Great insight requires great creative – even in B2B

I have worked with several B2B brands, and most of them had a very good grasp on what made their customers excited. Others quickly recognized the importance of what I  found out while researching their target markets. Insight seems to come natural to people in B2B markets. Unfortunaltely, I can’t say the same for their grasp of creative execution.

Now, here’s a cautionary tale on the dangers of not being able to make the leap of faith from strategy to execution: You’re in B2B. Everyone you deal with is a pro. They might not buy one of your products every year (because it’s a huge machine that costs $50 000) but they are experienced and know what they want. You also know what they want, because like you’re buyers you’ve lived practically you’re whole life in this business. And what they want is a turbo-charged RX450 compressor powered Rock Combustor that will run 4500 hours or more before requiring maintenance.

Tomas Lundgren

Tomas Lundgren

There are many other firms selling similar machines, cheaper, more expensive, higher powered, etc, but you are the only one who sell such a low-maintenance machine at a reasonable price in the high-power segment. You’ve got your insight into the target audience down pat. If anyone buys this, it’s because they know maintenance is a real drain on the overall budget to keep a machine fleet operational. So, you brief the agency. The agency people nod and take notes and go to work.

They come back with a concept that is visually daring, has a memorable pun in the headline, and really stresses maintenance costs, but it doesn’t show the machine. Instead the image shows a guy dressed in a business suit asleep in a bed (aren’t we supposed to appeal to a male audience here?) with a “dream bubble” above where dollar bills are jumping across a fence. You immediately feel uneasy. This doesn’t look like what your company usually put in its ads. Actually, no one in your industry have ads that look this way. There’s supposed to be a machine in the picture. Or a bikini babe. Or both.

You’re customers are serious people that buy serious, powerful equipment for serious amounts of money. This is not going to work. So you say you like the copy and appreciate that it makes a good, strong point for maintenance cost reduction, but end up giving your great-idea-but-I-don’t-know-if-I-like-this speech to the agency team.

The art director stares at the table. The copy writer says it reinforces the headline that you said was good. The account manager tries to make a case for it, but quickly accepts defeat and takes the team back to the agency to have another go. A week later they arrive again, this time without the art director. It now looks like a typical industry ad, but nice. They’ve used your best product shot and done some quite magical effect in some image processing software and it looks stunning. Your boss is gonna love it. The guys at engineering is going to pin it to the wall and buy you a round. The customers are going to be impressed. This is going to work!

But of course it doesn’t.
Your customers, while not insensitive to the seductive image of a powerful yellow machine in a glowing late afternoon light, are so used to seeing product shots that they just skim over your ad. They are busy worrying about all that money disappearing in maintenance, and actually, they haven’t been able to sleep very well lately because they are going to take serious heat because of that budget running wild. They sure would like to find a low-maintenance machine, but can’t.

Your company still sell it’s quota that year. You even get a little bonus, and you’re very popular with engineering. Everything has worked out fine, just like last year , and the year before that.




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