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Steve Ballantyne warns business buyers they may be paying for advertising that’s hurting their brand.   

Most B2B advertising does a brilliant job of lowering staff morale, discouraging loyalty, disengaging buyers and scaring off prospects.

The prevalence of corny American stock shots, vapid clichés, ridiculous over-claims, unwitty puns, pompous corporababble and other foul smelling-goop any sane person would scrape off their shoe, does a disservice not just to the brands behind them, but their buyers too.

If you were to look at the majority of B2B advertising as an outsider, you’d be forgiven for assuming B2B buyers must be deranged, inbred, or collectively dropped at birth.

But despite all the evidence to the contrary, business buyers aren’t stupid. And when it comes to purchasing, they’re a hell of a lot smarter and more informed than the average consumer.

Yet advertising agencies insist on talking down to business buyers and saving anything fresh or creative for consumer brands. Admittedly, B2B requires a different approach to consumer advertising, due to the longer buying cycles, multiple decision-makers, and choices that can affect reputations, salaries and careers. But that doesn’t mean dull rubbish packed with superlatives.

To build any kind of relationship with any kind of customers, you need to demonstrate that you understand them, and what concerns them. That’s just simple relationship basics. Every marketing manager knows it. Every creative director knows it. So why does clichéd advertising persist? Is there a global conspiracy we’re not aware of? Some kind of reverse psychology everyone knows about but us? Unfortunately, it’s nothing so strategic.

It generally comes down to two things – laziness and fear.  A lazy advertising agency and a scared marketing department. A poisonous combination. It’s a lot less effort for the agency and requires smaller balls for the client to maintain the status quo. And in B2B that’s the jigsaw puzzle piece, the globe, the measuring tape, the lightbulb, the stopwatch, the handshake. All interchangeable, all equally ineffective.

It’s ironic that clichéd marketing is seen as the safe option, the-don’t-fire-me option. It’s not safe. It may seem innocuous and forgettable, but in advertising, being innocuous and forgettable is dangerous. It says what your brand stands for is out-dated and cheap, with no understanding of real people or real issues. It disrespects prospects, embarrasses buyers and humiliates staff. And if a fresh alternative comes along, beware.

Here are 6 serial offenders every B2B brand should avoid at all costs.

  1. If you’re talking to Kiwi businesspeople, don’t show them Americans. Yes, we can tell the difference. Stock shots of grinning American businesspeople punching the air in rabid enthusiasm, finishing first in a track race, dancing or shaking hands isn’t motivating or inspiring. It’s absurd to the point of offensive. No-one is that ecstatic over a software application/ insurance policy/ office equipment.
  2. Down with corporababble. It’s quite incredible how many different B2B brands from different categories all provide scalable, user-friendly eco-somethings offering seamless integration customised to leverage infrastructure and maximise productivity to achieve your strategic objectives for optimal ROI short and long-term. In other words: Yawn. Don’t strangle your brand with a string of buzzwords.
  3. Empty claims don’t empty wallets. Some words have become meaningless with over-use. They may have been compelling in the 1950s, but the not so super-superlatives – the better, cheaper, faster, easiers – have been recycled too many times to maintain any interest. If you want to use them, back them up with research, or offer a guarantee.
  4. Don’t obfuscate, explain. Business buyers are smart, they’re informed, and they have Google at their fingertips. If you blur a point, it won’t go unnoticed. You’ll be tarred disingenuous. Buyers aren’t interested in fluffy claims and subjective wording. They want facts.
  5. De-cliché it. Heavy on symbolism and light on meaning, cheap stock shots pollute B2B advertising for every product and service in every industry. The only good thing about using a crystal ball/ stopwatch/ tape measure/ baton/ egg timer/ target/ megaphone is that it’s easily forgotten.
  6. The SMP is your friend. Single Minded Propositions, or SMPs, are crucial for good advertising. All advertising. But in B2B, they’ve mutated into some kind of multiple-minded proposition. And when too many messages are crammed into one piece of communication, none of them are remembered. Articulate one strong, well-researched SMP in a creative way. If you absolutely must share more information, that’s what a link to your website is for.