ADVERTISING & PROMOTION: Business to business advertising – “Sell the steak”

You’ve heard it said that, when advertising, you should “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Appeal to emotions–be creative and entertaining. Keep it short, because no one has time to read anymore. Make your ads stand out for their originality, and you’ll get more customers to eat more steak.

Many successful consumer campaigns have been built upon a funny, different, and even downright strange premise. But I believe that, in most business to business (B2B) advertising, you should sell the steak. Your primary objective is to tell decision-makers specifically how your product or service will solve their problems. This is not to say that a creative and unique presentation won’t contribute to your effectiveness. Just don’t let entertainment get in the way of communication.

Tell your story

Business decision-makers are looking for ways to boost productivity, reduce cost, improve quality, save time, and increase sales. They won’t waste time on a message that doesn’t tell them how you are going to help them. That’s why it’s important for you to tell your story, providing detail that your reader or listener can use for making informed decisions.

If you can save them money, tell them how, and how much. If your quality is better, use data to back up your claim, and demonstrate how you can improve your buyer’s bottom line. Better yet, use customer case histories or testimonials (with the customer’s permission, of course). Real-world success stories give your claims credibility.

Don’t be afraid to go long

If you can deliver a convincing message in a couple of sentences, by all means, do it. But if you are selling a complicated or technical product or service, take as much space or time as you need to sell your benefits. Many B2B advertisers are reluctant to go into detail because they are afraid their prospects won’t take the time to read or listen. But if you cut through the clutter with a message that targets needs and offers answers, you’ll get attention.

If your sales letter needs two pages instead of one, write two. If you have to reduce the size of your product photo in order to include a few more hard-hitting lines of copy, do it. White space looks nice, but if your brochure is all style and no substance, fill those pages with reasons to buy.

Talk benefits, not features

This is a simple but often misunderstood principle. Most advertisers spend too much time talking about themselves, by highlighting their product or service features. Features are attributes that describe your product. Benefits are the positive results that your customers enjoy from using your product.

This is not hair-splitting, because when you talk benefits, you are helping the customer make the connection between what you have to offer and how you can improve their results.

Another good reason to be specific about benefits and solutions: It’s expensive and wasteful to chase prospects that can’t use your products. If you’re vague about what you do and to whom you should be selling, you’ll spend too much time going down blind alleys. Good advertising will “pre-qualify” the prospect, and a higher percentage of your sales leads will have a true need for your products.

Be repetitive and consistent

Once you’ve decided on the right message and format, stick with it. Successful B2B campaigns require a long-term investment. Sure, you’re going to get lucky with a few of your prospects, and your first offer will hit them at exactly the right time. They have an immediate need, they see your ad, they pick up the phone, and next thing you know you get the purchase order.

But more often than not, here’s the way it works: Your prospects read your ad, it looks like something they might use in the future, and it’s filed away in their memory. The next time they see it, they still aren’t ready to buy, but they recognize your company and your message. Your potential as a solution for their problem is reinforced. The third time they see your ad, they might request your catalog or CD. And so it goes, until one day, they have an urgent need. Since your ads, letters, Web sites, or brochures have been consistently and repeatedly delivering a strong solutions-oriented message, they call you. Your persistence pays off, and a customer relationship is born.

Be creative, not cute

Okay, okay. I don’t mean to take all the fun out of it. If you can sell your benefits in an entertaining and uniquely memorable way, and be creative without being cute, you’ll have the best of both worlds. You’ll have fun and still get the job done. But remember: if your B2B message is all “sizzle,” your campaign is likely to fizzle.

Duane Gilbert owns Strategic Marketing Services and has 20 years of experience in marketing, advertising, sales management and strategic planning. He specializes in helping companies develop marketing processes and plans that are simple and focused on measurable results; 938-0744,