B-to-B Insights: Strolling Down Memory Lane
In 1980, I took a position as the advertising manager of Koch Engineering, a firm in New York City that manufactured industrial process equipment.
The company used a small Madison Avenue ad agency, RSMK, and our account was handled by an account executive named Lansing Moore.
True to the stereotype of ad agency people and their three-martini lunches, whenever I requested a meeting with Lansing, he wanted to do it over lunch—his treat, of course, because I wasthe client.
I found this lunch habit a waste of my time and my company's money (I figured the tab was really being paid out of the fees my company remitted to RSMK), and began insisting we meet mid-morning or mid-afternoon, thereby sidestepping the three-martini lunch. (I didn't drink at lunch and Lansing only had one martini.) That made me more comfortable.
To this day, I have an extreme prejudice—perhaps to the point of irrationality—against business breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It is my belief that the most efficient way to conduct a face-to-face meeting is in the office, not a restaurant.
Wisdom from Joe Sacco
Decades ago, I saw in Adweek an ad offering copywriting and creative direction from ad agency veteran Joe Sacco.
Thinking I might offer my service to Joe as an assistant copywriter, I called him. He wasn't interested and he was very discouraging about anyone going into the ad business.
He did tell me an interesting story. Joe was assigned to write an advertisement for insulin needles. Having no idea what diabetics looked for in needles, and seeing his client didn't either, he quite sensibly interviewed a few diabetics.
Almost all of them said the most important attribute was that the needle be sharp. To the uninitiated, this seems off: wouldn't that hurt? But if you've ever used a hypodermic to give an injection, you know that the sharper the needle, the smoother it goes in. From Joe, I learned the importance of talking with people who are your target market.
Striking Out With Koch
A media representative from an engineering trade publication came to my office at Koch Engineering to sell me on the idea of advertising in his magazine. His magazine was a product tabloid, which meant it was little more than a compilation of press releases about products made mainly by his advertisers.
When I did not buy an ad, he said, "Give me all your press releases." I handed him a thick stack.
The next month, his magazine arrived in my inbox, and the issue seemed to consist primarily of short articles with photos about all of Koch Engineering's products.
But rather than convince me to advertise, his gesture did the opposite.
The magazine content was obviously controlled by sales reps, not real editors. Therefore, the content was mainly product pitches, not useful information, and the magazine was neither well-read nor respected as a result.
Joe Lane's Genius Headline Treatment
When I started freelancing as a copywriter a year or so later, I was hired by Joe Lane, who had his own small agency that was exclusively B-to-B.
Joe was proud to be a B-to-B marketer and had contempt for consumer advertising, which he called, "Simple thoughts for simple folk."
One of his accounts sold laboratory glassware and the client wanted the ad to emphasize that the beakers, flasks and graduated cylinders were extra clear, making it easy to see the chemicals they contained.
I forgot Joe's headline, but I remember he blew the headline up to poster size, mounted it on a laboratory wall, and photographed the headline right through the client's glassware. You could read the headline easily, even though it had been shot through glass.
The smaller the potential market, and the bigger the product's price tag, the more influence sales has on the purchase decision while marketing's influence dwindles.
Rolls Royce-style Delivery
At Westinghouse Defense, we were bidding on providing a new command and control center to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I was asked to produce a brochure on the system; the brochure was targeted at literally half a dozen people in the Saudi government and military. It was four color, multi-lingual, 16 pages and expensive.
When the product manager saw the printed piece, he suggested we bind a copy in leather and deliver it on the back seat of a new Rolls Royce, which would be left behind along with the brochure. Although we didn't do it, I don't think he was joking.
Brochure Design Failure
For one of our major products at Koch Engineering, I hired a high-end graphic design firm to design a new product brochure. Most of our brochures were printed two-color on white stock; the design for the new brochure was for a four-color piece with a varnished black cover, which the graphic artist said would look dramatic.
The product was fabricated from multiple metal pieces welded to form a sort of grid or X pattern. The graphic artist die-cut the brochure cover to duplicate this grid on the black paper.
I thought it looked great, but unfortunately, after the brochure was handled a few times, the paper grid began to rip apart, and it looked terrible. And the varnished black cover made visible the fingerprints of whoever handled the brochure. Thanks to B-to-B marketing communications having gone digital, problems like these are a thing of the past. You lucky young folks.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of 80 books, including "The White Paper Marketing Handbook" (Racom). Find him online at www.bly.com,via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (201) 505-9451.
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.