This article provides guidance for an effective approach to B2B marketing (“Business-to-Business”), specifically in terms of paid marketing efforts. It is based on the countless occasions we have dramatically improved ROI, reduced cost per acquisition, and outperformed competitors on behalf of clients. If you’re already familiar with the basics of paid media strategy, digital advertising, and key concepts like conversions, you can skip ahead here now . Otherwise, let’s start with advertising basics before we get into the best practices to bolster your marketing strategy.
What is Paid Advertising?
Paid advertising is what the name implies: An individual, business, or organization pays to promote its product, service, or message. Unlike organic methods, where visibility is earned through quality content or word-of-mouth, paid advertising ensures placement in desired communication channels in exchange for payment.
Before we go further, let’s ensure we have a common understanding of the forms of advertising available to us today.
Forms Of Paid Advertising
With the rapid evolution of digital marketing options, there are more types (or channels) of paid marketing campaigns than ever before. Here is a reasonably complete list:
- Display Ads: These are the visual ads you see on websites of all kinds. They can be static images, animated graphics, video, or interactive content. They are often targeted to users based on browsing behavior or other factors and can help build top-of-mind brand or product awareness.
- Social Media Channels: Platforms like Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, TikTok, and LinkedIn offer social media marketing options where businesses can target specific demographics based on user data.
- Email Marketing: Legitimate paid email marketing involves using a reputable platform to send emails to subscribers who have opted in to receive communications from a business. This channel is a favorite of marketing teams and is generally well-received by leads. This is primarily because email marketing is permission-based, meaning recipients have chosen to receive emails from the business.
- Native Advertising: This is content-driven advertising where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the platform upon which it is placed. A common example is “sponsored content,” which looks like traditional news or feature articles but is sponsored by a brand.
- Affiliate Marketing: This type of advertising occurs when companies pay external parties (affiliates) a commission for driving sales or leads.
- Video Ads: These are the commercials you might see before a YouTube video or interspersed in streaming services.
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM): A form of digital marketing that increases the visibility of a website in search engine results pages (SERPS). In other words, you “buy your way into” prominent placement in search results. You’ll see a designation such as “sponsored” associated with the search result.
- Retargeting/Remarketing: This form of online advertising targets users who have previously visited a certain website or shown interest in a particular product/service. With retargeting, these users will see ads across other websites they visit, aiming to bring them back to the original website or product.
- Traditional Advertising: This includes TV and radio commercials, print ads in newspapers and magazines, billboards, direct mail (“junk mail” if you’re so inclined to call it), and even more modest tactics like door knob hangers and bulletin board flyers.
Digital marketing campaigns are great for reaching your ideal customers, and you can measure specific results more easily than traditional channels. Most paid ads are charged to you, the digital advertiser, on a pay-per-click (or PPC) basis. This means you’re only charged for an ad placement if a web visitor or social media user clicks on your ad. For this reason, we’ll focus on digital marketing channels rather than traditional ones.
About Target Audiences and Strategy
Paid advertising can effectively deliver on your marketing goals, but it's crucial to ensure the messages you deliver are relevant to your target audience. You should also construct a strategy before any specific advertising spending to maximize your return on investment (ROI).
A target audience represents the group – or groups – of decision-makers most likely to be interested in your brand, product, or service. These people will respond to your messages and be more likely to buy from you, particularly if your advertisement speaks directly to a B2B buyer’s pain points.
To build a target audience, businesses, at the very least, should develop customer profiles (a generalized, data-driven assignment focusing on demographic segmentation) or personas (a more detailed and humanized representation of a customer incorporating psychographic elements to help businesses connect with their customers on a more personal level.
Strategy is a word often used but perhaps too misunderstood. Having a strategy means having a plan for whatever you’re doing and with an overall aim in mind. Let’s explore an example:
You’re choosing to place search advertising on Google because you want to achieve demonstrable growth in your website traffic quickly. You might conclude in advance that your chance of collecting more total traffic could result in less qualified traffic.
You’re minimizing this risk by optimizing your digital marketing strategy. You’re ensuring each ad's correct keywords, headlines, ad copy, and creative elements. You’re providing the same care to the pieces of content on your website, to which the ad will lead those who click on it. Furthermore, you’ve researched and established customer profiles. You know how people search for products or services like yours, where your customers are, and what topics interest them.
By doing these things, you have a plan (a targeted message to a targeted audience) and an aim: to increase your site traffic. Well done!
Surely, targeted audiences and strategic thinking are ALWAYS applied to advertising campaigns. Well, no. Think about how often you’ve scrolled through FaceBook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or an online news article. Have you ever wondered, “WHY am I seeing this ad?
We here at O8 see many advertising examples: Web display, paid search results, paid social ads, and streaming media. Some of it is very good, some of it not-so-good. No matter the quality or appearance, though, simply seeing an advertisement doesn’t equate to the advertiser having a strategy and audience targeting in place.
It’s plain that some content producers put dollars behind their advertising campaigns and skip these important details. This is not only a waste of money but can also be detrimental to your brand. People are busy, and their time is valuable. They’ll be annoyed if their online experience is cluttered with irrelevant ads.
So – think about targets and strategy FIRST before spending dollar one. If you need help, contact us.
So – What is B2B Paid Advertising?
Business-to-business (hence, “B2B”) advertising focuses on businesses trying to connect and sell to other businesses rather than the end user of a product or service. It’s different from Business-to-Consumer (B2C) advertising, whereby a business tries to connect and sell to the end user of a product or service.
Let’s use coffee shops as an example:
In B2C marketing (“Business-to-Consumer”), a coffee shop will advertise directly to existing and potential customers to buy drip coffee, espresso drinks, coffee beans, etc.
B2B, by contrast, involves businesses who sell to coffee shops. Think about firms that sell whole coffee beans, espresso machines, paper cups, lids, and many other supplies or ingredients to coffee shop owners (in this case, a B2B customer).
The tone and approach of B2B advertising will be different from that of B2C. Typically, B2B advertising presumes some familiarity with certain business terms and concepts by the potential customer. In some instances, it can be more formal than the (comparatively) glamorous or humorous nature of B2C messages. Also, in many cases, B2B customers take longer to consider and ultimately purchase from a B2B marketer. The buyer’s journey, in many cases, will involve a need for research, careful compare and contrast with competing solutions, product demos, and more. B2B businesses should consider the buyer’s mindset as ads are designed, written, and targeted.
Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s move on to answers about how to approach your B2B successfully paid advertising activities. We’ll work through this by addressing common problems encountered and our take on how to solve these challenges. As a deeply experienced B2B agency placing millions of impressions for our advertising clients, we particularly look out for these problems to ensure the targeting, strategy, and messages are in place to ensure successful outcomes.
Problem One: Not Focusing on Conversions
A conversion is any desirable action you identify that will help improve your business results in the near or long term. Common examples include actual sales, email signups, content downloads, and any other valued action you want to achieve through advertising). In essence, if the target of your advertising completes the action you wanted them to take, you’ve achieved a conversion.
So let’s speak to the problem: Not focusing B2B (business-to-business) advertising on conversions can have several ramifications.
- Loss of ROI: One of the main goals of any advertising campaign is to achieve a positive return on investment (ROI). If a B2B company is not focusing on conversions, it might not effectively measure and achieve the ROI, leading to financial losses.
- Reduced Relevance and Personalization: Focusing on conversions often involves targeting specific audiences and personalizing content to increase relevance. Lack of focus on conversions could lead to generic, non-personalized advertising, which will likely be less effective in engaging potential clients.
- Inefficient Budget Allocation: Without a focus on conversions, it’s challenging to determine which advertising channels, messages, or creatives are most effective. This could result in inefficient advertising budget allocation, potentially wasting resources on less effective strategies.
- Missed Opportunities for Growth: Conversions are a direct indicator of business growth. Ignoring them means potentially missing out on opportunities to acquire new clients, upsell existing ones, or expand into new markets.
- Lack of Data and Insights: Focusing on conversions helps businesses gather valuable data and insights about customer behavior, preferences, and needs. Not focusing on conversions might lead to a lack of data, hindering the company’s ability to make informed decisions and optimize future advertising campaigns.
- Brand Reputation: If advertising efforts are not aligned with user needs and do not encourage meaningful engagement, it could harm the brand's reputation. Customers might perceive the company as out of touch or not customer-centric.
- Decreased Competitive Advantage: Companies that optimize for conversions will likely outperform those that don’t. Not focusing on conversions could result in decreased competitive advantage and market share loss to more conversion-focused competitors.
- Reduced Customer Lifetime Value: Without focusing on conversions, companies might struggle to build long-term relationships with clients, reducing the overall customer lifetime value.
While brand awareness and reach are important advertising goals, conversions are crucial for measuring the effectiveness of advertising campaigns and ensuring business growth.
Types of Conversions
There are two types of conversions: Macro and Micro
Macro Conversions are more obvious visitor actions that bring you - the advertiser - closer to gaining a customer. Macro Conversions typically involve any of the following:
- A web visitor completes a lead form on your website and submits it.
- The visitor clicks the “book a meeting” button and schedules a meeting with someone in your organization.
- E-commerce purchase: Somebody actually purchases your product or service from your website.
- Email subscription: The visitor opts to receive your email communications by sharing their email address.
Micro Conversions are less direct actions that don’t move a website visitor to an actual lead or customer. They can still be useful measurements because they indicate how interesting your website content is. Engaging content increases the likelihood of return visits and macro conversions. Examples of Micro conversions are:
- Button/CTA click: This doesn’t necessarily mean they completed a form or made a purchase but merely clicked the button.
- Landing page view: A specific webpage associated with the ad is viewed.
- Video view: A video associated with the ad is viewed.
Once you’ve identified your conversions, you must develop your Success Equation.
SUCCESS EQUATION CONSTRUCTION
This is a straight-ahead concept about how to achieve the conversions you want to achieve:
Conversions = Knowing your target
+ Solving their problem
+ Your merchandising model/sales cycle
+ Attribution of ad campaigns to results
+ Other business realities
In other words, you need to know who your target audience happens to be, the problems they’re trying to solve, how to promote your solution or product (discounts or free trials, for example), how long it might take to achieve the ultimate goal, how you’re going to know if your advertising influenced successful outcomes and other realities.
“Other realities” will include details specific to you, such as your available budget, whether you have competitors already advertising in the market, seasonality, and much more.
All elements of the success equation are important for advertising success, but we especially want to focus on solving the problem of your target marketing audience. Millions of people search the web daily by typing in questions, most often to Google, but also to other search engines.
The common reality is that people are seeking answers to something, and your job as an advertiser is to deliver an ad showing you can provide that answer. This topic alone could take up the remainder of this article, so we’ll focus on the most essential questions here:
- Keywords and Search Terms:
- Research the terms and questions people are asking related to your business's value propositions.
- There are many free and fee-based tools available for this research. The simplest, cost-effective method is simply searching for your own business or organization on Google and examining the search results. Pay particular attention to the “people also ask” section of the Search Engine Result Page (SERP), and take note of the questions being asked. This is a great way to “think like a searcher” and will likely expand your view of how to approach and use keywords.
- Google Keyword Planner is free to use and available when you set up a Google Ads account. You can import keywords into this tool and quickly understand how difficult or easy it will be to earn ad impressions for the various search terms.
- Some browser extensions can be added to help you. Keyword Surfer is a Google Chrome extension that extends your SERPs to show search popularity for the results you see and will also suggest keywords in a table immediately adjacent to the results.
- Paid tools include SEMrush, MOZ, Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, and Answer The Public. If just starting out, we suggest avoiding the paid platforms until you have the basics of keyword research down.
- Research the terms and questions people are asking related to your business's value propositions.
- Highly Relevant Content
- Once you understand the mindset of your potential customers, you need to develop the content on your website that answers their curiosity or addresses their problems. This is the content to which you’ll link your ads.
- The more specifically your content matches their search question, the higher the potential for your ad to appear in front of their eyes.
- Amplify Your Niche
- No business can be all things to all people (although some large businesses certainly try).
- More typically, your business does a few things very well. You have expertise in certain areas that will appeal to a select group of potential customers.
- And so, it’s critical that you focus on whatever your niche happens to be. Speak to your knowledge, strengths, experience, and trustworthiness within your content.
- An important consideration here is the concept of E-E-AT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). Learn more about E-E-A-T here.
- You will avoid wasteful spending and diluted results by focusing on your niche expertise and the corresponding niche audience. It makes sense. Target your ads to the RIGHT people who will benefit from your expertise and reputation.
By this point, we’ve established the groundwork for your B2B advertising: What it is, how to define conversions, and how to set up a success equation. These are all essential things to do, but before you move further, there’s another important consideration:
Problem Two: Not Knowing Your Ultimate Objective (Outcome)
Even if you’ve defined your conversions and developed a success equation, you need to know that the ad campaign ultimately achieved what it was intended to achieve. Therefore, you need to decide in advance on an objective for your campaign. Here are some distinctions:
Some advertising campaigns are meant only to raise general awareness of a brand. This is often the case with so-called top-of-funnel advertising, where the number of times an ad is served up and potentially seen might be more valued than reliance on a click rate. This is often the case with web display advertising, for example. (If you’re unfamiliar with the marketing/sales funnel concept, click here.)
Other ads are more click-oriented and meant to drive further engagement with a website, particularly to gain leads (“mid-funnel”) or sales (“bottom of the funnel”). A good example would be highly targeted sponsored content on LinkedIn, with a specific message and offer for the audience. The offer might be, “Download our free guide,” whereby the person clicking on the ad then chooses to provide their contact information in exchange for the right to download the material.
In our first example above, the goal was rather modest: Be seen. With enough exposure to such an ad, name recognition can be enhanced. The second example is more tangible: Success equates to the number of people who provided their information to get the free guide.
If, on the other hand, the advertiser used display advertising in the hopes of getting many clicks and sales, the outcome would surely be disappointing. This leads us directly to the next topic.
Reasons for Advertising and the Best Channels to Achieve Results
In this table, we attempt to show you the relationship between typical reasons a business chooses to advertise and the best channels for achieving results:
|Reason for Advertising||Best Channels|
|Build a Relationship (such as by gaining email subscribers)||
Let’s put forth an example using this information.
EXAMPLE SCENARIO: START UP BUSINESS THAT “NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT”
Let’s go back to our coffee shop example. You might have developed a new, high-tech, super-efficient, and easy-to-maintain coffee bean roasting machine. It takes up half the space of the traditional roaster, has more automated controls, better safety features, and can be routinely maintained - and perhaps even repaired - without always needing to call in for professional repair services. Sounds great, right?
The problem is that your business is just yourself and ten employees. You have some limited venture funding and have concluded that your presence at trade shows alone is not attracting enough prospective customers. You’ve decided to advertise!
You followed the earlier examples in this article by determining the most desired actions you need people to take (conversions), and you’ve set up your success equation. In your particular case, you know that the sales cycle is long. You have a completely new way of approaching a business process (coffee bean roasting), and you need to convince people over time that you have a quality product backed by your expertise, talent, and trustworthiness.
YOU’VE CONCLUDED THAT YOUR MOST IMPORTANT CONVERSIONS RIGHT NOW ARE TO GAIN MORE BRAND AWARENESS AND MORE LEADS.
Of course, you want the sales, but you know that convincing people to buy will take time and relationship building.
Based on all of this, your thinking about advertising outcomes will likely look something like this:
“I NEED MORE TARGET CUSTOMERS TO KNOW I EXIST. THEREFORE, I’M GOING TO PLACE TARGETED LINKEDIN ADS WITH A LEAD GENERATION FORM. MY GOAL IS TO ACHIEVE 20 QUALIFIED LEADS THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN, WHICH I WILL RUN FOR TWO MONTHS AT $xx DOLLARS PER DAY”.
In addition, I’ve decided:
“BECAUSE I’VE RESEARCHED WHAT MY AUDIENCE ASKS ABOUT AND TALKS ABOUT, AND BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT TYPES OF CONTENT THEY LIKELY FOLLOW, I’M GOING TO PLACE A STREAMING AUDIO CAMPAIGN. I’M GOING TO WORK WITH AN AGENCY WHO WILL HELP ME DELIVER THOSE ADS THROUGH THE RIGHT AUDIO STREAMING SERVICES”.
“THIS SAME AGENCY WILL ENSURE THAT RETARGETING DISPLAY ADS WILL APPEAR TO VISITORS WHO ARRIVE AT MY SITE."
Notice what’s happening here. This startup business has chosen to prioritize:
- Top-of-funnel messaging: They want to be better known to their target audience
- Pursuing leads: The business commits itself to building relationships over time, with sales coming later once trust is established.
They understand that “success” is not necessarily the quick win of a sale. It’s the start of a journey built on awareness, leading to education for the prospect and a later sale for those who are ultimately persuaded by the value proposition.
Problem Three: Not Measuring Results
We’ll keep this section as short but as helpful as possible. Once you’ve placed an ad campaign, you or a partner (like an agency) will need to monitor performance and make adjustments as necessary. This is important because you need to understand if your ad campaigns are achieving their intended outcomes and if you’re achieving the return on investment you expect.
Depending on your success success equation and intended outcomes, you’ll be looking at metrics like:
- Impressions delivered: This is simply the amount of ads made available for viewing by someone. This is particularly important to awareness campaigns.
- Frequency: By this, we mean the amount of times the same person potentially saw the ad. The more times an ad is seen can increase the likelihood of a conversion, but you also don’t want to overdo it (lest people get tired of your ad and reject your brand in their minds).
- View Rate (or “View Through Rate”): This can be abbreviated as VTR and indicates the percentage of people who viewed your video in full or in part.
- Click Rate (or “Click Through Rate”): This can be abbreviated as CTR. This is the percentage of people who saw your ad and clicked on it to initiate further action (most typically a visit to your website).
- Form Completion Rate: The percentage of people who saw your ad and submitted a form with their information.
- Cost Metrics: These help you understand how much the campaign is costing you in relation to the other metrics
- Cost Per Click (CPC): The actual dollar cost for all your ad clicks.
- Cost Per View (CPV): The actual dollar cost of someone viewing your video.
- Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM): The dollar cost for every one thousand ads made available to viewers on the open Internet or through closed channels like social media platforms.
- Cost Per Impression (CPI): The cost each time an ad unit becomes viewable by a person, whether they click on the ad or not.
Conversely, by NOT taking the time to measure, check, and adjust, you’re bound to waste money, and you’ll not have a logical explanation for how your ads contributed to your business results.
Know Your Audience, Define Success, and Execute
There are more details we could dive into regarding paid digital advertising. What we’ve covered here, though, is foundational to achieving the desired results:
- Define your conversions and all the ingredients that go into achieving them:
- Know your audience and know your niche.
- Develop a success equation.
- Determine the outcomes you want from your advertising campaigns
- Not all messages and conversion paths are right for all your advertising options. Think through your goals, what you’re willing to spend, and which channel will help you succeed no matter how you define it.
- You can’t report on what you’re not tracking. Be sure to follow along with the performance of your campaigns. Make adjustments where necessary along the way.
- Think about what you’ll do differently for your next campaign with the benefit of what you’ve learned.
Remember, reputable partners like O8 can help you with all aspects of paid advertising, as we’ve described here (and much more, including SEO, content strategies, and content management). Please contact us if you’d like to learn more about us and how we can help you grow your business.