B2B digital advertising, where did it go all wrong?

When we look under the hood of B2B digital advertising accounts, I’m often surprised by the set-up or structure of what’s going on.

You can usually tell in an instant that the person, team or agency behind the account hasn’t really given much thought to the B2B buying process and the impact that’s having on performance.

Let’s be clear. B2B digital advertising, in particular Google Ads, is worlds apart from B2C.

For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on Google Ads. If you’d like insights on other forms of digital advertising, then just message me on LinkedIn

How B2B digital advertising is different

The main difference between B2C and B2B advertising is that the conversion is different. In B2C it’s about the sale – when the checkout confirmation page is hit and the money’s in the bank. 

With B2B, the sales process is often a lot more complicated. There are three key areas where differences appear:

1. Time

The process for B2C typically involves one person, often one session, or a couple of sessions, and a sale following within a short window, typically within 30 days.

With B2B, the sales process is longer. At best, it’s 90 days and at worst it’s two years. The other key factor is that the person who’s searching isn’t necessarily the person that’s buying.

2. Buyers

Businesses rarely make decisions in isolation, instead they make team decisions, so you need to factor this in by thinking carefully about placements and ads.

3. Levels of intent

Intent stages are different too. High intent in B2C is likely to lead to a purchase, but high intent in B2B is usually in relation to the conversion and stage in the buying journey, not necessarily related to the likelihood to purchase on the spot (because that never happens).

Let’s explore them in a bit more detail…

The impact of time

A slower buying process makes the process more complex too as it impacts reporting and how performance is tracked.  

The slower buying process means you’re likely to have to consider a multi-channel buying process where retargeting is critical. With this you may also want to consider various messaging depending on where the individual is in the buying journey and their level of intent. (More on that below…)

Time also impacts performance. Since time frames are impacted by stage in the buying process, it’s essential to link the performance to the CRM. A conversion on a form on the website may be great, but we need to follow that lead through to sale. 

In addition, between that first touch of a Google Search ad to the point where a lead becomes an MQL, there are a number of other touches – a LinkedIn ad, a nurture email, a webinar or a demo.  How much attribution should that early Search ad get?

This starts to add multiple layers of complexity as you need to consider the transition of a lead to MQL, to SQL, to sale, which takes time, so the tracking and capturing of Source, Campaign and CRM Campaign are critical. Then the attribution set-up needs to be considered too: last touch, first touch or multi-attribution – which are you using and how will that be reported in the CRM? 

Whilst the above depends on the set-up and reporting structures of the business, there is no ‘right way’, but very few B2B Google Ad accounts factor these things in and blindly chase conversions of ‘trial’, ‘demo’ or ‘download’, using them as measures of success. This means you don’t get a true picture of whether the channel is delivering ROI.

Buyers and ads

Like with all things in marketing, you need to consider your audience. Different audiences need different messages depending on their profile and the stage in their journey

Too often we see generic ads that relate to product features. Whilst these ads are good, they only reflect one use case of a buyer profile and stage.  There are two points here:

  1. The buyer stage and presenting the right content at the right time
  2. Variants in ad copy to test messages based on:
    • Benefits
    • Features
    • Credibility
    • The value related to the CTA
    • Positive spin
    • Negative spin

And apply them to the different types of buyers in the buying group. For example, a technical architect searching for information about an enterprise software solution would have a different set of requirements to a researcher or the end-user of the product, but all could be at the early intent stage.

The principle here is that the buying team consists of different people and this should be considered when thinking about ad content, messaging and the call-to-action.

Levels of intent

With B2C, it’s generally easy to determine high levels of intent – it’s often based on location, type of need, keywords used or previous behaviour. It’s therefore easy to structure the account based on these types of intent.

With B2B it’s way more subtle and therefore harder. There’s often little variation in a search term for someone that wants an enterprise software solution. There may be a slight keyword variation that includes ‘demo’ or ‘how’, but the bits in between present a lot of grey!

We therefore rely more heavily on behaviour and the asset being promoted to signal intent. This where buckets of intent become really useful, such as:

  • In-market audiences
  • Custom audiences based on URL
  • Remarketing audiences

This, coupled with the content or ads, is really important. For example, there’s not much point pushing a net-new audience to a demo of an obscure enterprise platform on a broad keyword if they don’t about you and haven’t been warmed up a bit.

The great thing about Google Ads now is that you can be smarter with messaging and adapt it based on (assumed) levels of intent, knowledge or warmth, but you can also hit them hard with high intent search terms when they’re really ready. 

Now, it’s less about hitting them over the head with hammer and instead being smart with the strategy to reduce cost and increase impact with the subtleties of intent, buyer stage and messaging matched to audiences, ad content and calls-to-action.

So, if you’d like to rethink your Google Ads activity and increase your performance with a team that really understands how to deliver leads, engagement and, ultimately, sales in B2B digital advertising, get in touch.

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