Strategic Moves and Competitive Reactions in B2B Marketing Campaigns

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Strategic Moves and Competitive Reactions in B2B Marketing Campaigns

This past month has seen a good number of events focused on innovation, generally based on the premise that it will take innovation to rebuild employment and, as a result, the economy as a whole. This week is also Global Entrepreneurship week, built roughly around the same idea.

I believe that companies with vision can create a positive future in a challenging economy—a perspective drawn more sharply in two approaches I’ve seen this week in business advertising campaigns: one responding with a strategic agenda and another reacting to a market threat. It’s an important distinction because even though many economic indicators are trending positive, it’s too early to declare victory and go back to business as usual.

Responding with a Strategic Agenda

On November 5, I attended an executive briefing during the 10th anniversary celebration of the IBM Innovation Center in Chicago. During the five 20-minute presentations I saw, I noticed—almost more than the content of the presentations—how well IBM’s “Smarter Planet” strategy had been integrated as a message into the presentations.

This is not an easy thing to do: All of the speakers put their business presentations in terms of the Smart Planet campaign, with an emphasis on the end result.

My favorite example concerned IBM’s work in agriculture. I love the phrase “from farm to fork,” used to describe the electronic tagging of crops or livestock. One purpose of tagging is to isolate the source of contamination and thereby prevent the destruction of tons of food during periodic food scares (spinach, avocados, peanuts, tomatoes).

Influencing the Industry

The integrated advertising campaign to promote the strategy is ubiquitous and effective. I noticed Smarter Planet again with this week’s special issue of InformationWeek, “Smarter Business,” showing to me how a very successful advertising campaign can both grow from and respond to crisis.

“OK, we’re not going to pretend that Smarter Business doesn’t jibe with the Smarter Planet strategy and messaging of IBM, sole sponsor of this issue,” writes Rob Preston, editor-in-chief, somewhat defensively. My point is not about the editorial integrity of the magazine, which I hold in high esteem. It’s more noteworthy how IBM has succeeded in its goal of setting an agenda not only within the company but also within the industry.

IBM conceived of Smarter Planet last year amid the initial drama of the financial crisis as an “agenda setting campaign.” Smarter Planet was “designed to show that the company is developing products and services to help the planet economically, socially and technically” with initiatives across multiple industries. The campaign includes integrated TV, print, online, radio, outdoor, and social media messages, reported BtoB Magazine.

Read about “IBM’s grand plan to save the planet” in Fortune magazine. For sketches of and comments on the campaign’s creative, read “Ogilvy creative director on the making of IBM’s ‘A Smarter Planet’ campaign.” For the latest on Smarter Planet in IBM’s industry segments, see the Smarter Planet website.

Reacting to a Market Threat

Now that the initial drama is a year gone by and the recession continues, especially in terms of high unemployment and a difficult travel market, advertising campaigns are taking a more reactive tone. When the year-in-review stories start coming out, the marketing value of social media likely will lead the way as budget-saving success stories.

Already, BtoB Magazine reports of increased social media use this year among business marketers. “More than half (53.5%) of marketers surveyed said they currently use social media as part of their marketing strategy,” up from 45.0% in 2008. “The top applications are thought leadership (59.8%), lead generation (48.9%), customer feedback (45.7%), and advertising on sites (34.7%).”

Whether it’s in reaction, it’s interesting that in the last few weeks, travel and hospitality companies have been running campaigns on the benefits of in-person business meetings. In my article last month, “Staying Connected: The Art and Science of Maintaining Networks,” I mentioned the Hyatt Hotels campaign, “Great Happens When People Get Together.”

Getting on Board

In the last few weeks, two airlines have run similar campaigns promoting the business benefits of face-to-face meetings.

American Airlines used the headline, “Eye Contact. Your Most Underrated Skill Set” in a recent Fast Company ad. The copy promotes the substantial benefits of meeting in person: “Sometimes, the more business you do face-to-face, the more business actually gets done.”

Last week in The Economist, a British Airways’ ad featured the headline, “Emails Don’t End in Handshakes.” The website features a campaign called, “Embrace Opportunity with a Face-to-Face Meeting.” British Airways ran its ad in black and white, either to make it stand out or to keep it on a budget.

Indeed, it has been a tough year for the airline industry by any perspective. Even a quick scan of Bureau of Transportation airline statistics illustrates that traffic and fares show consistent month to month decreases. The hotel industry has not fared well either, as last week’s performance reports suggest.

The difference rests on the genesis of the campaigns. For IBM, it was business strategy first and marketing campaign second. For the others, it was competitive challenges first, advertising campaigns second. Both approaches are valid, but I’ll bet IBM builds a smarter economic future in the end.