Should You Put Budget Behind Brand Awareness in a Down Economy? We Think So.

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Abdallah Al-Hakim

Two ad executives walk into a bar conference room…

  • Executive #1: I bought an Aston Martin after I saw one of their ads.
  • Executive #2: Wait. Aston Martin hasn’t advertised in years. How’s that possible?
  • Executive #1: I saw the ad when I was younger and always remembered it. That’s how.

Despite what most B2B marketers say, advertising—in the past, present, and future—is a long-term play. Liz Demers, Senior Partner Manager at LinkedIn, said in her session at DEMAND, “The best ads drive sales over long periods of time by building memories that have the power to influence buying decisions in the future.

For better or worse, most B2B marketers live in a world that expects results at the snap of a finger. It’s all about capturing in-market demand, turning it into pipeline and revenue, like, yesterday. In fact, a LinkedIn survey found that 96% of marketers expect to see some impact from their marketing campaigns within two weeks.

Unfortunately, that’s not how most people make purchases, especially big B2B ones with binding contracts. Whether you like it or not, most of the people who will buy from you over the next five years aren’t in the market for your product right now, and that’s ok…as long as you have brand awareness ads running to create those memories and influence their buying decisions down the road.

How do you market to people not quite ready to buy your product?

Big purchases don’t happen overnight. They never have and never will. According to research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, companies buy new computers every four years and consumers buy new vehicles once a decade. The purchase journey for software is often long and infrequent, too, while also involving an entire buying committee.

So, what should you do?

Liz’s advice: Turn the funnel we all know and love on its side. “[The funnel] makes it clear why it makes sense to invest in reaching the 95% of the category that isn’t ready to buy right now,” Liz shared. “Because those out-of-market buyers represent the future cash flows critical to your health and growth.”

“Your job as a marketer is to start linking your brand to buying situations before the buyer even enters the market so that when they do enter the market for a product or solution…yours is the one that comes to mind.”

— Liz Demers, Senior Partner Manager, LinkedIn

The pressing question now is how do you create those memorable ads?

Stop focusing on your product’s features

We don’t have to tell you that B2B marketers are a feature-focused group. While there’s nothing wrong with this mindset—we’ve all set our sights on our “feature-rich” products for years—it’s not always what people want, and it’s certainly not going to help you stand out in your competitive space.

According to Liz, “Most B2B marketers focus on their features with the assumption that those features are what their customers want.” Unfortunately, having great features is table stakes. There’s so much parity in the SaaS world that it’s easy to get lost in what Liz calls a “sea of very similar companies.”

Related to this is the term “product delusion,” or the belief that companies compete primarily on the quality of their product. Spoiler: that’s not true.

Take this ad from Microsoft. Is it solid? Yeah, it caught our attention, but “AI for a whole new way to work” could apply to any company competing with Microsoft Cloud. It’d be like Coca-Cola promoting its drinks as “fizzy and sweet.” That’d be true, but those characteristics also apply to Pepsi. And Sprite.

Don’t fall into the trap of focusing only on the functional benefits of your product under the assumption that it has great features and your buyers will “get it.” They probably won’t. What they will get, however, is confused.

Instead, ditch these tired B2B tactics that focus on product features and lean into the strategies B2C advertisers have been embracing for decades.

It may be challenging to make this shift if marketing is an afterthought because the product is front and center. But it’s a worthwhile shift to make. You can’t compete on product superiority anymore.

Most of your future buyers—95%, in fact—aren’t ready for bottom-of-the-funnel messaging yet, which is why you need to create memorable experiences with them in the meantime. Now is the time to make sure you’re the first name they think of when they’re ready to buy. That starts by keeping your brand awareness engine running (because, let’s be honest, memories fade).

Consistency is better than frequency

Have you ever wondered why the Golden Gate Bridge is always the perfect hue of orange vermilion? (Yes, that’s the actual color name.) Because painting the bridge is an ongoing maintenance job for the city of San Francisco.

That consistency keeps the bridge in a near-perfect state, but it also keeps the city from spending a fortune on the complete overhaul that’d be necessary after years of paint neglect.

You should embrace this same mindset when it comes to your ad strategy. The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute looked at what happened when brands stopped advertising, and unsurprisingly, the effects were dramatic for brands of all shapes and sizes. In a few words: When memories fade, so do sales.

“To maintain your brand and avoid corrosion, you need to advertise consistently over time rather than a burst of ads at high frequency,” Liz said. “Focus on having media active consistently and not going dark.” She then said, “It’s recency that delivers the impact that helps you drive revenue now and in the future.”

By keeping your ads running, you dramatically increase the chances of reaching your maximum audience, and you’re more likely to build those strong memory structures that stick with them and come to the forefront of their minds when they’re ready to buy.

People buy what they know

Think about the last time you bought something. Let’s say a new dishwasher for your place. Did you start from scratch and do a ton of research, or did you search with a baseline foundation of what “good brands” are?

Probably the latter.

You researched brands you’ve used in the past or ones your neighbor recommended. And even if you were looking for something new, you almost certainly started your search at a store you’ve visited before, like The Home Depot or Lowes.

That’s because people are “satisficers” and, for the most part, default to what they know. We buy products that fit our needs and those we’re comfortable with. More often than not, we don’t pursue the “perfect” product because we don’t want to spend the time and effort doing so.

This is true in B2B SaaS, too. When someone needs a new customer relationship management (CRM) tool, you can bet your bottom dollar that Salesforce and Hubspot are the first two companies that’ll come to mind. There’s no need for buyers to do research because HubSpot and Salesforce are ingrained in their brains—and have been for years.

Remember: The best product is the one your buyers know.

According to Liz, “The best product is not the one with the most sophisticated attributes all the time; people don’t become in-market and start doing extensive impartial research to find the best product. Almost every time, the best product is the one you know. Ads build memory structures so that when people enter the market, your product is the one they think of.”

Most B2B marketers know they need brand awareness

Our recent benchmark report shows that most B2B marketers are aware that brand awareness plays are no longer something you only turn on when the economy is humming; they’re necessary no matter what.

In the past, companies have chased cost per lead (CPL), aka the opposite of brand awareness. According to our data, advertisers were spending an average of $35K a month on lead generation campaigns in September of 2021. By July 2022, spending on these campaigns peaked at $40K per month, but dipped significantly in October 2022.

Where are those dollars going? A lot of them are going to campaigns aimed at clicks, not instant leads. For example, in April 2021, companies spent an average of $4,827 a month on CTR campaigns. Today, they’re spending close to $11K.

While lead generation is still important, it’s clear that marketers are waking up to the reality that their future depends on creating long-lasting awareness and memories that boost their bottom line not just this quarter, but two, three, four years from now.

Metadata lets you hit the gas and the brakes…automatically

Liz rounded out her DEMAND session by saying this: “Great marketing can help you drive sustainable growth…It can help grow sales, budgets, and teams. These brand awareness ads are how you can continue growing resiliency as marketers and businesses. [Ongoing brand awareness] is how brands grow.”

Want to know what else helps marketers grow? Metadata. With Metadata, you can confidently launch brand awareness campaigns (and campaigns aimed at other objectives) knowing that your budget will go to the ads getting in front of the most eyes—and generating the most buzz—for the best price.

So, if you’re worried about running brand awareness ads in a down economy, don’t be. Please. Metadata will automatically spend your budget to ensure you’re creating memories that reappear when it’s time to buy.

To learn more about how Metadata can keep your brand awareness campaigns rolling, reach out today to schedule an intro.

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