What is the best way for a B2B business to advertise? Which channels are the best? What is a good advertising strategy? How much should you pay? In this article, we try to lay it all out.
B2B Advertising Foundations: Selecting your target audience
Selecting your target audience is the foundation in any advertising strategy, B2B or otherwise. How do you select the people who should see your ads?
There are four types of targeting criteria. Which of these you choose to work with will determine if you should advertise on LinkedIn, Facebook or Google, since they're all especially strong for certain criteria.
The four critera are:
- Based on the target group's attribute
- Based on the their interests
- Based on their challenge
- Based on your relationship with your audience
Below we will deep dive into each of these criteria
1. Attribute based audience selection
Segment your target group based on their attributes, such as industry, role or seniority.
This is the most common way for B2B companies to segment their audience. Attribute based advertising helps you quickly filter out the large mass of people who will likely not be interested in your offering.
Most marketers are happy enough with this. But this is not where the biggest gains are. Your goal should be interest based, and then challenge based advertising.
If you haven't done advertising before, we recommend that you start with attribute based advertising. It is the easiest way to get started with an initial segmentation model, and it's a good way to start collecting data and begin to understand your audience's interests.
But don't see it as the end goal. See it as a way to start getting to know your audience so you can segment further later on.
2. Interest based audience selection
When you've filtered potentially relevant people with your attribute based filters, it's time to find the sub group of audience members who are interested in the actual topics you are all about.
If you sell IT services, perhaps your content is about centralized control over the IT environment. Or about the Internet of Things. Or Big Data. Or an endless other stream of potential topics of interest.
If you show an ad about The Internet of Things to an attribute based segment (for example IT managers), most of the will likely be indifferent. Your ad money is wasted.
Instead, try to find a sub group that has shown interest for the topic "Internet of Things". This will ensure that your ad will both cost less, and get more clicks since each dollar will be used more effectively.
3. Challenge based audience selection
But just because an IT manager has shown interest in the topic "Internet of Things" doesn't mean that he or she is ready to do something about it.
You may get a lot of clicks. But probably not customers.
Challenge based advertising instead is based on the challenges your audience are experiencing. What headaches do they have and what are they trying to solve?
Challenge drives action. Show your ads to people who are facing real challenges within the topic of interest, and they're likely to not only read, but take action. Rather than chasing customers, customers will chase you.
To understand your customers' challenges, track your leads' behavior on your website. Capture leads from your interest based ads, or use retargeting to do this. Both Google Ads and Facebook offer ways to track your audience on your site for retargeting purposes.
Select articles, pages or categories that clearly demonstrate action intent, for example articles that are about certain challenges a prospect might have, case studies, or product pages. All of these demonstrate where a buyer might be in their buying journey, and show clear signs of intention of having a challenge or wanting to do something about their situation.
Dedicate a portion of your advertising budget to this audience. The click rates on these ads should reach impressive levels compared to the other types of ads, and these clicks are more likely to lead to purchases. Validate this by using a CRM-system that can track and report on which ads opportunities should be attributed to. (By the way, we can help you do this since Marketing Automation Professional Services are included at no cost with our services.)
4. Relationship based audience selection
The three previous segmentation models assume that you are trying to establish new relationships. But what about your existing members? This fourth method is about strengthening your existing relationships. It is basically supercharged retargeting.
It assumes that you have Marketing Automation software that can integrate with various advertising platforms. It also assumes that you are doing regular Inbound Marketing, which will give you the opportunity to grow your database and track leads' behavior for retargeting purposes. If your marketing system integrates with your CRM, all the better! This will give you the opportunity to target ads based on information collected about customers' business challenges, an effective way to show relevant information in a non-intrusive way.
For example, imagine showing specific ads to people in current opportunities, about exactly the product that your sales rep demoed to your lead? Imagine having a product demo with a sales rep, and then showing ads for a free trial on the same product?
Want to learn more about Marketing Automation and CRM? Read about FunnelBud, our all-in-one system for marketing and sales. Professional Services and help with everything in this article is included.
Three digital B2B advertising channels and how they target different audiences
The three most common B2B advertising channels are Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. The two social media channels are great for attribute based and interest based advertising, but can be used for problem based advertising if you have gotten to know your database of contacts well enough. Adwords is directly tied to challenge based advertising.
B2B ads on search engines (Google Ads)
Google Ads allow you to pay to be visible in search engine results. If you blog regularly to get more visitors, people who have certain challenges and search for solutions to those challenges will find you. Google Ads accomplishes the same goal, but allows you to take a shortcut by paying to be shown.
Google Ads can be used to capture the "low hanging fruit" - the results that your blog posts aren't yet being displayed for. Advertise a solution for customers who experience certain challenges.
Google also offers Adsense, which allows you to display ads on selected websites and YouTube videos. This makes it possible to use Google for attribute based and interest based audience selection.
B2B ads on LinkedIn and Facebook
Social media platforms practically lives on knowing who their customers are and what they're interested in. This makes social media platforms excellent choices for attribute based and interest based targeting, but not as well suited (at least not "out of the box") for challenge based targeting.
Both platforms let you show your ads in directly in the main feed or on other locations such as the sidebar. LinkedIn even allows you to "advertise" by paying to send a direct message to a selected audience.
You can create audiences based on "who the audience is" (attribute based) and "what the audience is interested in" (interest based, derived from such things as what the members have read, liked, interacted with, and groups they're members of).
There are some differences between Facebook and LinkedIn, which we'll explain below.
B2B advertising on Facebook
Facebook is often viewed as better suited for B2C rather than B2B. But this is not necessarily the case. Many business (and many of our own customers) are aware that Facebook offers excellent conversion opportunities for a comparatively very low cost. After all, people are people, whether they're working or not. You're want to reach the person, not the role they have at work.
Today (2018 as of writing this), Facebook still allows more granular segmentation than LinkedIn. Facebook's ads also give you more design possibilities and options.
Finally, Facebook features two poweful features still not widely available in LinkedIn (I've seen one of these made availabe for businesses with their own account manager, which requires a comparatively large ad budget):
- Retargeting: Add a piece of code on your website and show ads on Facebook to your visitors. This is powerful when you want to create interest- or problem based audience segments.
- Individual targeting: Upload a list of contacts to create a custom audience. Very powerful if you have your own contact database segmentation. This is what will allow you to show different ads based on for example information from business opportunities.
B2B advertising on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is more tied to people's professional role. Many feel that this makes LinkedIn more suitable for B2B ads.
For one thing, this makes LinkedIn's data about their audience's job title more accurate, which makes it possible for you to accurately target people based on title or role. LinkedIn also has data about and makes it possible for you to segment on seniority and even company.
At the time of writing this (2018), LinkedIn still lacks some of the flashier design options that Facebook has. It also doesn't make it possible for you to advertise to selected contacts, unless you have a comparatively large ad budget which qualifies you for your own account manager.
However, many of our own customers in the B2B sector feel that LinkedIn's ability to segment on title, role, seniority and company make the platform ideal for B2B advertising.
Here is a useful LinkedIn Ads ROI Calculator built by Gotoclient that you can use to estimate revenue and ROI when running advertising campaigns on the LinkedIn network.
How digital advertising fits in with your overall marketing strategy
We have defined three stages that describe how advanced a company's B2B marketing strategy is:
- Attribute based individual ads: The ads are "independent" in the sense that they're not connected to an overall buying journey or sales process. Ads are just "one more channel to be visible on". They forward more visitors to your site or some subpage, and that's it.
- Interest based ads tightly integrated with your Inbound Marketing and sales efforts: You segment your audience based on their interests, create content and inbound marketing funnels specifically designed to appeal to, convert and nurture this audience into sales leads.
- Challenge based ads tied to each customer's individual journey: You know your contacts as individuals rather than as segments. You know which buying journey and in which stage of the journey each contact is and which challenges they experience in each stage. Based on this, you automatically trigger individualized communication on multiple channels, including ads, emails, website and sales reps.
Below, we will describe three specific advertising strategies if you're on stage 2 or 3.
Ads for selected customers (Account Based Marketing)
Account based marketing works well together with proactive outbound sales efforts. If your sales reps have specific target accounts (or upsell to existing customers), this is an excellent way to support them.
It can also work like magic for existing sales opportunities. Imagine the magic of synchronizing your ads to each account with the message your sales reps deliver, and have this message synchronize between different types of opportunities and even based on which stage the opportunity moves to.
Warning: This will only work if you have:
- An all-in-one software for both sales and marketing or a strong sync between your marketing software and CRM software
- An effective sales process that defines the messaging per account per stage.
This way, your sales and marketing teams can work as one, with the same message to each customer. The message adapts continuously to the customer's buying journey. And the message is the same regardless of channel, including sales reps' conversations. This will synergize the message and strengthen its impact, and deliver insights to your customers throughout the buying journey in a powerfully adaptive and personalized way.
Ads for selected stages in the buying journey
A customer needs to be 1) aware of a challenge or opportunity, then 2) understand the reasons for and solutions to those challenges or opportunities, and 3) select a specific product or service to implement the solution.
In each step above, you need to communicate differently to your customers:
- Awareness: Make them aware of challenges or opportunities.
- Consideration: Deliver insights that help them frame their challenges in a way that benefits you.
- Decision: Prove why your solutions will achieve the goals better than alternatives.
By understanding where in the buying journey your customers are, you can sync which ads to deliver to each customer. This will help you move your customers faster through the three generic stages and towards a purchase.
Two pronged approach: Capture leads with interest based ads, and trigger buying journeys with challenge based ads
This is a great way for a company to increase the size of their database in a generic way, nurture those contacts with generic interest based content, and detect when they're ready to start a buying journey and trigger that journey.
To do this, start by creating generic interest based ads. Capture them on landing pages with guides targeting those interests, or with a blog category targeting that interest. Your goal is to increase the number of subscribers or contacts in your database.
Nurture these contacts with regular newsletters. If you have the resources, use dynamic content in your emails to target sections of the email based on their interests.
Use a tracking system to detect when a contact shows signs of starting a buying journey. Then, trigger challenge based ads that entice your contacts to opt in to a marketing funnel. If they do, let the system handle the journey, with personalized, stage-based ads and content, and notify sales when the contact is ready to get in touch.
How Marketing Automation aids your B2B advertising strategy
Marketing Automation is an all-in-one tool for digital marketing. Such a system collects your contacts and information about your interactions with them. Therefore, it can help you execute true relationship based retargeting.
For example, you can show different ads to different people based on where they are in the sales process and what the sales reps have talked to them about. Thus, you can nurture your contacts in a personalized way even outside of your website and emails.
One of the largest problems with digital advertising for B2B companies is that it is difficult to measure the value of each click. Do the clicks really lead to sales?
Marketing Automation solves this too. A great platform tracks which ads each of your contacts orginally found you via. The entire buying journey is saved, all the way to closed deal. Thus, it gives you the sales value of each ad, not just the click value or lead conversion value.
Thus, the tool can inform you of where to invest your ad dollars.
At FunnelBud, we deliver SharpSpring, one of the world's leading all-in-one platforms. Professional Services are included, so we help you implement your advertising strategy.
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