Solving B2B Advertising’s Conversion Crisis
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is – I don’t know which half.” That’s a quote from John Wanamaker – the inventor of America’s modern-day department store and the father of print advertising. More than a century later, his words still ring true.
According to eMarketer, worldwide digital advertising spend is expected to reach $517.51 billion by 2023. But there’s a problem. Despite growing investments in digital advertising, B2B businesses struggle to see a consistent return on their advertising investment.
John Wanamaker couldn’t foresee the impact technology would have on brick-and-mortar retail. But he did understand the importance of two things: Proving marketing ROI and meeting buyers and customers where they are. Unlike John, today’s digital marketers have the wealth of data and technology at their disposal, which makes looking at these numbers even more troubling:
No matter how compelling your ad copy or how eye-catching your landing page – if traffic doesn’t materialize into future business, it’s all for nothing. To create a high-converting B2B digital advertising program, marketers need to remove the friction in their funnels and deliver highly-personalized digital experiences.
The good news is we’re here to help you do just that. In this book, you’ll discover:
- What defines great B2B digital advertising today
- Solutions to common roadblocks stopping you from converting buyers into customers
- And insights from Drift, Adobe, and leading digital advertising experts like Billy Gene Shaw
B2B Digital Advertising Strategy
Does your advertising strategy align with your marketing strategy? Does it roll-up to revenue? If your answer is “no” on one or both accounts, it’s time to go back-to-basics.
Siloed strategies are a common reason digital marketing teams fail to get the advertising budget and resources they need. If your team is operating in silos, start by revisiting your goals. At a high-level, a digital advertising strategy should:
- Roll-up to revenue
- Align with your marketing strategy and customer journey
- Be measurable
- Target the right people, with the right message, at the right time
Let’s get started.
Define Your Digital Advertising Goals & Metrics
Ask any CMO and they’ll tell you: Bigger budgets bring greater scrutiny. Marketers unable to “defend their spend” will have a difficult time getting buy-in for paid advertising – especially from finance. To keep your strategy based in reality and your budget in check, define your digital advertising goals and show how they impact revenue.
Define & Align Your Goals
One of your team’s top-line marketing goals this last quarter was to engage with more senior sales leaders in target accounts. This was measured by the amount of net new sales contacts acquired that are VP-level or higher.
At the end of the quarter, your team comes up short by at least 20%. Looking back at your channel performance, your CMO sees why: Your advertising strategy is focused solely on engaging marketing ops and sales engineers. Yet, paid channels account for 15% of net new contacts acquired during the quarter. This seems like an extreme example of misalignment. Yet, it happens more than you think. But that doesn’t mean it has to happen to you.
To ensure it doesn’t, marketers must align their digital advertising goals with their marketing goals:
At a high-level, digital advertising goals fall into three categories:
- Acquisition goals: Attributing your B2B digital advertising program to customer acquisition is one of the easiest ways to prove ROI. Campaigns and offers that fall under this category include CTAs for demos or any other means of attracting new customers. While generating ICP leads is important, it’s more important to understand revenue influenced here.
- Brand awareness goals: More companies are investing in digital advertising to grow brand visibility and awareness. But running a Facebook ad that says “Hello World! We’re <Insert Name Here>” won’t get you far. Instead, serve up ads for a freemium version of your software, commercials on relevant YouTube channels, or targeted keywords on Google.
- Nurture goals: You’ll rarely convert a buyer after one offer. Retargeting ads, as with email nurture programs, are great for targeting buyers based on previous behaviors.
Depending on the size of your organization, marketing budget, and product line, you might execute on one or all of these goals. Once you choose your goals, identify the right metrics to keep track of your performance.
Understanding Your Front-end & Back-end Advertising Metrics
Front-end advertising metrics track individual ad performance – like Engagement Rates, Clicks, or Click-Throughs. Back-end advertising metrics track revenue influence and costs. Here are the most important metrics you should track to discern ROI and ad effectiveness:
- Return on Advertising Spend: This metric looks at the total revenue from an ad / total cost of an ad. Consider tracking speed here as well – to see how quickly you’ll recover your costs. That way, you can turn off low-performers and pour gasoline on what’s working.
- Conversion Rate Per Channel: Conversion rates tell you attribution information, like how many demos or leads were generated from your ad campaign.
- Cost-Per-Conversion: CPC looks at the total cost of an ad campaign / total number of conversions. The dream is to have a high conversion rate and a low CPC.
- Cost-Per-Acquisition: CPA is considered the most crucial metric for calculating digital advertising ROI. This shows the cost to acquire a new customer from a specific channel or campaign. Understanding CPA helps marketing leaders better allocate spend.
- Customer Lifetime Value: This is the total value a customer spends over their lifetime with you. Comparing this to Cost-Per-Acquisition gives a more accurate picture of ROI.
- Pipeline Contribution: This measures how much your B2B digital advertising channels (paid search, paid social, syndication, etc.) contribute to pipeline.
- Cost-Per…Impression, Click, View, Action: You can measure the cost of activities for advertising campaigns. For example, Cost-Per-Click is an estimate of how much you’ll pay each time someone clicks on your ad. Advertising platforms will often calculate this for you, but you can also determine this on your own by dividing the campaign cost by the number of times your ad was clicked. You want to keep costs low, so monitoring these metrics is important.
- Click-Through Rate: CTR is the percentage of people who click your ad on a certain page. This rate is used to understand the effectiveness of the ad itself (copy, imagery, colors, etc.).
- Bounce Rate: Once someone clicks your ad, how long did they stay on the landing page? A high bounce rate might mean your landing page isn’t catering to the right audience, that it isn’t optimized for conversions, or that your ad is misleading. To keep people on the page, make sure you’re serving up what they expect.
- Marketing Qualified Accounts: Tracking MQAs or MQLs for ads will let you know how many net new buyers were captured from your campaign.
A lot of the definitions above cover back-end metrics. Other front-end metrics like Impressions, Engagement, and Shares, are used to understand ad performance. But, they won’t mean much to your c-suite or finance department. If you’re interested in learning more about front-end digital advertising metrics like these, Instapage wrote an article packed with definitions.
Identify Your Target Audience & Channels
53% of buyers say they feel frustrated when receiving irrelevant ads and emails from B2B companies. And who can blame them? Getting an irrelevant ad is like getting a bad gift from a good friend. They should know what you like, and yet…bad gifts and ads happen to good people. If you target the right buyers, this shouldn’t be a problem. But you have to do your research.
Enterprises like Adobe are constantly looking at their buyer’s journey to ensure target accounts are getting relevant, personalized experiences:
Audience-based and content-based targeting are two common targeting categories. Audience-based targeting uses segmentation to target groups of people. Content-based targeting, which is used in unison with audience-based targeting, considers the content experience on the page. We’ll skip defining every targeting method (ad platforms will do this for you) and instead focus on three high-impact targeting strategies that boost conversions.
With contextual advertising and automation, you have more control over where your advertisements appear. This makes your ads feel less invasive and more relevant to the buyer and customer experience.
For example, a Forbes article about “CMO Strategies for 2021” might be a good place to promote an eBook on digital transformation for marketers. You can also choose what content you don’t want your ads appearing next to. This helps avoid awkward situations like having ads appear next to risque or offensive content.
Account-based marketing (ABM) flips traditional inbound marketing on its head. Instead of creating content and sharing it with as many people as possible, ABM is all about precision. That means identifying target accounts and nurturing contacts in those accounts with personalized marketing.
Account-based advertising follows the same principle. Because a lot of your buyers’ time is spent on third-party channels, account-based advertising helps drive awareness on those channels to deliver the right message, at the right place, at the right time. And with the extensive research you have on those accounts, it’s easy to narrow down which ad channels to invest in.
Adobe’s Director of Enterprise Marketing, Digital COE & Demand Generation, Jeff Baran, uses account segmentation to better allocate budget and resources for ABM-based advertising:
Using a targeted ad, and then segmenting for a specific account, you can drive high-value buyers to your site. And, with Drift, you can greet those buyers right on a landing page, and notify their account executives so they can chime in.
Retargeting is about engaging with buyers and customers who’ve already visited your website. B2C companies, especially retailers, use retargeting to action buyers to complete transactions. In B2B digital advertising, retargeting is a popular nurture tactic to bring buyers and customers back to your website to book a demo, register for an event, or engage with relevant content.
Choose Your Advertising Channels
Your audience should dictate which advertising channels you target. Here are our two tips for getting channel targeting right:
- Consider both professional and personal channels: According to Statista, people spend an average of 144 minutes on social media a day (yes, even CMOs and VPs). That’s why more B2B businesses are investing in Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter ads than ever before.
- Time ads to increase visibility and lower costs: Show ads when buyers are most likely to visit a particular site. This helps keep costs low (depending on the payment model) and visibility high.
Personalize Offers Based on the Buyer’s Journey
Retargeting is an incredibly powerful B2B digital advertising strategy. But don’t assume run-of-the-mill retargeting campaigns are enough to engage with your audiences. There are often gaps. That’s why journey-based retargeting is ideal. Journey-based retargeting considers the entire buyer’s journey and serves up personalized offers that move buyers through your marketing and sales funnel, faster.
Below we see a very basic buyer’s journey. The ads and the content they’re promoting align to the buyer persona and where they are in their journey. The idea is to build an audience that converts on offer one, segment this audience, serve up offer two, and then repeat until a meeting is booked.
But what happens once a buyer clicks on that ad? How do you make sure that click translates into an opportunity?
B2B Digital Advertising Workflows
Back in 1960, Kelly Johnson, a lead engineer for the US Navy, popularized an acronym called the K.I.S.S. method or Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a reminder that the simplest way is often the best. Today, the phrase is used across multiple disciplines – from coding to writing. Now B2B marketers must embrace it to compete in a digital-first and buyer-centric world.
A buyer’s time is precious. Yet many B2B companies still use gated content and complicated follow-up processes as part of their digital advertising workflow. Well, buyers are fed up. Almost 78% of buyers will move on to a competitor if they find your buying process too slow or cumbersome.
Forcing buyers and customers to fill out long forms increases bounce rates and decreases conversions. To put your ad dollars to good use, connect with buyers in real-time, and drive more pipeline for sales you have to fix what’s broken in B2B marketing – your funnel.
The B2B Marketing Funnel is Broken
Hannah, the Director of Digital at a large telehealth company, sees a Facebook ad for your patient experience eBook. The ad copy is personalized and the hook is compelling. Impressed, she clicks. Dropping onto your landing page, the first thing she sees is a long form. What’s worse, the landing page copy isn’t aligned to the language in the ad. Annoyed, she bounces from the page.
Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say Hannah didn’t jump from the page. She’s interested enough in the eBook and decides to fill out the form. She even checks the box indicating she’d like to speak with sales. After clicking submit, she waits. She sees the eBook arrive in her inbox, but doesn’t hear from a salesperson until two days later. By the time they reach out, Hannah’s moved on.
In both scenarios, Hannah’s confronted with friction at every turn – from long forms to long wait times. The truth is, this is more common than not. To understand why sales didn’t reach out right away we have to look under the hood of B2B lead processing.
Here we have a typical MQL flow from a form submission:
24 hours or more pass between the form submission to any sales rep following up. But even 24 hours might be a best-case scenario. For some companies, it can take a day or longer to follow-up with a lead. Looking at the workflow above, no better word comes to mind than convoluted. If this feels familiar, the good news is, you can fix this.
Fix Your B2B Digital Advertising Workflows with Conversational Marketing & Conversational Sales
To make your B2B digital advertising more customer-centric and, therefore, better optimized for conversions, you need to:
- Make it easy for buyers to get what they need, when they need it
- Make it easy for buyers and sales to engage with one another
- Enable sales to respond in real-time (or close to it)
- Allow lead processing to occur, but not be a roadblock to valuable conversations
Per that last point, we’re not advocating to end lead processing as we know it. Lead processing should still happen in the background. But it shouldn’t stop marketing, sales, or sales development reps (SDRs) from responding to buyers in a timely manner.
From automation to chat to video to email – Conversational Marketing and Conversational Sales are about getting buyers the right answers and in touch with the right people in real-time. By replacing forms with live chat, rule-based chat, and AI chatbots, you not only simplify the buyer’s journey, but make it easier for sales to connect with them quickly. And with reverse IP and data enrichment technologies, you can personalize the entire buyer experience.
Below is an example of Conversational Marketing and Conversational Sales used as part of a PPC campaign. Once a buyer clicks the ad, they’re greeted with a personalized message and are connected with a person / bot in seconds. In this case, the buyer is from a target account and the appropriate sales rep is notified and dropped into the chat. This process empowers sales and SDRs to respond quickly, leaving no buyer waiting.
Once you’ve optimized your strategy and workflow for conversions, you can start focusing on the fun stuff: creating amazing content that people want to click.
B2B Digital Advertising Creatives
Think about the last ad that made you stop in your tracks. What made you pause? What made you click? What made you give that ad the time of day? Advertising isn’t just about audience segmentation, metrics, and logistics. The motivations that compel buyers to click are often primal.
There are a lot of resources out there on the science of advertising and copywriting. An amount so intimidating it made even this writer sweat. To help, we’ve distilled down the best practices for writing ad copy that drives clicks and landing pages that convert.
Create Compelling Digital Ads
A compelling digital ad is equal parts art and science. Layer on the complexity of different ad types, platforms, and design needs, and it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. Here’s our quick starter guide to designing your next ad campaign:
Choosing Your Ads
The type of ad you create depends on the channels frequented by your target audience. To keep things simple, here are some of the most popular ad types and how they help frame your message:
- Paid search/SEM: Google accounts for more than 30% of all online advertising And one of their most popular ad options is search advertising – where you target certain keywords to appear higher in search results. These are copy-based, 70 character ads that require a deep understanding of both best-in-class copywriting and keyword research. Additionally, Google uses a Quality Score to rank pages and determine ad position. This considers keywords, landing page performance, and other factors as well.
- Display advertising: Display ads include formats like text, static images, flash images, video, and more. Using Google Display Network or third-party content syndication, you can reach a large audience and get creative with your ads.
- Video advertising: In a BrightRoll survey, 72% of ad agencies said online video advertising was as or more effective than television advertising. With the dawn of streaming and YouTube, video advertising is becoming increasingly popular for getting eye-catching, targeted messaging to buyers.
- Social advertising: With the amount of time people spend on social media, social advertising has become critical to B2B. Across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter there are a variety of ad types to choose from. Just remember your tone and copy should match the casualness or professionalism of the platform.
Make Offers Irresistible
Ask digital advertising expert Billy Gene Shaw what makes a great ad campaign and he’ll say – without fail – 99.9% of all advertising is successful because of the offer. Here are a few tips to make your offers irresistible:
- Be topical and timely: Billy looks at Google Trends every day to find out what’s trending in the world and uses those insights to frame his offers. For example, when Wolf of Wall Street came out, Billy ran an ad spoof on the concept, and it took off. While your tactics don’t need to be as direct, the strategy is sound. Ads or marketing campaigns that ignore major world events feel tone-deaf. B2B marketing that connects with people’s personal interests feels intimate and personal. In both cases, it pays to be on top of the news.
- Offer a ton of value for a limited time: “Limited time offers” might feel gimmicky – but they work. They create a sense of urgency and promise a big pay-off. Just be sure to follow-through and deliver on your promises.
- Double-down on personalization: If you’re segmenting your audiences properly, you can be more granular in your ad copy. Running something for marketing ops managers? Call out a pain point specific to them. The more targeted you get, the more targeted your copy should be.
- Hooks and headlines are everything: Include the four U’s in your copy: Urgent, unique, useful, ultra-specific. Use Russell Brunson’s headline formula to easily notate both a problem and the solution in headlines: “How to [Achieve the Thing They Want Most] Without [Doing The Painful Stuff They Want to Avoid].”
- Write for your audience (but also how you talk): Ad copy for Facebook should read differently than ad copy for LinkedIn. In both cases, be sure to write like you talk to keep things precise, clear, and human.
Write Copy that Persuades
Writing a great ad is all about persuasion. Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology, came up with what he calls the six principles of persuasion. Marketers use these principles to draft everything from digital ads to landing pages to email copy. They include:
- Reciprocation: Be the first to give, and people will feel compelled to reciprocate. This goes back to Billy’s point earlier about providing a lot of value upfront.
- Scarcity: People want what they can’t have. Use scarcity to emphasize limited time offers or deals that are just too good to pass up.
- Authority: Credibility matters. Show credentials and social proof to back up your claims. Don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses.
- Consistency: Start small and build more consistency in your advertising. This can be as simple as your branding or how you write copy.
- Liking: People want to be liked. And being likable gives you more influence and makes you more trustworthy.
- Consensus: State big truths. For example, “Generating Quality Leads is Hard.” Then, show a clear solution. And back all of it up with testimonials from customers and trusted experts.
Writing is subjective. But these best practices deliver time and again.
Level-Up Your Landing Pages
You can’t beat the power of a landing page with clear copy, great design, and well-placed CTAs. That said, only 22% of B2B companies are satisfied with their landing page conversion rates. To level-up your landing pages, dig deep into your buyer personas and understand what drives them. Use that information to design pages and write copy that people will love.
Get Digital Advertising Basics Right
To create more high-converting pages, marketers should focus on the following:
- Copy: Use action-oriented language, obey the rule of threes, lead with benefits, talk about buyers, and keep the language simple. Like fifth-grade reading level
- Design: Make your pages easy to navigate and interesting enough to get people to stay.
- Media: Videos and interactivity will encourage visitors to stay longer on your page. Just be careful they don’t hurt your page performance.
- CTAs: Every page should have at least two CTAs: One above the fold and one below the fold.
- Run a CRO audit: Conduct a conversion rate optimization (CRO) audit on landing pages linked to your B2B digital advertising program. Audit the friction on your site, like long forms or page load times. See how these factors impact bounce rates.
- Do the technical work: Optimize landing pages for mobile, improve load times, and track page performance.
- Chatbot conversion rates: You should look at conversion rates for chatbots on landing pages too. A great first line in a blog makes you want to read more. A great bot hook makes you want to engage further. Learn how to write better hooks and create better bot conversations here.
Appeal to P.A.S.E
There’s a common acronym used to describe four types of buyers in a marketing and sales funnel: P.A.S.E. These buyers are:
To increase your landing page conversion rate, appeal to each of these people. Use the descriptions above to create a checklist for your next landing page build.
B2B Digital Advertising Experiments
Marketing is an experiment. Meaning an ad campaign that worked yesterday, might not work today. But with budgets on the line, simply trusting your gut isn’t an option. You need the data and the know-how to fail fast, win faster, and pivot quickly.
Back in 2013, the Microsoft team ran an experiment for Bing testing title text color on their landing pages. Using the data of over 32 million users, they rolled out a color change that added more than $10 million in revenue. Think about that for a second: A color change resulted in millions more dollars in revenue each year. If that doesn’t say something about the power of experimentation, what does?
That said, you don’t need a 100-person team to run experiments like Microsoft. Advertising platforms like Facebook and Google have baked-in performance insights you can track in real-time. And companies like Drift, Intellimize, Unbounce, and more can run landing page experiments on the fly. In other words, you got this. Here’s how to run your next great advertising experiment – without burning through your budget:
Experimenting with Digital Ad Assets
There is such a thing as over-optimizing. And a lot of marketers are guilty of it.
When you first run an ad campaign, you don’t want to immediately split test everything. You don’t have enough information to create a real hypothesis at this point. Instead, start with a few initial ads. You’ll be able to tell quickly whether those ads / offers are working or not based on performance and return on spend. For example, low Clicks and high Impressions might mean people pause on your ad, but aren’t compelled by your copy to click.
Based on the initial performance of your offers, here are some other ad elements to test:
Billy Gene Shaw and his team often swap offers entirely rather than tweaking design or copy. Not only does this allow them to drive more ROI and pivot quickly, but understand the offers that resonate with audiences the most. Once you have a winning offer, you can test different elements like the ones listed below.
Headlines & Copy
A low Click-Through-Rate might mean your headline isn’t having the desired impact. Run a few variations, identify high-performers, and then optimize and iterate from there. You can also test the core ad copy as well. Just make sure it aligns with whatever headline you use.
Experimenting with targeting criteria is a great way to capture new contacts. For example, if you’re targeting based on geo-location data, it might be worth seeing if certain behavioral or other criteria give you more visibility. Just make sure the criteria is aligned with the audience you’re looking to target (and your marketing goals).
You don’t want your ad running when your audience isn’t going to see it. For example, running ads on Facebook makes more sense on the weekend or after work hours vs. during a nine-to-five workday.
Play with things like colors, text, and other design elements for display, video, and flash ads. Just don’t go overboard with your variations. And make sure your designs don’t stray too far from brand guidelines.
Test certain offers across different types of ads to see what works best. For example, a carousel ad on LinkedIn is a good way to promote a report with visually compelling data.
Your team should constantly research keywords to ensure your offers appear for the right search terms.
Ad Networks & Sites
If you’re running a display ad, it’s worth testing different ad networks or websites over time, based on the habits of your target audience.
Experimenting with Digital Ad Landing Pages
Earlier we shared best practices for creating landing pages that drive conversions. Those same elements can be tested to optimize your pages further. Things like:
- Chat hooks
- Site navigation
- Color / Design
- Page length
- Mobile optimization
- Page performance, and more.
Using Drift in unison with technology like Unbounce, Optimizely, Marketo, Intellimize, and similar offerings can dramatically scale your landing page experiments. With Drift, you can customize chat hooks based on the source channel. For example, if a buyer comes in from a Google search ad, acknowledge this in your hook. You can also use reverse IP lookup and data enrichment to greet accounts by name.
If transitioning to a form-free website seems overwhelming, there’s no need to dive in head-first. Start by using chat as a second net next to forms on your landing pages – just like Perfecto Mobile did. Using chat as a second net increased their overall website conversion rate by 4x in just six months. Similarly, you can run an experiment with two identical landing pages, one with chat and a form, and another with just a form. Split test to see which page converts better.
Advertising technologies are helping B2B businesses scale their digital marketing faster than ever before. But with 81% of buyers refusing to fill out forms and ad conversion rates floating between 1-3%, it’s clear marketers have work to do. Here’s a recap of how you can increase your marketing ROI and create more conversions with B2B digital advertising:
- Align your advertising strategy with your marketing goals: This will show the impact advertising has on your business and justify future spend.
- Embrace real-time engagement and remove the friction in your funnel: Once a buyer clicks an ad, their experience should be seamless. Use live chat and AI chatbots instead of long forms to get buyers what they need – instantly – and to connect them with sales.
- Give buyers an offer they can’t refuse: Double down on copywriting best practices and deliver wow moments that make clicking irresistible.
- Always be experimenting: Create a data-driven marketing culture that prioritizes decisions based on data, not ego.
- Stay on top of data governance: Adobe’s Marissa Dacay says digital marketers must prepare for the future of data governance and build a strong foundation around their advertising program: