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B2B Brand Ad Campaign Mistakes to Avoid


July 24, 2023


Right Side Up and Right Percent recently hosted a webinar about how to avoid common mistakes in B2B brand ad campaigns, led by Kevin Lord Barry, co-founder at Right Percent, a Right Side Up venture specializing in paid advertising for B2B companies. Check out the recap below, which was written in collaboration with RSU writer/editor Jes Parker, or watch the full webinar here.

Every marketer knows that there are few more enduring competitive advantages than a strong brand. This is true for all types of marketing—including B2B. But when it comes to B2B brand ad campaigns, there are lots of common pitfalls that lead to lackluster results and budget burn.

In this article, we’ll cover how to avoid these mistakes and which best practices to follow for finding and measuring success.

What Makes Up Your Brand?

Before we dive into B2B brand ad campaign specifics, there’s one big, important thing to understand—what actually is a brand?

Your brand is a combination of three factors:

  • Awareness of your company in your target market
  • The reputation of your company in your target market
  • Your visual identity
Graphic that reads: Brand is a combination of three factors: 1) Awareness of your company in your target market, 2) The reputation of your company in your target marketing, and 3) The visual identity you put out into the market.

To make more people (ideally, potential customers) aware of your brand, advertising is usually the first step. You set up a campaign that shows your company’s strengths, favorably positions you in your industry, and highlights your selling points.

It sounds simple, but in reality, there are major pitfalls that we often see in B2B brand advertising that cause campaigns to fail.

The Typical B2B Brand Ad Campaign

To understand how things can go wrong, you first have to know the default setup for most B2B brand advertising campaigns. In most B2B brand campaigns, the company:

  • Picks channels with enough volume to reach users (primarily Meta and YouTube, sometimes LinkedIn).
  • Picks targeting that makes sense for their ICP.
  • Runs ads to them, optimizing for impressions, video views, or a similar top-of-funnel metric.

The default approach to measuring performance with B2B brand ad campaigns usually focuses on simple top-of-funnel metrics, surveys before and after, and lift tests.

Is the ‘Default’ B2B Brand Campaign Setup Ideal?

No (that’s why we’re writing this article).

The fundamental problem is with targeting—and measurement, but more on that later. Companies that run brand campaigns want to get in front of new consumers that their direct response campaigns are not reaching, so they want large audiences to serve brand ads to.

However, on platforms with large audiences, like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc., the targeting you can select is not good enough on its own to work for B2B.

Understanding How Algorithmic Feedback Loops Impact Your Campaign

So why does targeting work for direct response campaigns but not for brand campaigns? It’s because of algorithmic feedback loops on ad platforms.

Let’s say a company makes a direct response campaign targeting HR managers, optimizing for lead form fill. Someone is much more likely to fill out a lead form from an ad targeting HR managers if they are, in fact, an HR manager, so the algorithm gets trained to find HR managers. It sees that the people signing up must be in your target market, so therefore, the ad platform serves up your ad to more users that fit that profile.

This algo machine works its best magic when you have these three things:

  • A conversion event that correlates to down-funnel revenue—training AI to generate leads that don’t convert doesn’t help
  • Creative that attracts qualified leads and signups
  • At least 30 conversion events per week (but preferably 50)

But what about the typical brand campaign, where there isn’t actually a solid conversion event? The loop breaks down, or worse, starts to work against you, spewing your ads out to whichever users can be bought at the lowest price. With these algorithmic ad platforms, auctions determine the price to reach a given user. That system means:

  • The users that you normally reach when optimizing for leads are much more expensive per impression because more people try to get into the auction to target them.
  • Users that no one normally wants to reach are cheaper because fewer advertisers are in that auction.
  • Since you’re optimizing for top-of-funnel metrics, the algorithm will try to get them as cheap as possible—which means targeting the least qualified portion of your audience.

It quickly becomes a race to the bottom for the ad platform to see how cheaply they can get eyes on your ad, often from the least qualified portion of your audience.

What You Need for Effective B2B Brand Ads

We’ve covered the shortcomings commonly seen with the default ways of setting up and measuring a B2B brand ad campaign—targeting big audiences and relying on top-of-funnel impressions.

So how do you craft an effective campaign while avoiding mistakes that can waste your time and budget?

Target a precise audience

If you have a small, proven audience—on LinkedIn this can be a carefully crafted target audience; on any other platform this can be an uploaded/targeted list—you’re not relying on an algorithmic feedback loop nearly as much.

Ideally, you should use an audience that has worked well for you for direct response campaigns, or worked well for targeting with your sales team. When you’re dealing with an audience of qualified users, that algorithmic optimization loop doesn’t matter as much.

This approach is similar to an account-based marketing strategy, in which you get a precise list of accounts, hit them with a series of ads, and measure the overall impact at the end.

Use top-of-funnel content correctly

If you’re going to promote to a large audience, instead of optimizing for a top-of-funnel event where there’s no feedback loop, optimize for an event that allows you to qualify your users. Clicks and views do not meet that standard, but content like ebooks, tools, and templates, all work as long as there is a qualification step you can tag.

Just make sure you’re capturing some information that confirms, yes, the user has this title, or is interested in using your product for their business.

Problems with Typical Measurement

Let’s take a look back at those three forms of measurement we commonly see with default campaigns and explore why they do (or don’t) work.

Simple top-of-funnel metrics

This familiar batch of metrics includes how many views, clicks, and video watches your campaign got. Interesting? Maybe. Useful? Probably not. There’s no way to verify that these views and clicks are really from your target ICP, so for your campaign’s purposes, these stats are essentially just vanity metrics.

Surveys before and after

What about asking users directly? If surveys given to users before and after the brand spend show improved results, that must mean the campaign is working, right? Not necessarily. Similar to the issue with simple top-of-funnel metrics, the algorithms are even worse at determining that survey participants are in your ICP than they are at selecting them as ad clickers.

You’ll end up getting loads of responses from non-qualified users that don’t matter to your campaign and have no chance of ever converting.

Lift tests

Two out of our three measurements are out. But there is hope—lift tests, or more specifically, geography-based lift tests. This measurement tracks whether you see a lift in company metrics in the time/place that you ran the test. And it’s the golden metric for measuring brand campaigns.

To use this measurement format correctly, you need to make sure you have enough data in your test geographies to get statistically significant conclusions. This usually involves fairly large geographic splits—like half of the country vs. the other half. And no, this isn’t cheap. To do these tests well, you’re looking at around $50–100K.

There’s Always an Exception

While the advice we’ve covered above will yield results for most B2B brand ad campaigns, there are some cases where you might want to consider doing things differently.

If you have a non-algorithmic/non-digital ad channel with good enough targeting, you can get qualified impressions cheap enough to make it all net out positively. The reason is that non-algorithmic channels don’t have the same auction issues we covered above.

For instance, OOH billboard ads at airports work well for enterprise SaaS companies. Business travelers are much more likely to be qualified B2B prospects, making the cost low enough and the impressions high enough to have an obvious positive impact on the business.

You can make B2B brand ad campaigns work outside of digital and avoid the messy ad auction dynamics—it just has to be the right fit for your company.

Getting it Right

As we’ve explored, running with the default playbook for a B2B brand ad campaign doesn’t usually work well. But if you avoid the common mistakes we outlined above, you can get great results from your campaign.

Graphic with the three takeaways listed below - Don't optimize for clicks or views, Use narrow, proven audiences, and estimate sample size before you set a budget.

Stay away from the shiny allure of vanity top-of-funnel metrics. Focus on narrow, proven audiences and/or optimize for qualified content downloads. And be realistic about the sample size needed for statistically significant lift tests to optimize your campaign and prove it’s working.

Need help getting your B2B brand ad campaign off the ground? Drop us a line at growth@rightsideup.co to chat with our experts.

Kevin Lord Barry co-founded Right Percent, a Right Side Up venture that focuses on scaling fast-growing B2B companies in every vertical. Over the past 10 years, he’s managed millions in ROI-positive ad spend for brands like DoorDash, Zenefits, Masterclass, Segment, OnDeck, and more.

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