Sunday, March 13, 2011

Three Problems With Industrial Advertising That Hurt Sales

This Weeks Contribution is by Philip Sawyer

Philip Sawyer is a senior vice president at Harris Interactive, an international marketing, public opinion and advertising research firm. This article originally appeared in the monthly newsletter of Roper Starch, Worldwide, where Sawyer served as vice president and director of communciations. You can contact Mr. Sawyer on Twitter @pwsawyer.


Most marketing people who have thoughtfully looked at industrial advertising agree: Advertising targeted to business needs a lot of work. Industrial advertising need not be substantially different from consumer advertising in its makeup. Readership studies confirm that the same principles that govern effective advertising for consumers apply fully to industrial advertising.

Here are three common problems with business-to-business advertisements.

1. They Are Distinctly Anti-Visual

Business targeted ads, for understandable reasons, tend to be more about content than appearance. Many use several illustrations and concepts — as opposed to single powerful image and one "unique selling proposition" — to get key points across.

Business-to-business advertisers may expect their ads to be read by an audience hungry for information and, therefore, anticipate that the audience will work hard to get into the ads even if they are not pretty or simple.

That supposition, however, flies in the face of proven research findings. Magazine readers will read even copious amounts of copy in advertising, but they must be invited in. The best invitations use illustrations that delight the eye and headlines that that express one simple iea, usually in the form of a benefit.

Contrast the use of strong visual images in each of these three ads. Here we see three different levels of visual intensity — and three different levels of effectiveness. On the left we see one of a series of DuPont ads that combine excellent composition with a strong message. The middle image, although it employs a fairly strong visual, the crumpled paper borders on the abstract. The ad on the right is almost painful for us to look at. Bugs? Unless you’re an exterminator, would you want your product associated with bugs?

2. They Tend to Emphasize the Abstract, Rather Than The Human Element

Business advertisers tend to overestimate the reader’s interest in their products. This translates into an assumption that your target audience will get the inside joke or hidden meaning in your ad. This may be a fair assumption, but industrial companies tend to skimp on costs and often skip pretesting that would reveal flawed assumptions.

How do you know if an ad avoids
abstraction? If someone who doesn’t
know your business can understand
the gist of your message from the visual alone.

Compared to the previous
example, this ad manages
to take an abstract concept
and convey it in very human,
concrete terms.

3. They Do Not Emphasize Benefits

Advertisers would improve their advertising immeasurably if they simply, clearly, and powerfully told the reader what their product or service will do for them. The problem seems to be that industrial advertisers assume — along with a great number of consumer advertisers — that readers are as interested in the product as the advertiser is. That is rarely if ever the case.

Business-to-business advertising has a tangible
advantage over consumer advertising: an audience
that is by its nature favorably disposed to the
advertising message. At the same time, b-to-b
advertisers in large part fail to take advantage
of the opportunity before them.

We love ads like these because
they emphasize benefits. We also
chose these because they all do a
good job of avoiding abstraction.
These ads are telling us that
products are about people, and
people, after all, do the buying. In
this respect, industrial advertising
and consumer advertising address
identical issues.

There is no great secret to effective industrial advertising. The key point to remember is that the best advertising is like a good conversation. In light of that, all advertisers should remember the words of Benjamin Disraeli: "The art of conversation consists of the exercise of two fine qualities; you must originate and you must sympathize; you must possess at the same time the habit of communicating and the habit of listening. The union is rare, but irresistible."

One simple way to check your own advertising is to look at the picture. Does the picture tell you, at a glance, what is for sale? Contrast these two ads, and you start to see what we mean. The one on the left (our reproduction may be a bit difficult to make out) is clearly selling airplanes. What is the one on theright selling...piles of paper?

If the picture invites you in, the next step is to check the copy. Does it clearly state benefits in the first paragraph? The first sentence? Finally, does your copy go beyond the mere statement of benefits, and address at least one core issue that your target audience is deeply concerned about? Our next article, discusses this important consideration.

Those who wish to create irresistible ads need to bear in mind that when anyone confronts an ad, his primary purpose is to walk away with the feeling that he has been listened to or understood. For industrial advertisers, that means understanding that all readers — not just those who read consumer advertising, yearn to delight in what they see, to make a human connection with the product that is advertised, and to depart with a sense that they have benefited from the experience.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Effective Industrial Advertising: So simple, yet so elusive

This Weeks post is written by Mitch GoozĂ©. Mitch GoozĂ© is an experienced manager with operating experience in the high technology and consumer products industries. He is the author of It’s Not Rocket Science: Using Marketing to Build a Sustainable Business. Mitch was president of Teledyne Components, a division of Teledyne Inc. from 1985 through 1990. He is the president and founder of Customer Manufacturing Group. Email Mitch at

Setting Advertising Priorities

Advertising is a highly effective method of spending money fast. Done well, it returns many times its cost in bottom-line benefit. Done poorly, advertising costs much more than money: at least, time and opportunities are lost forever; at the extreme, alienating customers can jeopardize the company’s entire future.

Never forget: “Advertising is a highly effective method of spending money fast.” No matter the size of your company or the size of your budget, advertising is an expensive proposition. Done well, it returns many times its cost in bottom-line benefit. Done poorly, advertising costs much more than money. At the very least, time and opportunities can be lost forever. And at the extreme, alienating or offending customers can place the company’s entire future at risk.

But advertising is not a black art, and it need not be mysterious or random in the way it works. In fact, you can control its performance to a considerable extent by properly setting your advertising priorities.


Start with your customers and stay with your customers. They are the people who buy and use what you sell. They are the only reason you are in business, and the degree to which you understand them will determine, in large part, the success of your company.

Your first advertising priority is to know who your customers are: what their responsibilities, experiences, and priorities are. Then you can apply the same psychology to them as you do to the other people in your life to maximize your chances of success.

To borrow money, you would make a very different appeal to your brother, say, than you would to a bank, yet the objective is the same. You simply customize the appeal according to the audience.

Apply the same process to your advertising program. First, find out who could buy your product, and what they have in common.

If you don’t know, find out what factors affect the way they make decisions. What is important to them at home or on the job? What contributions do they make to their communities or their companies? What are their ages, incomes, education, family styles? Purchase research, survey your own customers, check industry data, or all three. Do whatever it takes to find out enough about your customers to talk to them in their language.

A word of caution: do not confuse competitors with customers. Those who advertise in “trade” magazines, whose readership is mainly other suppliers in their industry, or use ads to answer insults or challenges from competitors, commit a very expensive error in perception. Industry acknowledgement will come quickly enough when you start winning the customer’s business.


Yes, be greedy. It’s your advertising program. Decide just what results you want from it, and stick to your guns. And be more specific than “increased sales.” Unless you are in the direct response business, you’re highly unlikely to receive an avalanche of orders in the mail just because you ran a few ads.

The purpose of advertising is to help the sales effort, which it can do in many ways. Advertising can create awareness. It can position products and services. It can identify probable new customers. It can encourage customers to take immediate action. Your second priority is to specify exactly why you are advertising.

What do your customers need to know? That you exist? That you’ve changed? That you haven’t changed? That you’ve solved your problems? That you’ve solved their problems? And what do you want them to do about it?

Whatever results you want, set them out clearly. If you are firm in measuring every advertising opportunity in terms of its probable contribution to their achievement, selecting between creative and media alternatives becomes fairly straightforward.


Establish a realistic picture of where you stand, in the customer’s eyes, right now. Ask them, and believe what they tell you. No wishful thinking, no dismissal of criticism, no unchallenged acceptance of the sales manager’s rosy projections, and no patriotic dismissal of a competitor’s achievements.

Your third priority is to know where you are, so you can understand how far you have to travel to achieve your goals. Only with an accurate understanding of the distance involved can you effectively evaluate what you have to do to get there.

A brand new company, unknown to its future customers, has so much distance to cover that its only effective choice may be a “high impact” campaign to achieve marketplace awareness: Aggressive messages and an aggressive media schedule dominate its program. An established firm, however, even with a brand new product, can count on its name drawing attention to whatever it publishes. This firm may find that incorporating its new message into its standing schedule achieves the same level of recognition as does “Brand New’s” greater expenditure.


Know what you have to spend, both in terms of money and in staff time. Industry averages of advertising expenditure as a percent of sales are of questionable relevance in an era of rapidly changing techniques and technologies. Electronic production may reduce the costs of localizing an international campaign. In-house telesales resources change the cost of follow up. Customization of messages and materials can multiply costs.

Your marketplace position also has its demands. Established companies using advertising to reinforce existing customer ties have vastly different spending patterns than does the company introducing a new product, service or technology.

With so many variables, a budget target is critical in assembling the right mix of creative, production, logistics, and media efforts. This is your fourth priority.


Your fifth priority is to decide just what it is you want the audience to conclude about your product. This is where it is most critical to remember that what they’re buying may not be the same as what you’re selling, and that what they’re buying is the only thing that matters.

Catchy slogans, famous directors, beautiful graphics, engaging soundtracks; these do not make successful advertising, unless they were directed by a clear understanding of customers, marketplace, and objectives. Even the most accurate rifle can’t hit the target if it’s aimed in the wrong direction.

Charles Revson said of Revlon, “We don’t sell cosmetics. We sell hope.” Car companies don’t sell cars, they sell transportation, social status, or safety. Xerox surveyed word processor users and found that while “reliability” ranked near the bottom of the list of desirable attributes, “it doesn’t break” was number one.

What is it that purchasing your product will do for the customer? Will it improve their appearance, their finances, their job performance, or their social life? And how will it do that better than any other alternative? This is what you need them to know, and this is your advertising message.

Now, what do you use to deliver the message?

The mass media are just the ticket for sending your message to vast numbers of people at once. In print media, magazine and newspaper readers enter that environment when they choose to. Your advertising takes advantage of their receptive frame of mind. But if you need to involve sound and motion to make your point, then broadcast media — radio and television — may be the better delivery vehicle.

As a more focused effort, direct marketing — literally delivering your advertising message to specific individuals who are likely prospects — can be exceedingly effective and should be considered for at least a portion of your target customers.

Only when you know what you want to get across, and what vehicles you’ll need to use, can you commission creative product.


Your sixth priority is to entrust your advertising to the best people you can find. In-house or outside your agency people should be pros at hiring and managing creative talent and vendors, at analyzing media, and at project management.

Let them evaluate creative strategies to communicate the needed messages. Let them determine the most cost-and time-effective tactics to get that message through to the right people. Let them perform the cost-benefit analyses on print, broadcast, and other media alternatives. Let them establish the schedules and direct the budgets to most effectively complete the work. And keep your personal prejudices to yourself. You are not the target market.


Everyone working on your advertising program answers to the ultimate priorities of customers and results. Priority number seven is for you to make sure they know it.

Don’t let them get off track due to a tangential “brilliant” idea, or prejudice a decision out of favoritism to a vendor, a talent, or a publication. Make them stick to the schedules and budgets you approved, and make sure that the final product says the right things, in the right manner, and in the right place to get the right reaction from the customers.

If you follow these seven principles, the rest is fairly simple.