This article was originally published in Money Magazine Issue 69 on the 28th of December 2021.
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There are very few things in life that frustrate me more than a panicked approach to marketing that seems to believe that the role of the discipline is to save a business when it’s doing badly. Conversely, these businesses seem to think that, in a classic schrodinger’s cat logic example, you should cut down on marketing the minute business starts looking bad.
I’d like to address why both statements are flawed in their nature, especially when it comes to marketing businesses that do work with other businesses.
I’m separating these today because of the nuances I’ll be discussing, however in broad strokes this applies to every business we’ve worked with.
I also want to make one thing clear before I proceed any further. There are times when you should scale back on advertising, even if not necessarily on brand and marketing communications. If you’re a tourism company in the middle of a pandemic, for example, spending money on trying to fill bed-nights is a bit of a fool’s errand. These cases are extreme, and serve as the exception, not the rule.
So let’s get cracking.
Maintaining (or increasing) marketing spend when business is bad.
Why is it a bad idea to stop marketing when business is bad? Because by doing that you’re only stopping the inevitable.
If you think that you should stop marketing when your business is failing (unless it’s because of an external factor such as the pandemic, I’ll reiterate), then you either have your marketing function working extremely badly or you’re running a business on extremely conservative, and, quite frankly, flawed ideas.
The purpose of marketing is to generate business, so if you are doing badly it should be the first thing to get more budget, not less.
Sometimes, if your marketing function has been failing you, you might need to invest money in figuring out why marketing is failing you. There are very few scenarios in which the thing you need to do to save a business is to stop getting business. This is especially true with B2B businesses, since with B2B marketing you can usually measure the success of your marketing efforts with even more certainty.
Trying to save a business with Marketing
Just like it’s a silly idea to kill your marketing when your business is passing through bad times, it’s a false expectation to think that marketing can save your business if it’s not doing well.
Marketing can be the cornerstone of a successful business. It can be a key part of a turnaround strategy. But very few times have we been in a situation where a burst of marketing (alone) would have been enough to solve the problems of a business in trouble.
B2B marketing takes time, and decision makers are very rarely going to be ready to make a decision in a few minutes, or in a few days. The processes behind most B2B transactions are much longer.
What should I do for long term B2B marketing ROI?
Simple. Start looking at marketing for your B2B business like something that you just can’t work without. You don’t file your taxes or work on your accounting only if something or other happens to your business. You always pay the rent on time. You always pay your employees, and I’m sure that you don’t really consider your electricity bills as optional, to be paid only when the business is doing well or when you need a boost at the end of your quarter.
Marketing should be the same. It’s something that should be on every one of your agendas. You should be constantly thinking whether you are leaving any marketing opportunities on the table. It should be a central part of your annual strategy. It should have a budget that’s tied to performance, and it should have a practitioner who owns the function from top to bottom.
With long-term marketing efforts you should also see a dramatic increase in the return on investment you get from marketing to other businesses because the buying cycle for B2B purchases tends to be much longer than the cycle for B2C. You might decide to buy a €50 phone cover on a whim, but you’re not going to choose your next audit firm because you saw a single ad that promises 20% off for Black Friday.
B2B buyers expect to buy from a brand that they can trust, and you can only build this trust by putting effort into long-term marketing efforts that establish your brand (or your key executives) as people who are worthy of trust.
Most B2B businesses we work with tend to be absolutely excellent at what they do. They would have grown organically by word of mouth, adding clients on as people move jobs or as their clients recommend them to other businesses. But overall we see that they don’t have the knowledge to create a repeatable process to build a proper relationship with audiences at scale.
We don’t work magic for them, we just help them articulate what they already know, bringing their knowledge to the front in a way that allows them to shine in their clients’ minds. By looking at marketing efforts as a long-term process, they win over the hearts and minds of their audiences, ensuring that they’re the first port of call when services or products in their area are needed next.