B-to-B Direct Marketing's Death Is Greatly Exaggerated
One of these magazines suggested the terms “data-driven marketing,” “omnichannel marketing” or “digital marketing” could take the place of “direct marketing.” The problem with these terms is that general ad agencies and branding firms are immersed in data, and it drives a lot of their strategy. Likewise, they virtually all use multiple marketing channels, including digital. These terms allow for very minimal distinction as descriptors.
Perhaps a better term than “direct marketing” would be “direct response.” Direct marketing implies that the marketing message is delivered directly to the prospect. But lots of marketing materials that sell classic mail order items are not. For example, catalogs in airline seats require you to buy a plane ticket to see them.
“Direct response” may be more accurate, because it refers to any advertising that asks for the consumer to respond directly to the ad. A perfume ad in Cosmopolitan magazine is what we call an image, branding or general ad, and there is often no phone number or other response mechanism, and no offer.
But direct marketers not only always include at least one response mechanism, but also make an offer that gives the prospect an incentive to respond.
This makes direct response much more useful than direct mail or print advertising. It encompasses virtually every conversion tool you see online — banner ads, AdWords, Facebook ads, pop-ups and hyperlinks in articles, advertorials, blog posts and e-newsletters.
These other trade magazines are also saying that B-to-B is an antiquated term that should be retired. This makes even less sense.
The differentiation between B-to-B and B-to-C is crystal clear to me. B-to-B marketers sell to other businesses, while B-to-C marketers sell to consumers. Most often, the products B-to-B marketers sell are either used to run the customer’s business operation (e.g., a forklift), a raw material or sub-assembly used in the making of the business’s product (e.g., stainless steel for making ducts) or a machine used in the manufacture of the business’s product (e.g., injection molding machines for making plastic products).
In his classic book “Industrial Advertising,” Fred Messner wrote: “Industrial products are not consumed by the purchaser himself — the person who reads the industrial ad. These products are either purchased for resale or else enter in some way into, or facilitate the fabrication of, a finished product which is then sold to another manufacturer or to the consumer.”
The dynamics of selling a $500,000 clean-agent fire suppression system to a corporate data center are very different from selling a six-pack of beer to be purchased for $12 at the local liquor store. Therefore, I think the distinction between B-to-B and B-to-C is valid and useful.
A Rose by Any Other Name ...
When I entered B-to-B marketing in the late 1970s, it was called “industrial marketing.” “Business to business” is a broader term. All industrial products are sold through B-to-B marketing or salespeople. But not all B-to-B products are industrial. For instance, I have a client who sells motivational employee gifts and awards to companies, and there is nothing industrial or technical about them.
But B-to-B is not the only marketing term under scrutiny. In my own little corner of marketing — freelance copywriting — there are a surprising number of copywriters who deliberately avoid the word “freelance,” thinking the term is demeaning. They prefer the more sophisticated label of “independent copywriter.”
Maybe this is valid in general advertising, but in direct marketing, freelance copywriters are in great demand. So why would you call yourself anything other than that?
Other copywriters avoid the word “copywriter” as they think it also connotes a low-level profession, preferring to call themselves “marketing consultants.” I don’t think the latter impresses anybody, and if you are a copywriter, it makes it unclear what you do.
Way back when, what we do used to just be called “advertising.” Our B-to-B trade association was the Business and Professional Advertising Association (BPAA). At some point, the name changed to the Business Marketing Association (BMA), which it still is today.
Other names have changed, too. We used to call what is now “content marketing” merely “giving away free information.” The free information we gave away was referred to as the “bait piece;” today it is a “lead magnet.” What we call “whitepapers” today used to be called “technical briefs,” and they were often just reprints of technical articles from trade magazines.
I have no control over name changes, and in most cases no objection. But I don’t see any reason to get rid of “B-to-B,” or understand the logic of those who want to. B-to-B is significantly different from B-to-C and always will be.
As Messner notes: “Most consumers have neither the technical training nor the scientific instruments to evaluate the performance of one brand of product which they consider buying as compared with that of a competing brand. Persons who buy supplies or equipment for an industrial concern usually
“Direct marketing” and “direct response” can be used interchangeably; both are appropriate and should not be replaced. The general advertiser wants to create “awareness” of a brand while the direct marketer seeks inquiries or sales — a direct response that can be precisely measured vs. awareness, which cannot be calculated with equal accuracy.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.