Simplicity, Information Are Keys in Business-to-Business Ads
by Chad Rueffert

The line between consumer products and business-to-business products has blurred considerably over the last decade.  Fax machines, computers, office supplies and the like are now purchased for the home almost as often as for the office.  But there are still thousands of companies whose products are sold almost exclusively to other businesses, and they face different advertising challenges than consumer product marketers.

David Ogilvy, perhaps the best-known ad man in history, says that simplicity and information are the secrets of success in business-to-business advertising. In his book, Ogilvy On Advertising, he says:  "Some copywriters, assuming that the reader will find the product as boring as they do, try to inveigle him into their ads with pictures of babies, beagles and bosoms.  This is a mistake.  A buyer of flexible pipe for offshore oil rigs is more interested in pipe than anything else in the world.  So play it straight."

This is particularly true for products you already know your customer needs.  For example, if you are a glass manufacturer and your customers are window makers, you already know they must buy glass – you don't have to convince them they need it.  You are selling pipe to the pipe purchaser.  However, if your company makes vending machines, you may have to convince that same prospect that vending machines will improve their business in some way.  They don't have to have vending machines, so you must make them want to have vending machines.  Advertising a want product is different than advertising a need product – like the difference between advertising Coca-Cola and milk.

So what are the keys to effective need advertising?  Here are a few suggestions that will improve your efforts.


Keep in mind the purpose of business-to-business ads

It costs about 1000 times as much money to send a salesperson out to see a customer than it does to expose them to an advertisement.  And yet, an ad by itself is rarely enough to actually close the deal.  You may still have to contact the prospect directly.  The function of your ad is to make your salespersons job easier by pre-selling your prospect, generating leads and increasing awareness of your product and company.


Focus on informing and educating your prospect 

You have to give your prospect all of the information necessary to make a buying decision.  This means your ads will probably include a large amount of body copy, most of it boring to anyone who doesn't need your product.  And that's just fine.  If they're not going to buy your product anyway, who cares if they are bored?  Here's what Ogilvy has to say:  "When you advertise bubblegum or underwear, there isn't much to say, but a computer or a generator calls for long copy.  Don't be afraid to write it.  Long copy – more than 350 words – actually attracts more readers than short copy."


You must differentiate your product from the competition

As is the case with most products in today's competitive world, what you are selling is probably not that much different from what your competition sells.  But the success of your advertising relies on emphasizing what differences there are, or creating differences that will set you apart.  The most successful differentiation usually involves price.  If your product is less expensive than your major competitors, that is your most important selling point.  But there are plenty of others.  First you must determine which features or benefits are important to your customer, then show them how your product is different and better than your competitor's in those areas.


Advertise to the buyers AND their bosses

Most purchasers of business-to-business products must justify that purchase to someone higher up the management line.  It often makes sense to target your advertising both to the person making the purchase and the person approving the purchase.  Ogilvy suggests using separate campaigns to reach these two types of prospects because of their very different motivations.


There's one key point about business-to-business advertising that is worth repeating.  It costs as much as 1000 times more to make a sales call on a prospect than it does to expose them to an advertisement.  To put it another way, you can reach 1000 times as many people for the same cost.  Once you understand that point, you can see why advertising is absolutely something your business needs!