What’s the big idea? What B2B advertising can learn from B2C

In these days when Google Analytics and big data are king, some people believe that there’s little room for a single over-arching idea in modern marketing, particularly in the often technical and highly targeted field of business-to-business advertising.

Instead, so the argument goes, we should be focusing on messages that are finely tuned towards the needs of ever smaller market segments. Ideally, in fact, we should be targeting messages towards individuals.

The fact is, as, with most things in life, the truth is that there’s room for every approach. In fact, I’d suggest that the need for the ‘big idea’ has never been greater. Especially in B2B advertising.

Suppose you’re selling a software programme that is designed to make it easier for widget engineers to define closer tolerances. Great, you have a clearly defined market that talks in a specific language. Simply show them the benefits – in language that demonstrates how well you understand them – and they will respond.

But what about the other stakeholders? The desire to invest in this imaginary miracle widget software may be driven by the Chief of Widget Engineering, but our made-up product doesn’t come cheap. The Finance Director, the CEO and even the sales and marketing team may also need convincing.

Now, of course, you could create separate communications that target each function within a prospect’s company with the messages they need to hear. This is sensible. But, the danger is that each audience then has a different perspective of the product, different expectations and different reasons for buying.

Better, surely, to look at the product and create a single, compelling truth about the product – the big idea – that can then be adapted to the different communication needs of various audiences.

This is something that happens in consumer advertising almost naturally. BMW offers ‘sheer driving pleasure’. SKY ‘believes in better’. As for McDonald’s, ‘I’m loving it’.

All of these lines are representations of a big idea that helps to position the brand. All of them, I suggest, make it easier for each company to produce tactical campaigns that target different audiences.

A campaign for a BMW 3 series or a finance deal share the same DNA. As do a basic SKY TV package or the full-on sports and movies option. McDonald’s is loving it whether they’re offering you a Big Mac or a sales promotion.

Business-to-business advertising is no different. So, rather than settle for campaigns that are limited to a specific, one-off marketing objective, I believe B2B marketers should be demanding that agencies are as creative for them as they would be for a consumer brand. Demand the big idea!