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.

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