Can Display Advertising Work For B2B Marketing?

7 May 2014


When it comes to marketing, display advertising has traditionally been seen as somewhat of a ‘blanket’ tool – a way for businesses to heighten general brand awareness, or to promote special offers, products or services to a fairly broad audience.

In recent years, however, display advertising has become a very effective and powerful mechanism thanks to niche targeting, the ability to intelligently manage the placement of ads across a whole suite of websites, and technology that means customers can be targeted based on their very specific browsing behaviour.

This, of course, means that display advertising has become even more relevant in a B2B context, where conversion rates are lower, and where businesses require their marketing to be extremely targeted, and their messages to be direct and exact.

What exactly is display advertising?

Technically, a ‘display ad’ is any ad that’s displayed in a visual sense (other than on TV) and which can appear in any context or any environment (compared with ‘classified’ ads, which appear alongside other similar ads, as a group). Typically, display advertising includes both imagery and copy – so as to get the audience’s attention. It can include newspaper and magazine ads, outdoor billboards, and even car signage.

In this context, however, we’re talking specifically about online display advertising.

Why is online display advertising so beneficial for B2B?

When it comes to marketing in a B2B context, you could say the end user is already highly targeted. Typically, their interaction with a particular website is because of a pre-existing relationship or membership, or because they are seeking a specific product, service or utility.

We could be talking about, for instance, small business owners who regularly visit micro business community websites, or who typically look for entrepreneurial-focused resources. Or advertising professionals who frequently visit advertising-related news sites. As the needs of these groups are quite niche, their conversion rates from broad-reach advertising can obviously be quite low.

Given this, display advertising has the potential to be very powerful – by honing in on very specific needs and online behaviours in B2B communities, when they are in the optimal environment. However, it’s very important that display advertising is used cleverly, and as part of an overall B2B strategy.

Typically, there are three approaches that can help ensure display advertising works for B2B:

1. Re-targeting

Re-targeting is where specific ads are served to users – over time – based on their recent browsing behaviour.

So, if they have engaged with a certain website in any way – perhaps they’ve entered information into a form, or used an online tool – this information is stored in a pixel or cookie. Then, in the future, they can be served ads based on what they’ve been looking for previously.

Say, for instance, the owner of a mid-size carpentry business performs an online search for a particular brand of nails. He finds a website and enquires about the wholesale price, but never completes the transaction. Later, when on a large hardware wholesale website, he is served an ad for the same brand of nails, which just happen to be on special there.
Quite clearly, his chances of completing this transaction for his business are significantly increased.

2. Managed site placements

This is another key area of focus in a B2B context. It’s where the placement of ads is planned and managed on an ongoing, and interconnected basis – based on very specific technology. This means that the display patterns of a particular ad will change over time based on what’s working overall, and what’s not.

For instance, let’s say the manufacturer of a certain brand of jeans is promoting a bulk-order offer on a wholesale retail website. At first, the ad is served on the homepage – but doesn’t appear to get a huge number of click-throughs. Then, based on new data that shows the browsing patterns of users throughout the website, the ad is moved to an area of the site that focuses specifically on winter trends. The clicks improve. Then, when other manufacturers start to release their winter labels, the ad is moved to a ‘winter trends’ section of the site. The clicks increase significantly.

Very importantly, most of this movement happens automatically and organically, based on user data, without the business owner needing to take active steps to refine the advertising.

For smaller businesses looking to get the most out of their marketing spend, managed site placements can therefore be very effective – as they take the risk out of the process. If an ad isn’t working for any reason, it can be cost effectively refined until it does.

3. Contextual targeting

Perhaps most importantly, in a B2B context, it’s vital that users are targeted in situations that are very relevant to them – by analysing both their search keywords/phrases, and the context in which they are entered. By ensuring that advertising is aligned with what a customer is actively looking for, the chances of conversion are considerably greater.

Let’s say, for instance, the owner of a small computer store is on an IT reseller website searching for current articles relating to security software. As soon as she does so, she could instantly be served an ad for a reseller offer that relates to a security product referenced in the article she searched for. As this owner is already poised to buy, and is in a trusted environment, she’s far more likely to then go ahead and make a purchase. Or at least, the security product and the associated offer will be top of mind.

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