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Your B2B ads are probably ineffective. Here’s what to do about it.

Marketing Week recently published a report claiming that 75% of B2B advertising is ineffective. In a study of 1,600 B2B ads watched by a whopping 6 million people, 75% of ads scored one star or lower on an emotional engagement scale. None of them reached the highest level of five stars.

The authors of the piece are working under the assumption that emotional response equates with effectiveness. What they mean is that an effective ad is one that you remember and act on after you’ve seen it. An emotional response creates stronger memories. If your ad doesn’t create an emotional response, then you have to pay to play it over and over and over again in order to be remembered.

An ad that doesn’t create an emotional response is a short-term play. An in-market prospect who sees it may take action. But an out-of-market prospect won’t remember your brand or product, and won’t be able to recall the ad a year later when they are in-market.

But hey, nothing about what I’ve said so far has likely elicited an emotional reaction in you. Let’s try this again with a video starring two cute kids.

Want to learn more? In this episode of “So you need a video,” Guy and Hope break down what makes these B2B ads ineffective, why that matters, and what you can do about it. We’ll discuss mullet videos, judging wine by its label, and our favorite report from the B2B Institute.

Listen to the episode with the player below, or scroll down to read the transcript.

Episode transcript

Hope Morley: Hello, and welcome to So You Need A Video, a podcast that helps B2B businesses create captivating content, engage the right people and drive more sales. I'm Hope Morley.

Guy Bauer: I'm Guy Bauer.

Hope Morley: And in this episode, we are going to be talking about an article that we saw on Marketing Week's website, citing research from the LinkedIn B2B Institute and the market research agency System1. And in this article, they found that the vast majority of B2B creative is "ineffective". And they found in doing this research, so they looked at 1600 B2B ads that were shown to a sample of six million people worldwide, so this is not a small study, over the course of four years, and 75% of those ads scored one star or less on an emotional measurement tool.

Guy Bauer: Out of a five star...

Hope Morley: Out of a five star rating. One star or less. So, some of these were coming up at literally zero. 75% were one star or less. So that's saying that basically, 75% of these ads created zero emotional response in the people that watched them. That these people— The way this tool works is that it records your face when you're watching something. So, it was like, if you smile, or if you look sad, or if you have any sort of emotional, any emotions that show up on your face, this would track it. And this is like, yeah, these people were completely dead-faced in watching 75% of these ads. That's huge.

Guy Bauer: The exact result we're looking for, right? Dead-faced audience people when they watch our ads.

Hope Morley: Exactly. And not only did 75% of these ads have zero reaction, but 0% of the ads got a five star. So, none of them had the highest emotional reaction that you can record.

Guy Bauer: Right. And that was a five star, means it has a strong story arc, character, soundtrack, emotion and a fluent device, which drives brand recognition. That's a five star.

Hope Morley: Yeah. So, if you check all those boxes, you can get to five stars. None of these B2B ads did.

Guy Bauer: I guess the first question I have, and I know the answer, but this is a test, Hope, is I guess, they weren't saying that, they were saying that 75% of the ads are failing to produce emotion. Right? And so, we are then correlating emotion with effectiveness, right? So, we're saying it's like a transitive mathematics thing, right? No emotion equals ineffective or conversely, emotion equals effective, but is that actually, I'm going to be like a professor here or a researcher. Is that actually true, though? Does emotion make something effective?

Hope Morley: That's a really good question, and it's a good point. That's what this research is saying, and that's what the B2B Institute would argue, is that if you are not generating any emotion in people, that they're not going to remember it. And I do think there is, there's psychological literature that you have stronger memories associated when something is emotional. You just think about any memories that you have of your entire life, you don't remember things if there's no emotion attached to them.

Guy Bauer: I dream in spreadsheets, so I don't know that.

Hope Morley: Yeah, well, that's me, but you probably dream in color. I dream in spreadsheets. So, if the purpose of advertising is to get people to remember your product and then want to take action with something, purchase your product or get more information, without driving emotion, how are you going to get anyone to remember you and then take action?

Guy Bauer: Yeah. And I think what they were saying too is that is, I guess the advertising can still work if it's one star, it's just you're going to have to pay very much. Because there's no memorable quality of the spot of the ad, it's very inefficient, right? You have to pay to play always, whereas if you do score high on emotion, they say an average of 3%, a brand grows by an average of 3% in the longterm aiding to excess share of voice in category spend, if it does score high on emotion.

Hope Morley: Right. So, it's both pay to play, so you're investing a lot of money in your ad buys if you're not creating emotions or being memorable, but it's also, it only drives short-term growth instead of long-term growth. Because if you're completely forgettable and you're not driving this emotional reaction in your prospects and your viewers, then a year from now, they have no memory of this spot that they watched, so there's no long-term gain, as opposed to, I think a lot of us can think of television commercials from years ago that we still remember and that are catchy for some reason, or they were funny, they were emotional. And we remember those and they don't have to keep running it for it to keep being in my head.

Guy Bauer: The second you turn off, you stop spending on these ineffective one star or zero star ads, it's gone, the second turns off.

Hope Morley: Right. It's not going to live on in your head the way that a really effective commercial should.

Guy Bauer: And the article goes on to explain that it's, and I see this too. Our clients are all B2B, and it's really hard for marketers to fight for creative work in organizations that are run by more of the engineering type.

Hope Morley: Yeah. Right. The product and the sales teams.

Guy Bauer: Right. And those folks, and not a dig on them, because I know plenty of product and salespeople that gave us tons of carte blanche creatively. But typically, those folks want more features and benefits, and not even the benefits, I would say feature, let the product be the thing.

Hope Morley: Those people tend to think that if you have the best features, that people are— it's that rational consumer mindset, that if you have the best features and you have the best benefits, then obviously people will pick your product. Why do you need a creative spot to sell it, because it's the best product, so clearly people will pick it. There's that assumption that everybody is fully rational in all their buying decisions, and that if you have the best product, that people obviously always will choose that.

Guy Bauer: Right. And that negates just human... Especially in 2020, hello, humans don't make sense.

Hope Morley: Yeah. We are in 2021, but yeah. Yeah. So, people don't, and in B2B especially, there's this pervasive myth that people are completely rational consumers, because it's for your business, so you're making a business decision and there's no emotions involved, but we all know that's not true. You can't divorce your emotional self from your rational self just because it's between nine and five.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. And usually, and I think another dynamic that's at play here is that B2B clients, so customers of our customers, the end customer that B2B marketers are trying to advertise to, more and more, it's committees, especially with these huge implementations and multi-year engagements.

Hope Morley: As price goes up, yeah, you're looking at more and more group committee decisions.

Guy Bauer: Right. And then it gets harder and harder for us, for marketers to be like, "No, no, let's go with something creative and funny or emotional, or it makes you cry or whatever." When the sales team is like, "Listen, I'm in the room with these folks, they're grilling me on our competitor's features. And I can't show them a video with like a mountain climber, and our product is loosely tied in with just a logo at the end and a clever line. I'm in the trenches here. Our competitor's cutting price, they're undercutting us, or they're gold-plating the engagement." Yada, yada, yada. And I think that's where the pressure comes in. It's because the sales teams are the engineers and all the folks that are going to have to end up implementing this thing, and marketing coming in with this mountain climber thing is kind of like, it doesn't really matter. And I have a solution.

Hope Morley: Yeah. I was going to ask. So, what would you say to those teams?

Guy Bauer: Is that, and I see this dynamic and I wrote an article about mullet videos, but the idea is that you have to understand that there's stages in a sales process. It's not just like Client A is like, "Hey, we need a cloud thing. All right. Let's call somebody and get them in here. And we'll make our decision in a week." It actually goes on for many months.

Hope Morley: Yeah. You need to get in the room with that committee.

Guy Bauer: Correct.

Hope Morley: That's not step one.

Guy Bauer: And a lot of people, especially the sales folks, thinks that marketing starts once you're in the room, and maybe they don't, maybe that's not real. Maybe that's not true. But the idea is that the moment your client calls you, or the moment you get an RFP, actually, they've been perusing your site and doing their own analysis and spreadsheets for maybe a quarter before you even got that RFP. Or it may have taken them a quarter to write the RFP, and the previous quarter is when they were deciding who to talk to.

Guy Bauer: And so, the idea is that there's two distinct phases. And I borrowed this from Blair Enns, who I believe borrowed it from somebody else. But the two phases are, first phase is inspire. Your prospect needs to be inspired to take some kind of action to transform. Blair Enns says that sales is simply change management. Something in the organization has woken up some desire to change, and change is uncomfortable. And you as a salesperson and a marketer have to help them manage that change. But the first step before they decide to send an RFP or whatever and all that stuff is to be inspired.

Guy Bauer: And the second phase is reassurance. So, as the deal gets closer and closer to closing, and it becomes more and more real that your client is about to write a big check and take a big risk on you, their mindset shifts from wanting business success to avoiding business failure. And it's that moment like, if I was in a boat that's sinking and there's a lifeboat, but there's sharks between the two, and I have to make a jump, it's the moment of hesitation, cold feet, where they're like, "Maybe we should just stick with the boat we're on." And you have to be like, "No, no, no, listen, it's going to sink. But trust me, on this lifeboat is a better way. You just have to get over those sharks and have confidence in yourself." And the way they do that is by you reassuring them that everything's going to be okay.

Guy Bauer: What most B2B brands do is they mix the two up into marketing that tries to inspire and reassure at the same time. And because you're speaking to a brackish— there's no one in that phase of wanting to be inspired and wanting to be reassured at the same time. That's where you end up with these dud one-star videos, because to your organization, that seems safe. It seems safe to blend it and make one video, one size fits all that we can put on our LinkedIn and try to gain awareness, but then also get the salespeople to show in the room. And that's a big mistake, because you're talking to the same group of people, just at different points in time. It doesn't make sense. And where it's called a mullet videos is because the inspire video is, imagine a rock star, long hair rockstar, cool dude, which I don't even know if that's cool anymore.

Hope Morley: Right. I mean, I think we mentioned Axl Rose in the blog post. He's so cool.

Guy Bauer: So, the inspire video is cool, long hair. And then the reassure video is the more business person, shorter hair, right? And where you get the mullet is when you make short hair and long hair, you get a mullet and no one likes a mullet. So, that's where I believe is the genesis of these one star, amongst a million other things. But that's where I think you can get out of it, is splitting it into two phases. And then when you bring that logic to your sales team, or at least the engineering-led stakeholders, sometimes it changes minds.

Hope Morley: Yeah. And I think another thing that we're looking at here is talking about how getting into the room with the committee or getting into the room with the organization isn't the first step. It's a lack of, if not awareness, understanding that how much research people do and how much people want to be prepared before they send the RFP or before they contact your salespeople, that people really want to feel like they did their research before they bring other people in. Again, this is the emotional part of being a business person or working in a corporation. You don't want to be presenting options to people if you feel like you didn't fully vet it. So, if you're trying to protect yourself and make yourself look good, you're doing a lot of research before you decide, here are the five vendors that we're going to reach out to.

Hope Morley: And part of that research is comparing the features and benefits, but you do have to, getting at the inspiration thing, you have to inspire that person that they're going to make the right choice if they bring you into the room with their boss. And if they're putting themselves on the line, saying this organization can bring our cloud solutions to the next level, that first step is inspiring them, making them feel something, making yourself memorable. And then they can look at the features and benefits and be like, "Okay, yeah, this has what we're looking for. This is what we're missing with our current provider." And then they can make the rational explanation to their boss about why you're the right pick. But you first have to get them to think about you and consider you.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. And I feel that, and all of us I think can relate to this, if you are set on buying something because of emotional reasons, you can rationalize and you can make shit up.

Hope Morley: Especially in B2B, because you can just take a big, long product features list and put it in front of your boss. You know they're not going to read the whole checklist of the product features. They're going to go, "Yeah, this is great."

Guy Bauer: Yeah. So, it's really like your creativity can be a business advantage, because if you can make that initial person, I like to call them the gatekeepers, or the unfortunate soul that was tasked with, "Hey, we need a solution here. You, Johnson, go do it." Keep in mind, they are going to all your competitors' sites. And if you have CRM, when you could see people convert and what they do on their site, they don't spend a lot of time. They're like, "Do you do it? Yes? Good. On the list, you're on the list, you're on the list." And then they'll vet from that point on, but if you can spark them with a piece that makes them laugh or cry, whatever, you can exploit their emotion to then, and then they will actually rationalize for you because-

Hope Morley: They do the work for you.

Guy Bauer: The reality is, too, is especially in B2B, I mean, everyone's competitors basically do the same stuff. Yeah, there's differences, and maybe some proprietary framework or something or whatever that's different between the two. But you all do the same thing, or else you wouldn't be in business, meaning you're all competent. We have our proposal software, but there's eight others that do the exact same thing. And why do we have one over another? Probably they have better materials, and it was an emotional decision just based on, "Oh, I like the colors. Oh, their website looks nice."

Guy Bauer: I mean, you forget that, it's kind of like this, I use this metaphor, is to a wine novice, if you were like, "Guy, go out and buy a bottle of wine." And you hid all prices from me, and I'm a novice, I am making my decision based on label. If I don't know the price, I'm making my decision based on the label of what the highest quality is. So, I'm going to look for stuff that has gold leaf or some kind of cool name, that paints a picture for me. And that's how your buyers are. They don't know this stuff. The reason why they're coming to you for cloud scaled out, hyper trophy...

Hope Morley: I don't know what this product is, but we need it.

Guy Bauer: They're coming to you because they don't know what it is, and maybe they're, obviously their CTO or whatever, CIO is going to know what it is. But if they were such experts, they would do it themselves. They're coming to you because they know they need a bottle of wine. And now you have to inspire them with the labels. The real way I decide how good a bottle of wine is by price. I just...

Hope Morley: You pick the one in the middle.

Guy Bauer: Right. Exactly. I don't want $3 bottle of wine and I don't want a hundred bottle of wine. I'll pick, yeah, 50. That's good. Right?

Hope Morley: Yep.

Guy Bauer: But in B2B, you don't list your prices, everything is custom, or at least for our clients, the enterprise solutions. So, you don't list your prices. So, what do you have left, is you have the labels. People are judging you by the cover. And then obviously, that gets you in the room, and then your sales people take over, and the whole idea of getting chosen off the shelf or getting in the room, that's what we call awareness. And that's the biggest challenge. That's what your ads are for. That's why you would advertise, most of the time. Obviously, there's other pieces of the funnel and other important things. And I think most companies do that well. Honestly, the more I get into it, I think consideration, decision, people have that down, especially B2B companies, and with all the sales enablement drive. What I see failing and what this article is talking about is that stuff that gets you in the room, that gets people to pick you off the shelf.

Hope Morley: And it's also, this ties back into the brand building piece of it too. Because if you think about, if someone is looking for a new CRM option, everybody knows Salesforce, you're going to consider Salesforce if you're looking for an enterprise solution for that. And why are you going to consider Salesforce? There's not a rational reason. I actually think their platform is terrible, it's not user-friendly, but what they have, they have excellent marketing, and they do have a very robust, they offer a lot more than some of their competitors do. And they are a good customizable solution for a lot of people. Sorry, Salesforce. But the reason it comes to your head first is not because you know that it's a great customizable solution for a lot of different financial and sales teams. You know it because they've built a brand and that you think of them and they've made themselves the default choice.

Guy Bauer: At least the first choice, and then you'll do all your rational due diligence during the sales process. And that's where Salesforce still has to sell. So, the brand isn't going to solve everything, but what the brand does is it gets the people in the door, and then their sales team has to take over. And time and time again, I talk to our clients, and they're like, "We just need to be invited, because we have..." A lot of our clients compete against the Amazons and the Googles, because Amazon and Google are trying to do everything enterprise. Basically, if anything's good, they go ahead and they copy it. A lot of our clients, they're like, "Yeah, but ours is better, because that's all we do."

Guy Bauer: And they're right, they're actually right. But it's so hard for them to be invited. Once they're invited, they can kill it. You know what I mean? They're in the room and they have better stuff, they really do. But the problem is, when a company goes into, who are we going to bring home? What are the bottles of wine that we're going to taste? If you don't have a brand, again, Amazon, Google...

Hope Morley: Right. Why would anyone... Yeah. Having a brand makes you trustworthy. So, again, when we talk about B2B buyers wanting to, in some sense, make the safe choice, they want to be able to protect themselves from getting in trouble if the implementation fails. If you go with Amazon Web Services for your cloud, and for some reason, it goes horribly, horribly wrong, you can't really say like, "Oh, well..." No one's going to be like, "Well, you picked an untried vendor for this." It's Amazon. Everybody knows that you're going to trust them to some extent. Even if it doesn't go well, then you're like, "Oh, well, but yeah, it was Amazon. Maybe it's just not the right fit for us." Without that brand building, if you do bring in someone who is unknown to the wider organization and it does fail, you lose that trust.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. And that is what the article talks about. I mean, there's lots at stake. And that's where I think B2B marketers kind of rationalize, they're like, "Yeah, but we're not selling muffins or whatever. It's not like our client makes, it's not a $2 thing. This is huge, and we need to appeal to their rational side." And they are right. It's just, later in the sale, you appeal to their rational side. Early on, you're missing all the stuff that would get someone to even get you to reassure them or to rationalize with them. Does that make sense?

Hope Morley: Yeah. So, what you're saying is that, if you don't inspire them to begin with, they won't come up with the justification for bringing you into the room in the first place. And it also doesn't build that trust that I was talking about that helps you put yourself on the line, because it could be your job on the line if something goes wrong.

Guy Bauer: But if something goes right...

Hope Morley: Then you get the promotion.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. Bingo. And that's where a lot of, and I pick on Amazon, Google, Salesforce, whatever, just because they're known.

Hope Morley: They're known and you can always punch up. Right?

Guy Bauer: Yeah. But it is true that those clients do everything, you know? I mean, sorry, those companies do everything. They're generalists. So, nine times out of 10, if you're a B2B company competing with those behemoths, you probably do do a better job. And once you get in the room, I bet you are really good at closing it. The problem is you need to get in the room and you need to look. And that's all about the look. I mean, come on. I can't be the only one that does this.

Guy Bauer: But if me and my wife Jen are on vacation somewhere and we want go rent a boat or something, and there's three boat rental places, I'll open up all three. I won't really read any, because they're all saying the same thing. And I'm just like, "Who's got the better website, that's cleaner with fewer steps, that's not going to make me print out a PDF and sign it and scan it back." You know what I mean? And which one looks better? Who's got better buttons? I mean, I don't know. Maybe that's just me, but that's how I choose when I don't know. Now, if I was a boating expert and they were like, "We have the Traeger 69X." I'm like, "Oh, well, yeah, let's do that."

Hope Morley: Is that a boat brand? I don't even know.

Guy Bauer: Traeger I think is a boat brand.

Hope Morley: I don't know. I couldn't have come up with a boat brand if you asked.

[Editor’s note: Traeger is not a boat brand. It is a grill brand. Guy also cannot come up with a boat brand when asked.]

Guy Bauer: And I forget where I was going.

Hope Morley: The point is, yeah.

Guy Bauer: They're choosing based on emotional contribution, not really the stuff, it hasn't been, they haven't gone that deep yet. You got to get them to just pay attention to you for a little bit first.

Hope Morley: And be willing to learn a little bit about you if you're an unknown entity.

Guy Bauer: Correct. Yeah. I love the B2B Institute people. I mean, I feel like Hope and I discovered, or Hope sent me their article late last year. And what was the report? It was the 2030 B2B trends?

Hope Morley: Yeah, the contrarian trends, yeah.

Guy Bauer: And I was like, "Oh, this is, I'm a contrarian."

Hope Morley: Wear the label proudly.

Guy Bauer: Yeah. And my gosh, you should really download that. Go to LinkedIn B2B Institute. It's the 2030 B2B marketing trends.

Hope Morley: I'll link to it in the show notes.

Guy Bauer: We should see if we can get them on our show, but my word, every page. And I usually hate those white papers. And I can't read them. I don't understand anything there, but this one, I read cover to cover. It was beautiful. It's everything. And I think they're exactly right. Brand is it.

Hope Morley: Brand and creativity. It's the only way that you can grow. It's the only way that you can stand out. There's only so far you can get on differentiated features and benefits.

Guy Bauer: Right. It's almost like- Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

Hope Morley: Oh, I'm just saying, you're going to hit a glass ceiling, you're going to hit the wall if you only do feature and benefits based marketing. There's only so much growth you can have there.

Guy Bauer: Right. Right. And also, I think what B2B Institute was saying too is, and I know I digress here, but when you do feature marketing, when you sell the product, you're assuming that everyone's in-market for that product. But I think they did, there's only like four to 5% of the buyable market of your customers. Only four to 5% of them are in-market at any particular moment, so when you just market the product and you're not memorable, yeah, you're talking to those four to 5%, but you're ignoring the 95% who aren't in-market. But if you can make something creative, inspirational, and memorable now, when any of those 95% go in-market, they may remember you.

Hope Morley: Six months from now, a year from now, they remember that spot. They remember what you did, and then suddenly they're reaching out. You're at the top of their list.

Guy Bauer: You know, I find there's a trend in the videos we make, is that you make them and you really hear nothing. And then a year and a half, two years later, our client will be like, "Oh, man." It's because it takes a while for the in-market and out-of-market to kind of, for the out-of-market to become in-market. It takes a little bit.

Hope Morley: The B2B sales cycle is so long. You're not releasing an ad for shoes that someone is going to impulse buy something. No one's impulse buying any SaaS products.

Guy Bauer: Right. And the idea behind branding is that, because branding is a more long-term play, once you, if you gain saturation in that, in the market that may buy, procure your services, once the out-of-market flows into in-market, which may be five years from now, but if you've made something memorable, without spending any additional money, they are now entering your funnel. And that's where all your other content and your sales folks can work, but it's getting in the memory banks of the out-of-market audience.

Hope Morley: 100%. So, to-

Guy Bauer: Yeah, I feel like we were very smart in this episode. We sounded very good. Bring us home, Hope.

Hope Morley: Please let us know if you thought that we were smart in this episode.

Guy Bauer: We sounded smart. I think we did. Let us know.

Hope Morley: In sum, our very smart take on this article.

Guy Bauer: We unpacked it.

Hope Morley: We unpacked the article.

Guy Bauer: Now, Hope, I want you to repack it.

Hope Morley: Package it back up.

Guy Bauer: And put it on the shelf.

Hope Morley: And I'm going to return to sender. Package it back up so nobody can tell that I already opened it. Yeah, to sum it all up. So, I'll link to this Marketing Week article. We recommend that anyone in the B2B marketing space or sales space takes a look at it, and really think about, take a look at what, especially video content, but any of your ad content you're doing. And think about, if I showed this to six million people, how many of them would their faces show an emotional reaction to what I'm doing? And if not, maybe reconsider some of your content, get some creativity in there.

Hope Morley: So, thanks for listening today. Let us know if you thought we sounded smart. You can always visit us on our website at umault.com. That's U-M-A-U-L-T.com. You can email us at hello@umault.com. We're on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Find us around. Talk to us. We'd love to hear from you. So, thanks for listening.

Guy Bauer: Now, I'm on Clubhouse.

Hope Morley: And Clubhouse, yes.

Guy Bauer: Hope doesn't, because she doesn't have an iPhone.

Hope Morley: I have an Android phone, so they don't want me in their club.

Guy Bauer: All right. Thank you.

Hope Morley: Thanks for listening, everybody.





Picture of Guy bauer, founder of umault

Guy has been making commercial videos for over 20 years and is the author of “Death to the Corporate Video: A Modern Approach that Works.” He started the agency in 2010 after a decade of working in TV, film and radio. He’s been losing hair and gaining weight ever since.

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