Have you tried digital marketing but felt like it wasn’t right for your B2B company? You’re not alone. We have conversations with marketing leadership about failed digital marketing campaigns all the time—we get it! At first glance, digital advertising does seem tailored to direct to consumer businesses, but (and you’ll have to trust us here) it’s not just for B2C. Remember, the people making purchasing decisions for their companies are people too, with unique stories and frustrations. We believe that any company can find success with digital ads by following a few best practices, making data-driven decisions and being empathetic to your prospective customers.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the importance of having a digital strategy, how to be set up for success and best practices and tips for making the most out of four popular digital media outlets.
Why Digital Advertising?
In the 1970s, the average US consumer saw around 500 ads a day. Today’s estimate is around 6,000 to 10,000. You can bet that exponential rise is due to digital ads and the amount of time we spend online. In our digital world, your prospective clients and customers are spending a good deal of their time online—both personally and for work. So why not put your brand where people are spending time?
Additionally, more and more decision makers and their staff are doing research online before they make a purchasing decision. Having a strong online presence can really make a difference in getting your brand noticed during that research stage. According to DemandGen’s 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study, “More than 70% of respondents noted they noticed ads from the solution provider they chose during the research process, and 48% said those ads positively impacted their perception of the brand.”
As an added benefit to advertisers, digital ads come with tracking and insights that you never get with traditional media. With this data, you are able to better target your potential customers with personalized messaging that speaks directly to the problems they’re looking to solve or that’s relevant to where they are in the buyer’s funnel. With data, you can take your ads to the platforms you already know your customers use and remind them of your brand, so you stay top of mind. Plus, you can see real ROI as you watch prospects move through your funnel and become customers.
Get Set Up for Digital Success
Before you get started spending money on digital campaigns, you’ll want to make sure that your website, the home base of your digital presence, is set up for advertising success. When potential customers click on your digital ads, they will be directed to a page of your website, so you want your website to accurately represent your brand, presenting a cohesive and intuitive user experience that’s optimized for tracking.
A few best practices to have in place are:
1. Make sure your website is built on a modern platform that’s ready to welcome new visitors and that can be easily navigated. You’ll also want to have an SSL certificate to keep your website and user data safe. Otherwise, when a user clicks your ad they may be warned not to proceed to your site, and you’ll have lost their confidence. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your website is mobile-friendly. As of February 2021, 56% of global web traffic was on mobile devices, and you want your website to be useable to those prospects, too.
2. Put your brand’s best foot forward. When someone clicks on your ad, you want the website they visit to be a strong reflection of your brand and what you offer. In fact, your website should not only look professional and polished (whatever that means to your brand), but it should also be cohesive with the ad the user clicked on.
For example, if you clicked on an ad that said, “Get a free demo of our software,” and then the website you landed on had a different visual feel and didn’t direct you to a free demo, you’d leave. All that to say, make sure the landing pages you direct your ads to are visually similar to the ads they link to and that they make it very clear what the next step for the customer should be.
3. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your website is optimized to track users’ activity behind the scenes before you start spending money on ads. Google tag manager and/or tracking pixels for other ad networks should be installed and turned on before any ads start serving. This is important because you’ll need all the data about how users interact with your ads and your website to make informed decisions about your ad spend and strategy moving forward.
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s really dive in!
Pro Tip: Commit to the learning process. Resist the urge to turn your digital campaigns off early. They need to run long enough to gather real data. How long is long enough? At least 90 days, but ideally, we’d recommend campaigns run for 6 months.
4 Digital Tools to Maximize ROI
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Reach your potential clients and customers with helpful messaging and solutions right where they are searching with your search engine marketing (SEM) strategy. For clarity, while there are other types of digital ads run through search engines, and there are other search engines besides Google, since Google holds 92% of the global search engine market share, we will be defining SEM as Google Search Ads.
Often, SEM gets mixed up with another initialism, SEO, or search engine optimization. Let’s quickly talk about the difference. SEO focuses on organic search (aka not paid for) and is controlled by the content and technical details of your website. SEM refers to pay-per-click ads on the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). These ads are set up and managed in a Google Ads account and are controlled by paying to show your ads on searches of relevant keywords and phrases.
Many B2B companies struggle with SEM because it seems harder to track their sales and successes than it is with B2C businesses. Think about it: if you sell shoes, you can see a direct correlation between clicks on your ad and sales of shoes. But when you sell niche products to large corporations, your buyers don’t just click an “add to cart” button and call it done. But, just because the results of your ad aren’t as readily apparent doesn’t mean they aren’t providing you with real ROI.
Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of your SEM strategy.
1. Expand Your Views on Keywords
It’s common to want to target the biggest keywords in your industry, but often, especially for B2B companies, there is more value in using niche-driven keywords. If you use a more specific term that only someone in your industry would think to use, you might get less volume, but every click you get will likely be a much more relevant decision maker.
2. Write Strong Ad Copy
Once you’ve selected your keywords and targeting, make your ads as strong as they can be. Really compel people to click on them. That starts with writing strong ad copy. Instead of stating what your company does or who you are, try leading with the challenges your buyer is likely facing. Keeping the ad focused on the buyer makes them more likely to click.
3. Strengthen Ads with Google’s Built-In Features
Take advantage of the tools Google offers to make your ad stronger. Try utilizing Google’s dynamic ads, for example, which is a feature that mixes and matches lines of copy to build the strongest performing ads for you. Or add an ad extension to expand your ad to show more relevant information right on the SERP. If you have a storefront or showroom, you can add a location extension with your address linked to a map. Another useful extension is the call extension, which lets users call your business’s phone line with just a tap.
Get better analytics on which ads drive the best traffic by adding parameters to your URLs. Parameters are bits of tracking code that you can add on to the end of your URLs to specify the campaign and other details about where the link is used. That way when you look at your website analytics, you have a clearer picture of which ads (SEM or display, this campaign or that one?) are sending you the most web traffic.
After your ads start serving, how do you determine the value of your SEM? A lot of it depends on your goals, but here are a few general examples to get you thinking about it. First, just getting clicks through your ad tells you that you’ve created a first touchpoint with potential buyers. Then you could set up ads for high value pages on your website and set metrics to track how many visitors see those pages or convert into leads. If you add extensions to your ads, you could see how many calls your business receives after the ads start serving.
Pro Tip: Clear out the noise in your keywords. Look to see which keywords are driving in clicks—are they relevant? If not, cut out the ones that don’t fit your niche and focus your attention and spend on the ones that are meaningful.
Targeted Display Ads
A comprehensive, B2B digital marketing strategy should also include display ads. You know these ads—they’re on just about every website you visit. Some are static, some are animated, and some are videos. Display ads are a powerful advertising tool because they are everywhere your customers are. According to Google, their display ads reach over three million websites and over 650,000 apps. And Google isn’t the only display ad network you can tap into.
Speaking of display networks, that is going to be the first decision you make when you get started with a display ad campaign. The Google Display Network is a great place to start. We also recommend looking into other programmatic display networks which let you set up your ads in one place and then the network will bid on space for you across display networks including video, mobile placements and even specialty websites. Often, these platforms include rich intent and demographic data, too, to help you reach the best buyers for your offering. The more diverse placements offered by a programmatic display network are a good way to go if your business is very niche.
Once you have a network on which to run your ads, you can get started on the creative. Just like with search ads, the goal is to make your creative irresistibly clickable and to make your brand memorable. Catch the attention of your prospects with benefit driven copy. What problems will you solve for your customers? Tell them using clear and direct language with a call to action. If it applies to your product or service, offer to prove your benefits with a demo or free trial. For example, if your company sells time tracking software you could say, “Make tracking your time quick and simple. See how in our demo.” If a content offer would appeal to your audience, try running ads offering a downloadable e-book or whitepaper.
Not everyone who clicks on your ad will start a free trial or download your content offer. That’s where retargeting can be a helpful tool. Send more ads to retarget visitors who interacted with your initial ads or landing page. People are busy, especially business decision makers. They might have forgotten they wanted to sign up for your demo or forgotten that they saw your ad at all. The rule of 7 reminds us that people need to see an ad at least seven times to even recall that they have seen it. That makes remarketing even more useful. Reminding them who you are and what you offer with ads that follow them around the web can be a strong tactic to finally get a sales conversation started.
As with search ads, display ads will take a bit of A/B testing and trial and error before you really land on the secret sauce for your business. That’s all part of the process.
Pro Tip: Display works best as awareness. Very few people click on display ads, so they are best used in tandem with outlets that produce more clicks, like SEM and social media.
Social media is a great way to keep your brand top of mind for potential customers, even when they’re not at work. Social media is kind of like a marketing 1,2 punch. You can create valuable content for your followers with your organic presence and then also advertise broadly with sponsored posts to your audience and beyond. Let’s briefly talk about each.
There’s a sense out there that B2B companies don’t have much of a place on social media. But we don’t think that’s true. Having an active social media presence showcases your business successes to your followers and gives you an opportunity to establish yourself as a thought-leader in your industry. It’s important to take your social media presence in stride, though. You don’t need to be on every platform. Think critically about your audience and which sites they use and then focus on meeting your customers where they like to spend time. Not sure which platforms make sense for you? Check out their demographic data and match it up to your customer profile.
Once you’re on the right platforms for your buyers, continually provide them value. You want to become a helpful resource and not a disruptive presence on their feeds. Resist the urge to appeal to everyone on social media. Your profiles are still for your buyers, so speak to them using the same language and tone you would elsewhere.
Advertising on social media gives you the chance to get your brand in front of new people. You can use the robust targeting tools these platforms have to offer to really find the right potential customers for your services. Here are a few advertising pointers if you’re getting started.
Video is king on Facebook and Instagram, so we’d recommend trying your hand at a video ad. Make sure the video is concise and tailored for your audience. Also, videos on Facebook auto-play with the sound off, so try to tell your story without sound or include subtitles, so your impact isn’t lost.
Remember the adage, “show don’t tell” when putting together your social ads. You could explain how your software as a service works, or you could show a video of someone using the key features. Or feature a testimonial or case study that shows how your product or service has an impact on your customers’ professional lives. Also remember that you only have a short amount of time to grab someone’s attention on social media, so be sure to lead with your best selling point and don’t mince words or hide it in flowery language.
Include a social ad in your other, more traditional campaigns. Social media ads will reinforce the message your prospects are hearing and seeing in other places. For example, we’ve had clients see an uptick in clicks on their social media ads when a broadcast radio spot is in market. These results prove that social media is now a mainstream media source and should be considered as such when building out your full media strategy.
Pro Tip: Use the retargeting capabilities of social media to serve sponsored content to people who visited your website or saw an ad in the past to help keep them in your sales funnel.
YouTube is the second most visited website on the Internet—behind only Google. So, there is a lot of potential to reach your ideal clients through YouTube advertising. We think the best value here is in-stream ads, which are the ads that play before, during or after a YouTube video. These ads are great for brand awareness and help you put your brand in front of the right people in your niche market.
YouTube ads are very cost effective at $0.10 – $0.30 a view (at least 30 seconds or until the ad ends), and the platform has access to an incredible amount of data to help you get your targeting just right. YouTube advertising lets you target based on users’ YouTube watch history as well as their Google search history, which can really help you narrow in on your ideal buyers.
Skippable in-stream ads should be at least 12 seconds long, and you want to make the content compelling so that users won’t want to skip. Think about a video that tells a story and connects to your prospects’ pain points—show someone struggling with a common issue in your industry and how you can help them overcome, for example. Just like with social media ads, you might only have a few seconds to grab attention, so be sure to lead with your top value proposition and state it clearly.
Pro Tip: Don’t let your message get lost! Say the name of your business and what you sell or your top selling feature in the first 5 seconds of your in-stream ad.
Sales Reps Building Authentic Communities
This next idea is a little more out of the box than online ads and focuses more on relationship building on the Internet. Empower your sales representatives to take advantage of the digital space through their personal LinkedIn accounts. Your sales team can connect with your potential buyers, person to person, and create real relationships with them. The hope is that when those connections find themselves in need of your services, they’ll remember their online friends and reach out to you.
Here’s a better idea of what this might look like. Start with a plan for producing high value content. Just like with your organic social media from the brand page, your sales team will share insightful information from your company on their personal accounts. But that’s not all they should share. The idea here is to build authentic communities, so that means your sales reps shouldn’t talk about work all the time. Encourage them to post about their hobbies, families, interesting conversations they’ve been in while layering in company offerings and industry expertise and knowledge.
As their posts get engagement, the sales team will start to connect more and more with people in your industry through personalized invitations and messages. This stage is still strictly focused on relationship building—no hard selling.
Then after building a rapport with someone, your team could make a sales pitch. But this outright pitch should ideally only need to happen about 10% of the time. Hopefully those personal connections will organically turn into business relationships instead.
Pro Tip: Building a community takes dedication. To keep up the commitment, set aside an hour or two on Mondays to plan a calendar of content for the week ahead.
Digital advertising is making a big impact for a lot of B2B companies out there. All of these ideas we’ve outlined can be tried in small doses and ramped up in areas that seem to be producing strong ROI for your business and your niche. It’s worth giving these tactics a try!
Want more individualized help on your B2B digital marketing plan? Let’s talk about how the B&Y team can help you get your digital presence underway.