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July 31, 2013


The Necessary Evil of Advertising in B2B: A Contradictory Experiment.

by Tom De Baere
1920 Experiment : Karl Krall (on the right) tried to detect the thinking radiation he assumed to flow between the dog and the human. (source:

1920 Experiment : Karl Krall (on the right) tried to detect the thinking radiation he assumed to flow between the dog and the human. (source:

This isn’t a blog post about how good content marketing is, and that you should stop advertising. Quite the contrary.

Allow me to explain: advertising had been shifting to online. It’s been shifting online for a while now. The most obvious reason for that is that people spend more time online. However, B2B marketers out there know that click-through rates are terrible. Leaderboard banners, skyscrapers, and what-ever-they-look-like-banners, get click-through rates below 1%.

And still online advertising seems to be growing, according to Google. There must be people who can explain that contradiction. I can’t.


It’s clear that online advertising just doesn’t work. Ask anyone you know which on-line ad they still remember, while we all spend hours per day online. The answer will be zero.

But let me tell you why B2B marketers still need to keep on advertising, on- and off-line…

A little experiment

Recently I started experimenting with a different type of advertising. Instead of the usual corporate, slick designed product advertising, we started advertising with Content. Let me be clear: the company I work for doesn’t sell content. It sells hardware and software for Satellite Communications.

I am a firm believer and advocate of digital, social and content marketing. Those of you following this blog for a while know this. And as a big believer in content, well… I believe in content (sic). So we thought advertising with meaningful content would work.

But girl (boy), was I wrong.

We started making advertisements with results of surveys we’ve done. We started creating banners that advertised white-papers and thought leadership pieces we had written. And we promoted the insightful panel discussions with industry leaders we organized, all using ads.

We would then use these ads on websites of trade magazines. These trade magazines usually have a strong web-presence next to a digital or print edition of a magazine, so it made sense to put them up there. We also had some print ads in the same magazines, advertising the same ‘content’.

Now this is what we learned: as we moved our advertising euro’s and dollars online, the results where not there. We hardly had any inbound traffic to the content we wanted our customers to see. We where wrong: even moving away from annoying and interrupting product advertising towards meaningful ads didn’t work.

Very disappointing.

But we decided to keep spending our advertising dollars towards these same trade-magazines. Let me explain you why.

Trade magazines in trouble

Trade magazines. The serious ones have journalists, and the less serious ones are actually news aggregators. But all of them, in the end, have managed to build a subscribers base of which many companies would be jealous. Notwithstanding the fact that people today consume their news in a different, more instant way, trade magazines remain to bring value to their readership. They bring a mix of news and substantial insight in relevant market topics.

But they feel the pressure. They see advertising income decline, because their readership is getting competition from the online world, with Google giving people instant answers to questions.  Additionally, the quality of online content that is available for free is impressive. Content hubs are taking down their paid walled gardens, and are adding to the problem of these magazines.

The strength of trade magazines

The strongest asset of trade magazines are their subscriber base. Daily or weekly they send e-mails to these subscribers with a digest of news. For many people it has become their way of keeping up to date with what’s happening in certain market. It’s the modern way of fast consumption of information and keeping up to date.

Money makes the world go around. If you have an advertising relationship with these magazines, the’ll be more inclined to use your content. That’s just the way it is. Journalist won’t like this, but that’s the way these magazines try to survive. Often that’s a bad thing, because the quality of the articles will go down. But the good magazines have an editor in between, which safeguards the quality, and keeps a good balance between paid and owned.

Remember the little experiment we did: we advertised, using on-line banners, insightful content to get traffic to our website. That didn’t work. But the same content was picked up by these sites, and that did generate a lot of traffic to our website. Not because people found that content through Google.

The reason why we got traffic to our website was because the content they published on their website, was promoted through their daily or weekly e-mail digest to their subscriber base. Occasionally we would rent their list to give some of our content an even bigger push. Our opt-in lists grew, and conversion boosted.

To wrap this up

So. Money makes the world go around. Pure inbound marketing without paid media can be difficult and sometimes disappointing. But if you use your advertisement money wisely, it can help you to get where you want.


How are you using paid media to get what you want? Please share this post if you like it.

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere