BtB big spenders

Spending above the line (ATL – classic advertising) is not common in many areas of business to business. Relationship marketing is more important and customers are simply not looking at the media with BtB buying in mind. It’s also very expensive. More money goes into personal selling, brochures, websites and especially trade fairs.

So it’s refreshing to see a big BtB company ploughing huge funds into classic advertising, even if it’s not always clear why. One such example is ThyssenKrupp, a huge German conglomerate that makes everything from steel tubes to lifts. Here is a scan of one of their ads only a couple of years ago:

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If we read the wording, they tell us that “only certain types of animals and plants can survive in the desert. And extremely resistant materials such as our highly heat-resistant microfibre alloys for gas turbines used in power stations”.

Now to someone flicking through the magazine this appeared in (standard consumer press), surely the only reaction can be “so what?”. In fact what are the odds of one of probably only six customers in Germany reading this precise ad? Surely there are better ways to target those customers rather than waste tens of thousands of euros in an expensive glossy magazine?

But that misses the point. They’re not actually (only) targetting buyers of gas turbines. ThyssenKrupp probably does this type of advertising to

1) push the company as a whole – in the eyes of shareholders, industry analysts, potential employees, current employees

2) “transfer” brand values to other areas where ThyssenKrupp is known and seen.

How does this work?

– Imagine a buyer at a major company has to find a lift supplier for a new office block. In comes ThyssenKrupp. Now the buyer knows them from somewhere, but they’re not sure where. Maybe it was this ad. They feel a sense of trust towards them – more than they would if a no-name lift maker walks in called Woodruff. Eventually they buy the lift from ThyssenKrupp.

– Many months later company employees get into the lift and see a sign saying ThyssenKrupp. They also know the name from somewhere, even if they don’t remember where. They feel safe in the lift, and contented in the knowledge that a colleague somewhere installed a good lift.

– Imagine instead they saw a sign in the lift saying “Woodruff Lifts” from some obscure ex-Russian state – would they feel the same way? I don’t think they would.

And that’s why in BtB you sometimes do ATL advertising. Because at a subliminal level it creates pull on the customer of the customer. The buyer feels this pull, fuelling a subconscious desire to “do the right thing”. (By the way this is also a key aspect of buying behaviour in BtB markets. The buyer is not buying for him/herself. It is a derived demand, as they are the representative of many people, inside and outside the company.)

And all of this can be influenced by ATL advertising.

Alex Woodruff

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