July 24, 2013

What Are BDAs Really Good At?

Recently I was talking with the ceo of a tech company about doing some consulting for them. We were having a nice conversation when he said, “But, Bob, the one thing that concerns me is that we are a business-to-business company and you spent your whole advertising career doing consumer advertising and marketing."

I acknowledged the truth of the statement and then went on to use one of my horrible baseball analogies to explain why it was irrelevant. My analogy went like this. A good pitcher is a good pitcher regardless of what team he is pitching for. It doesn’t matter if he has a Yankees uniform on or an Astros uniform. A good pitcher can pitch well for every team, a bad pitcher can’t pitch well for any team.

Similarly, people who are good at marketing are good at it, and people who are bad are bad. You're not likely to find a person who's terrible at marketing peanut butter but great at marketing jelly.

Later in the day I was thinking about our conversation and I had an epiphany (or an apostrophe or an epitome, or whatever the hell you call that thing you have.)

It is true that my clients were in the consumer marketing business, but I (as an agency owner) was not. I was in the B2B business. I had to convince businesses to buy what my business was selling.

Agencies do consumer marketing on behalf of their clients, but B2B marketing on behalf of themselves. In other words, I did B2B marketing successfully for 40 years and didn’t  realize it.

Which brings me back to my current obsession with globalized agency holding companies (the great George Parker calls them BDAs – Big Dumb Agencies.) Four of them currently control over 70% of the advertising in the US.

According to the people who know and judge these things, these BDA's are generally considered to be hack-ish and not very good at creating interesting advertising.

The way I see it, they may not be brilliant at communicating with consumers. But you have to admit, if they have sold themselves to 70% of the marketers in the US, they must be awesome at B2B.


Kate Richardson said...

Exactamondo. If only agencies were as good at selling to consumers as they are to clients. Let's not forget they also spend an exorbitant amount of time selling to the industry not to mention themselves.

Parvez said...

I think the problem is that a lot of clients think they need to talk in the same B2B tone to their consumers which results in
rubbish ads in the end due to the clients' influence on the creation part. Whether this is the fault of the agencies giving in (instead of pushing back) or the clients not realising that they should let the agency do their jobs is another story.

Jim said...

B2B marketing often involves generating leads for face to face selling. It's full contact,. You and a prospect.

Making ads for B2C is at arms length. You're letting a bomb off.

Shanghai61 said...

This is not necessarily a good thing, but it's understandable
as an outcome of the pressures placed on business over the past couple of decades. It comes down to the consolidation of businesses on both sides.

Back in the fifties, sixties and seventies there were lots of small- to medium-sized, independent companies that were successful brand marketers. And they had small- to medium-sized independent agencies to handle their accounts. The 'big' brands then had what passed for 'big' agencies (which would still be counted as quite small in today's terms).

These smaller companies and brands have mostly been bought out by their bigger competitors and either closed down or integrated into the portfolio. (Most of the brands I worked on in my early career either don't exist any more, or are now owned by a mega-corporation). So the same thing happened to the agencies serving these clients. Buy-outs galore and the birth of the BDHC. You can blame the Saatchi brothers and their odious little bagman, Martin Sorrell, but it would have happened anyway. Interpublic first set the agenda by listing, the others simply followed the formula.

There's a brutal logic to it: fewer, bigger clients need fewer, bigger agencies. A colleague once summed it up perfectly: "Elephants fuck elephants".

Vico Prima said...

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Martin Weigel said...

We can only ever communicate to human beings.

Which is why "business-to-business" is an absurd term.

It suggests we're marketing to some faceless organisation.

Rather than people.

And it leads to work that suggests that what 'B2B' actually stands for is Boring-to-Boring.

Just sayin'.

Rob Hatfield said...

I agree Martin. I used to work for an agency that specialized in B2B. I would tell them there is no difference in B2C and B2B, you are still talking to people. They didn't get it and the ads sucked. So we are on the same page.

jayzed said...

As someone who came from the IT world into marketing production (and felt that a large part of what I was tasked to do was fluff and makework) your comment about peanut butter and jelly resonates. I could never understand why agencies cared about what clients I had done work for. A website is a bloody website - there are often more differences in production within an industry than across them. One brand of beer doesn't want their site to function the same as another but a cereal company has no problem with their site being functionally the same as a softdrink's. The madness extends all the way down to those of us at the coalface, it seems.

Tim Orr said...

As a B2B guy, I think it is fair to say that there are some differences that are both relevant and important.

For example, buyer motivation: A prospect may be motivated by fear that he might lose his job if he makes the wrong buying decision. Not likely with CPG.

Buying decisions: Almost always complex and involving multiple influencers, all of whom have to be "sold." Not so much with CPG.

Product knowledge: Since an ad person might not ever be a user of a particular B2B product, it may take a good deal more education and research to acquire the necessary knowledge to sell it. Think of men creating campaigns for feminine hygiene products – as an analogy.

In my experience, B2C agencies often are convinced there's no difference between what they do and what B2B shops do. Oftentimes, however, that leads to irrelevant, poorly targeted and poorly conceived ads that agency (and sometimes client) folk think are enormously creative, but do not move the needle, or worse, cause target audiences to ridicule the effort.

No doubt, the suits are B2B, regardless of the type of ads being produced. But I submit that agencies (especially B2C agencies) that think B2B is the same as B2C, generally produce B2B work that fails to work.