effort. Sales people need tools in the form of a professional website, sales presentation, collateral, social proof, trade show booth, and, yes, advertising. These mechanisms help feed the sales funnel so that you’re generating inbound leads to compliment your outbound efforts. Which leads us to our final sin:
- Being Uncommitted: Experts vary in their assessments but generally speaking, 5 to 10 percent of your total revenue should be spent on marketing. Yes, we know: GULP. Too frequently there is a lack of commitment to such a number. Why? Because as direct marketers we’ve become accustomed to a world where the cause and effect of our efforts can be measured by ROI. Enter 2017, and marketing is a complex, often Byzantine discipline where calculating effectiveness has become much harder. However, by including marketing as a line item on your annual budget, you can plan and allocate dollars in a much more holistic and deliberate manner. Marketing deserves a thoughtful, proactive process versus a willy-nilly reactive approach where you’re responding to the latest fire sale. Would you build a house over the course of a year using only materials that went on sale? Unlikely. Further, we recommend that you avoid the tendency to cut marketing as soon as there is a dip in revenues; it’s the gasoline that fuels the top line revenue engine. Filling the tank requires patience.
Admittedly we’ve thrown a lot of stones here, and in fairness we must admit we have committed our own fair share of marketing sins, but alas we seek to learn from them. Our earnest hope is that should such misdeeds sound familiar, that this advice will help you solve your own marketing puzzle. Just not like this…
Colleen Ferrier is a seasoned direct marketing expert who specializes in guiding integrated direct-to-consumer campaigns with an acute focus on ROI. Her broad experience has included management oversight of marketing, operations, media, and international distribution. The campaigns she has been instrumental in helping lead to success across her 15+ year career include Pillow Pets, Little Giant Ladder, Dream Lites, and Stompeez. Ferrier has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Augusta University, Georgia.
Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO/DoubleFlex. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.