One of the things I often come across when reviewing publication advertising is what I call ‘brand neutral’ ads. In the B2B technology space I tend to find advertising uninspiring — I don’t hate what I see, and nor do I think it’s wrong in what it says — it just doesn’t inspire me or drive my behaviour.
I skim through about six or seven industry publications each month — a combination of magazines I subscribe to as a B2B tech company, trade press that hits my desk and a few publications courting me for a slice of my marketing budget.
While the companies that advertise in these publications do different things, I see many similarities in the style of advertising. I don’t feel compelled to read what I see but, more troubling, I often can’t easily decipher what’s in it for me as a customer because they aren’t identifying what’s different about them. Where is their identity as a brand and what’s my ‘rationale’ as a prospective customer to reach out to Company A over Company B?
What I believe often happens is that B2B tech companies look at how others have structured their advertising and simply follow suit, assuming that’s what resonates with the readership. When I review a new publication that I’m looking to work with (which is rare and normally only because it needs to be super targeted niches), do I review the adverts of others, yes of course, but I never let that influence my creative team. To do so is at the cost of your identity.
Let me draw a parallel. A good salesperson has their own unique way of selling, and they wouldn’t change that simply to match a competitors angle — to do so loses the uniqueness of the salesperson and even the offering. So if we apply that to advertising or messaging we see it makes no sense to follow the herd. The more unique you look, the more true you stay to your brand, your values and your beliefs as a business — that will stand out and resonate with your audience.
Here is an example from a magazine I advertised in aimed at technology buyers in the alternative investment market (so very target specific):
There are almost 100 words in that advert, the testimonials don’t carry credibility because they aren’t named sources and there’s no call to action — and for all I know they might have the best solution in the world, but I’m not bought in. The most powerful two statements in that piece were ‘know your portfolio’ and ‘at a cost that is less than you may think’ — 13 words that would have sold it on the page in a more compelling way. I just don’t have the energy to read the rest of it, and it doesn’t add value.
Here is what my team put in the same publication:
Whether you like it or not is irrelevant. It’s different to everything else that featured in that issue, and you immediately get (in barely any words) what we’re about. I’m giving you a reason to engage.
You’ll also note it doesn’t detail huge waves of features, specifications, and facts. Those would serve only to dilute the message, and they wouldn’t drive your decision to engage. Too often, especially in technology services companies, people use adverts to “tell and sell” everything, and that’s madness — that’s what you have salespeople for! Adverts should only drive the reader to reach out to you, to say something about who you are and what you stand for.
For today I guess my message is don’t get caught by the status quo — don’t believe that just because everyone else positions themselves a certain way means they know what they’re doing or that it’s right. If everyone looks the same then it’s a clear indicator to go in the opposite direction.
If you’re a huge luxury brand then of course you’ll have a big identity, but most of us don’t work for big brands — most of us work in SME businesses and start ups. But you should never feel like just because you’re smaller that you don’t have a unique identity to push (if anything, it’s more important because you need to build something). Be bullish about your brand, after all, it’s who you are as a business.