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Categories: ABM,

How far we’ve come…

Until recently, effective digital advertising was just a pipe-dream for most B2B marketers.

Unless you had an enormous budget to throw at it, digital ads rarely performed well enough to justify the effort. And even if you did have the budget, the inability to accurately target the right audiences would more often than not still mean disappointment.

Fast forward just a few short years, and B2B marketers now have a growing range of ad tech solutions and complimentary platforms to chose from — many of which rival their B2C counterparts in sophistry and effectiveness, or are even directly modeled on them (like Customer Data Platforms). These technologies are enabling B2B marketers to not only generate more qualified leads from digital marketing campaigns, but to even execute hyper-targeted ad campaigns as part of account-based marketing strategies.

That said, technology is just that: an enabler. In order to make digital advertising work for ABM — or demand generation more generally — you need a solid strategy, expertise and a clear awareness of the potential pitfalls.

As part of Leadspace’s ongoing webinar series, we recently brought together a panel of ABM experts to share their top tips on how you could use digital advertising to drive successful ABM campaigns.

Their verdict: Can Advertising Really Fuel Your ABM? You Better Believe it!

In this post we’ve collected 10 top takeaways from the webinar:

1. Aim for quality over quantity

Account-based marketing is all about strategically targeting a handful of named accounts. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that this approach translates into any ABM ad campaigns you’re running as well.

Our panelists all advised marketers to change their expectations about what a successful ABM ad campaign looks like. Brianna Dinsmore, Senior Director of Commercial Marketing at Salesforce, encouraged marketers to “flip the narrative on its head, and think about the strategy totally differently.”

Specifically, she noted that while traditional advertising is geared towards “filling the funnel with as many leads as possible – whether or not they are the right candidate or the right buyers,” ABM is about “effectively targeting the accounts that you know are the right accounts.”

“You’re going to get a lot less people in the door, but you’re going to get the right people… it’s sort of a totally different lens to what a lot of traditional marketers are used to.”

2. Use Look-alike modeling to grow your target audience

Of course, it’s all very well talking about “quality over quantity,” hyper-personalization and precise targeting — but ultimately, Marketing still needs to be generating consistent pipeline!

That’s a catch-22 most B2B marketers are familiar with. We’re constantly buffeted by these two, seemingly competing demands from Sales: We need more leads — but only really good ones!

A lot of Leadspace customers are turning to look-alike modeling as powerful tool to do just that, and achieving great results like 13% greater market reach and 20% higher conversion rates.

Leadspace’s look-alike modeling combines Artificial Intelligence (AI) with vast 3rd-party data coverage to analyze the “DNA” of your best customers, and then generates lists of new prospects who closely resemble them. So Marketing can look like rock stars by providing both quality and quantity of pipeline!

Related: Get The B2B Marketer’s Guide to AI

Look-alike modeling is particularly useful for generating target account lists for ABM. It’s also a great tool for B2B digital ad campaigns — once again enabling marketers to gain the best of both worlds by expanding their target audience without compromising on quality.

3. Use intent data

Several panelists highlighted some of the ways marketers can use intent data to improve their ad targeting.

“Intent figures in right at the beginning of the campaign,” for Antoine Mitchell, Director of Marketing at Betterworks — namely, when deciding which accounts to target.

By gauging who’s currently interested in a particular offering or topic, Mitchell’s team can concentrate on a smaller, more qualified audience.

“It’s essentially the marketing equivalent of fishing in a barrel,” he said, noting that campaigns which use intent in this way “tend to convert better because [prospects] are interested, and so when they see our ads, they’re not so surprised.”

Watch: How OneLogin Doubled Marketing Engagement With Intent Data

(Read the full case study here.)

On the other hand, Torrey Dye, Director of ABM at Terminus, says his team establishes customer fit via more traditional firmographic and technographic data, and uses intent in order to segment their message.

“If they’ve shown intent for a competitor, we might send them ads that say, ‘Are you looking for an alternative to this competitor?’ Or if they’re showing intent for Terminus, we do Terminus-focused content in the ad,” says Dye.

“If they’re just going for more topics like ABM or more of that higher-level thought-leadership, we put our best content that’s not talking about a product or competitor in front of them.”

4. Get really personal

All the panelists emphasized the need to personalize ABM ads as much as possible — including by working with Sales to zero-in on the precise people they want or need to talk to.

Dye and his team at Terminus regularly create customized landing pages for a specific prospect, using messaging that resonates with their specific business problems — or even personal interests like fishing — to grab their attention.

While working towards such a level of personalization may sound daunting, Dye insisted that with the right processes in place — for example, creating an Adobe template to quickly and easily customize a landing page for each target prospect — “it’s pretty easy” to execute.

In a similar vein, Blackbird PPC CEO Jay Cantu Stampfl warned against a very common mistake that harms customer experience: using the same content for prospects at different stages of the buying journey — for example, serving the same content to qualified leads as you’re sending to potential prospects who haven’t become leads yet.

5. Data is key

This point doesn’t need too much expanding on. By now, B2B marketers all know that data is the lifeblood of any strategy, campaign, tactic — in fact, practically any marketing activity whatsoever.

As Brianna from Salesforce sums up: “Data is the most foundational part of a successful ABM strategy, but also a successful marketing strategy in general.”

Before embarking on any marketing campaign — ABM or not; digital ads, direct mail or email; outbound or nurture campaigns — make sure your data is in order.

6. Don’t focus on just one platform

Unsurprisingly, according to Jay from BlackBird PPC, B2B marketers heavily favor LinkedIn for social campaigns. Despite being the more expensive of the social ad platforms, ROI is usually more than high enough to justify the returns. LinkedIn is especially effective for ABM, Jay notes, as companies can “upload your first party data on your actual emails and also go by actual account.”

But he also offered some more “controversial” advice, by urging marketers not to put all their eggs in one basket and focus some of their resources on channels that are typically considered less effective for B2B. In particular, he says he’s often “shocked with how many qualified leads” can be generated through Facebook and Instagram — as long as marketers are using their first-party data to target the right people with content that will interest them.

Other platforms like Google Ads and even YouTube can be successful too — though less so for ABM.

7. Serve ads sparingly

Another important tip Jay offered was a call to subtlety, urging marketers to resist the urge to bombard prospects with ads — no matter how relevant the content.

Particularly when it comes to ABM, he cautioned, “since we are talking about small audiences, it’s very easy to just blast your consumer with a ton of ads.”

Rather than doing that, he says marketers should put effort into creating a greater variety of original content to improve the buyer experience.

“You really want to change up your ads a lot on the creative side,” he added. “Make sure that your frequencies aren’t getting so high that the message is being repeated over and over and over.”

8. Consider ungated content

When launching an ad campaign, there’s an understandable urge to approach it as a purely lead generation activity. This is particularly true given the constant struggle marketers have of demonstrating and measuring the value of their campaigns. What better way than being able to say: “We generated X leads from these accounts”?

But while that can be a legitimate approach, that’s not necessarily the best use case for ABM ads.

At Salesforce, Brianna’s team has been “flipping that approach on its head” to create more meaningful ABM engagement.

“An account-first strategy means that because we already know these people, and we are already engaged in some capacity, we want them to come to us for education, for learning,” she explained. “That means that we are using non traditional tactics and engaging content, so that we are seen as a trusted advisor and partner to them, and not necessarily using it as a lead metric to indicate whether or not we’re successfully targeting the account.”

Brianna also highlighted another, even more pragmatic reason for offering ungated content for ABM: when you’re target decision-makers at a certain company, many of them simply won’t want to fill out a form.

“They’re not interested in filling out forms and they won’t fill out forms,” she says, which means “you have to take a totally different stance on how you look at the success of some of these channels, [rather than] your normal success metrics in terms of looking at a funnel and lead volumes. It’s going to be totally different.”

9. Be Bold

Engaging and nurturing an account for ABM requires more than just one clever ad, or catchy email subject, or even a great piece of direct mail. Since you’re focusing on a smaller number of more valuable accounts, Marketing should be spending the time and effort (and working closely with Sales) to combine all these channels and craft a consistent narrative that resonates strongly with the key stakeholders in each target account.

Or, as Brianna puts is: “Account-based marketing is so much more about the journey and the collective touch points, and creating a narrative that mirrors the sales action and sales point of view. You’re thinking about all the various touch points that this account specifically requires in order to move to purchase, or to advocacy, or whatever [next] stage.”

Often, this requires being a much more direct and bold in your messaging. For example, directly addressing a particular problem you know that account is facing, or even highlighting specific savings or other advantages they could be getting by switching from a particular competitor to your own solution.

In one case, Salesforce highlighted a “34% increase in sales productivity” that a particular company “would realize by moving over to Salesforce.” During subsequent discussions with their Sales team, some of the decision-makers at that account said they’d noticed and remembered that ad. This kind of consistent messaging not only creates a smooth, coherent customer experience, but also helps demonstrate the impact of Marketing’s activities to both Sales and senior-level management.

10. Remember: there’s no silver bullet

B2B ad tech has come a long way in just a few short years. With the concurrent explosion in other exciting areas like intent data, AI and ABM-enablement technology, it can be easy to get carried away with one particular channel or direction. Equally, some marketers might find the relatively high cost of digital ad campaigns rather daunting, and opt to stick to simpler, cheaper options like email.

But another key takeaway from the panel was the importance of using a wide variety of channels to reach your target audience.

“I don’t think it’s an either or,” says Antoine from Betterworks.

His team find advertising particularly useful to target larger companies at the initial stages of engagement, as in most cases “when you’re talking about B2B enterprise there are lots of people [involved in the buying process]. Generally it is a buying committee, depending on the size of your deal — it’s not just one person, so you’re really trying to engage several people.”

Once ads have initiated that engagement “we leverage direct mail and email to then target specific people. But we use it all in tandem, because we find that that gives us the maximum opportunity for impact.”

If you enjoyed those tips, check out the full webinar for even more advice on how to use digital advertising to fuel your ABM campaigns:

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