B-to-B Insights: B-to-B Marketing in 1978 vs. 2008
I started my career in B-to-B marketing in the late 1970s, and by the early 1980s I thought I had a pretty good handle on the basics.
I believed I could continue to use the methods I’d learned during my first few years for the rest of my life. Boy, was I wrong.
First came the fax machine, then the personal computer, cell phones, whitepapers, the Internet, search engines, blogging, webinars and social networks, to name a few. B-to-B marketing had become a brave new world—a world in which most of us struggle every day just to keep up. Here are some of the biggest changes that have taken place in B-to-B marketing during the past three decades—and what has stayed relatively the same.
The Death of “Industrial Marketing.” B-to-B used to be called industrial marketing. Gradually, industrial marketing changed to business marketing and then to B-to-B.
From Tactical to Strategic. Before the widespread use of the Internet, B-to-B marketing had relatively few avenues in which to prosper. This made planning campaigns simple and straightforward. You’d create a sales brochure, run a trade ad, send out a few press releases and try to get a feature article written about it in the industry trade publications. Today, there are dozens of other marketing methods, and a number of the early communications tools have been supplanted by new media such as
e-newsletters, webinars, podcasts and vertical search engines.
As a result, B-to-B marketers have to decide how to divide their limited budgets and time among these new communications vehicles. So planning a B-to-B marcom campaign is infinitely more complex.
The End of the Industrial Film, Slide Shows and 35 mm Photography. At Westinghouse Aerospace, where I worked in the late 1970s, I produced my first audio/visual promotion on 16 mm film. Soon afterwards, film declined and everything then was shot in video. At Westinghouse there was a department that did nothing but produce slides for presentations. That’s how managers got their slides done. Today, nearly everyone has PowerPoint and can produce his own slide shows on his PC. Also at Westinghouse we had a full-time photographer. Pete was a skilled professional who took photos of products, processes and installations with a
35 mm camera. Today, film largely has disappeared and been replaced by digital photography. And anyone who owns a digital camera thinks he’s as good a photographer as Pete.
The Decline of Print Advertising. Whenever we wanted to promote a product, running an ad for the item was a no-brainer. It was automatically assumed you’d advertise. The questions were where, when, how frequently and with how much in your budget. Today, print advertising is rarely the primary B-to-B marketing medium. For many B-to-B marketers, it’s not even on the radar. More likely to be considered: paid search, search engine optimization (to make your site more easily found) and e-mail marketing.
The Effectiveness of Planted Feature Articles. Writing articles for industry publications was, indeed, an effective marketing strategy. I knew a guy who had a boutique PR agency that did nothing but ghostwrite and place feature stories for clients. Typically the articles were bylined by engineers. Today, despite the supposed decline of the printed word, writing articles for trade publications remains one of the most potent
B-to-B marketing tactics. Writing online articles for Web sites and e-zines may generate more clicks and traffic, but in many markets, a bylined article in the leading industry magazine still has more credibility and clout—and the reprints make terrific sales literature.
The Shrinking Importance of Old-Fashioned PR. In the heyday of print, each industry was covered globally by too many trade publications and newsletters for most marcom managers to count. So they hired B-to-B PR firms to make sure their products got as much coverage as possible. But in the 1990s and 2000s, publishing underwent a consolidation, with the number of publications serving each industry declining significantly. When marcom managers saw there were only a few publications in their markets, many decided they could do PR in-house, and numerous small B-to-B PR firms either folded or saw billings decline.
The Demise of the Sales Brochure. For many years, I wrote sales brochures. These were slick, glossy affairs with expensive photography and high-end graphic design. Clients with new products to tout usually wanted multiple brochures, ranging from four to 16 pages, covering different applications or markets. Today’s sales literature primarily resides on the Web as pages accessible through a company’s site and through search. Fewer and fewer print brochures are produced, and those that are being published are shrinking in size, with the most common format today being the two-sided, 8½˝ x 11˝ “sell sheet.”
The Rise of the Whitepaper. The primary sales collateral today is the whitepaper, not the brochure. While the sales brochure focused on the product and looked and read like sales copy, the whitepaper focuses on educating prospects about a problem and how to solve it. It looks and reads like a how-to article or tutorial.
The Critical Importance of Keywords and Search. In the old days, the most important sales channels to cultivate were your inside sales force and your outside reps, the primary means by which prospects approached your company about buying your product. In 2008, the main way of finding products is through Internet search. Therefore, the most important knowledge for the B-to-B marketer to acquire is not how to recruit reps (though that’s still important), but to find the keywords and phrases prospects search when looking for your type of product or for help solving one of the problems it addresses. Also, you need to ensure that your site comes up on the search engine’s first page when prospects type in those keywords and phrases.
I’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg as far as the differences between B-to-B marketing in 2008 vs. 1978. There’s a lot I omitted, including e-mail marketing, e-newsletters, blogs, vertical portals, tele-seminars and MySpace. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I was wrong in 1978 to view B-to-B marketing as static. Rather, it’s dynamic and fast-changing. And for today’s B-to-B marketing professional, just keeping up is a full-time job. My objective in this new column is to help make the “keeping up” part a little easier for you and to bring you a steady stream of profitable new ideas for generating more B-to-B leads and sales.
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.