I had this amazing advertising professor named Kevin O’Neill at Syracuse University. He was a wise, award-winning gentleman. Mad Men era at its finest. Copywriter gone creative director gone agency owner of both international and creative boutiques during his brilliant career. Hanes was one of his biggest clients along with Lego, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Lexmark, and IBM just to name a few.
“KO,” as I liked to call him, imparted much wisdom onto his students, but one bit of knowledge has always stuck with me (most likely because he devoted an entire three-hour class to the topic).
“Anyone can sell a piece of bubblegum. Not everyone can sell a chemical that goes into the manufacturing of a life-critical medical machine.”
“Wow, yeah,” I thought. He continued by showing us BASF commercials to better illustrate his point and explain that it requires a certain type of person; a sophisticated kind of mindset to understand how B2B advertising works. And while, admittedly, it may not be as glamorous as B2C advertising, you should feel lucky. No, you should feel honored if you’re one of the few who can do B2B, and do it well.
And when he put it that way, it made a lot of sense. You are not the target most of the time in B2B. Knowing how to communicate to a specialized audience such as engineers, for example, is much different than getting your market for a perfume or an online football league. The challenges are much more ridiculously complex.
Recognizing the opportunities and how to stand out in the business world requires research, digging, analysis, and keeping your eye on industry news, blogs, and more—all of which would be much simpler to comprehend if you actually had an engineering degree! As you can imagine, distilling and expressing a firm’s multiple assets and activities is no easy feat.
B2B also involves a longer sales cycle full of back-and-forth communication. There’s more work; more decision-makers, influencers, and stakeholders to please; and lots of education that goes into reaching to the end goal (which is usually a huge dollar sale). Not to mention, it can be really tricky to make some of the products or services sound tasteful and aesthetically appealing.
KO concluded by advising us that B2B is a great opportunity for Newhouse grads. It can be rewarding both financially and in terms of career stability. Yes, there are more clients to satisfy, but they’re typically less mercurial and unpredictable, which leads to longer-lasting relationships. Plus, an agency that’s mastered an intricate B2B client is extremely hard to replace. That’s music to my ears because we all know how volatile the ad biz can be!
In short, the next time you open your mouth to knock down B2B, pop in a piece of bubblegum instead.