A creative director’s take on marketing strategy and tactics
Lead generation is a top objective of B2B marketers. Yet when it comes to marketing strategy, tactics, messaging, and offers for generating those leads, marketers are not always as specific as their agencies need them to be.
Peter Altschuler is the Creative Director at AcquireB2B which specializes in generating, nurturing, and qualifying leads and transforming them from prospects who are “just-looking” into those who are “ready to buy.”
As creative director, Peter turns business and sales objectives into provocative, compelling, and highly focused lead generation campaigns.
Mac asked about Peter’s approach to developing creative marketing strategies and tactics for the agency’s clients.
What follows is taken from their discussion about the essential information that leads to creative brilliance.
Mac: Clients give us all sorts of input.
Peter: “All sorts” is an excellent way to describe it.
But it’s rarely in the form of a brief that you and I rely on to understand what a client expects from any given project.
But we can take their input to create a brief – which I think is vital – just so that we’re all working from a common set of parameters and expectations.
And we do that a lot. But from the creative end, which is your focus, what do you consider the bare essentials that clients have to provide to be sure they get what they want?
And what they need.
There are ten essential elements and, though they seem pretty straightforward, each one should be, as Einstein said, as simple as possible but not simpler. In other words, the term “brief” implies that the information should be reduced to its most concise… and precise… form without leaving out anything vital to know.
I want you to give me an example, but first, tell me the ten basic elements.
O.K. Number one is the product and, in B2B, that may be the physical item or the core service. It may include installation, upgrades, maintenance, consulting, training, and warranties. So the product has to be described very specifically.
Two is the objective, and the objective is never to sell more stuff.
I thought it kind of is.
Ultimately, sure, but getting to that point requires intermediate steps like increasing or establishing awareness in a particular industry vertical. Or generating qualified leads from companies of a specific size or location. Or attracting more visitors to a product offer page, persuading existing customers to purchase a complementary product or add-on, or using a discount to attract more ready-to-buy prospects.
Each of those seems to have two parts.
They do because, otherwise, they’re too generic. They are simpler than possible, to go back to Einstein. Without the second part, there’s not enough focus. It would be like an ad for Coke that says, “It’s refreshing,” but doesn’t have an image that indicates who finds it refreshing – a family at the beach for instance. Or doesn’t illustrate how it’s refreshing, like poured over ice or drunk through a straw. Or suggests it’s refreshing by showing a guy wiping his brow as he takes a gulp.
Number three is the audience, which makes the objective even more precise.
By clarifying exactly who you want to reach. If you’re selling office supplies in bulk, the office or purchasing manager is a better target than the head of finance, even if the message involves cost savings. That’s because the finance executive doesn’t buy supplies and probably doesn’t even get them from the supply room. The executive’s assistant does that. But…
But suppose you’re introducing a new product like, I don’t know… digital paper that transfers what you write into text in a software application. In that case, you probably want to target the end-user. If the user wants it, they’ll ask the office or purchasing manager to stock it – an item the manager would never consider buying if there wasn’t a demand from employees.
Makes sense. But how do you reach those users?
You’re a step ahead. That’s number four—the media. Once you know the audience, you have to pick the best way to reach it. That could be email, postal direct mail, digital or print ads in specific publications, video (which could be part of an email campaign), or billboards.
Billboards? For B2B?
Sure. Like between a convention venue and the main hotel to attract attendees to a tradeshow booth. Spot TV can do the same thing. Or maybe Apple wants to persuade public transit commuters to read the Times or the Post on iPads and uses busboards and subway posters.
But there are nuances.
Aren’t there always?
Yeah. If the medium is email, what other medium matters?
Yes! It’s essential to know where the email will be read – on a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop – so that the creative can be modified appropriately. That’s usually done automatically by email service provider software these days, rather than creating different mobile and desktop versions manually. An interesting study awhile back showed that desktop views of email increased and mobile views decreased in B2B categories. But in fashion, a B2C category, the opposite happened. So the media have secondary considerations just like objectives and audience.
The fifth essential is the primary message. What’s the one thing, more than anything else, that you want the audience to receive? Or let me rephrase that. What’s the one very specific thing that you want the audience to “get.”
I did a campaign years ago for a company that used a knowledge base, which is like a database on 3-D multi-media steroids. A database can hold alphanumeric data in tables. A knowledge base can incorporate audio, video, graphics, text, and numbers and store it in an unstructured repository. Don’t look so worried. That’s as technical as this gets.
To get across the point that databases were limited, the first ad showed a picture of Bo Diddley’s trademark cigar box guitar, and underneath it was the headline “Databases don’t know diddley.”
Clever. I like that.
And it worked great. The first two sentences of the concise body copy established the difference between data and knowledge bases, and the inquiries poured in.
The client, to be honest, thought the appeal was too narrow. They wanted to make a big, blue sky statement about the future of information management. Still, we pointed to examples from earlier campaigns that fell flat, and that we had nothing to do with, by the way…
Of course. I assumed that.
… and that helped us talk the client out of it. What’s interesting is that item six, a unique selling proposition or USP, was incorporated into that primary message.
Their USP was that their technology could store and retrieve any type of information – this was a few years before Google – and no one else could claim that at the time. But, even if someone could, it wouldn’t matter if my client claimed it first.
I’m not sure I follow.
There’s a classic story about a beer brand that gave a tour to its agency’s creative team. The copywriter was fascinated by the process they used to sterilize bottles using steam. The writer wanted to focus on that as a differentiator, but the brewery said that everyone sterilized their bottles the same way. It didn’t matter, the copywriter said, because the brand’s customers didn’t know that bottles were sterilized or that it was a common practice. So the agency promoted the beer as cleaner and healthier because the bottles were sterilized, and sales went up.
But couldn’t every other brand make the same claim?
Yes, but if they were the second or third or fourth, they’d look guilty of me-too-ism and might be perceived as copying from the now higher profile brand, instead of coming up with something better on their own.
Creatives need to know the benefits and then the corresponding features – items seven and eight. The benefits tend to be more critical to the people who want a solution to a problem; the ones who want to know if it will be more efficient, cost-effective, durable, and so on.
Purchase initiators, short listers, recommenders, and decision-makers would be in that group. However, for researchers, evaluators, and influencers – the people who want to know how it works, whether it will integrate with or replace other components, and so on – the features are probably more important.
For copy and art teams, though, both are important if they create materials for all of those different individuals. The need to know what to say – and what to show – based on who’s expected to read, watch, or listen to the information.
Yeah, that’s the catchall name for what used to be called collateral or sales aids or marketing literature, depending on your generation. It’s all been used in B2B marketing and sales for more than a hundred years. It’s only since the Internet put buyers in charge of obtaining all that information, instead of having marketing and sales departments dole it out, that it’s now seen as something new. The media and formats are new, but the relevance and variety of the information – content – hasn’t changed much.
Is there anything else? I think we’re only up to number eight.
Nine is competitive information. We need to know what other vendors are saying and doing to be sure that we don’t wind up with me-too-ism like the beer folks. That we don’t just do a better job of saying and doing the same thing as the other guys. And that we understand what the competition thinks is important to the market so that we can find an area they’re ignoring or aren’t tapping into very well. If we know all that, we can create something that stands apart and endures for as long as the market stays stable
What do you mean by “stable”?
New products and services appear much faster than they used to. They could be disruptive entrants that offer something entirely new or improvements to existing offerings, or more aggressive pricing. Or even new government regulations that affect how a product can be used or if it can still be used at all. Government isn’t a competitor, but it can have a pretty big impact.
So the creative strategy should incorporate a plan B and, probably, C and D to anticipate potential what-if situations and be ready with an alternate approach that can be launched in close to real time.
Like real time marketing in B2C – the kind that responds to things like a blackout during the Super Bowl using Twitter.
That’s a great example, though B2B may not need to respond quite that fast. But B2B uses marketing automation to react immediately in ways like sending instant replies to website inquiries or email responses. And that kind of responsiveness itself can be a competitive advantage or part of a company’s brand USP.
And we’ve done that kind of thing for clients for years now. It’s a great way to motivate companies to create repositories of messages, offers, and content which can be distributed as soon as a response or inquiry is submitted.
Just as long as everything is coordinated in terms of style, which conveniently, is the tenth and final item on my list. We risk confusing the audience if we don’t understand the look and sound and feel that conveys the brand’s or product’s character.
It’s hard to think of a B2B example that everyone’s familiar with, so I’ll cheat a little and use two B2C firms – T-Mobile and Apple. T-Mobile blares at you with bright magenta color schemes, attacks on competitors’ pricing and contracts. Apple relies on visual minimalism using an abundance of white space, it acts as if it has no competition, and its public statements are either well-planned in advance or, under Tim Cook, very measured when the company has to respond to situations that were unanticipated.
If we created an Apple campaign, full of multi-colored backgrounds crammed with products and long blocks of text, the reactions from each Apple user on the planet would be massive. And if we did a T-Mobile campaign that veered toward Apple’s style, well… people might think that the company was sold to Cupertino.
Or the account was given to another agency.
Peter, thanks so much for taking the time to elaborate on the ten essential elements of a productive marketing brief.
It was my pleasure.
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