The More B2B Marketing Changes, the More It Stays the Same


By Robert W. Bly



            I am sometimes asked, “Hasn’t B2B marketing completely transformed since you got into it in the late 1970s?”

            The answer is: yes … and no.

            “Yes” because there have been some sea changes in marketing over the past four decades … and “no” because the essential core of marketing has always been the same and remains unchanged.

            The changes involve both the environment in which B2B prospects work as well as the methodologies of marketing to these prospects. And there is no denying that B2B marketing is in fact much changed since I got into it 4 decades ago.

            To begin with, back then sales reps played a much more important role: After prospects responded to your ads in the industry trade journals, you would fulfill the inquiry with a sales brochure. After that, the sales rep would connect with the prospect to answer questions, guide them through the evaluation process, and close the sale. When prospects needed product or application information to aid with their purchasing decision, they turned to the sales rep for it.

            Today, the search for B2B products most often begins with Google or another search engine. By the time the prospects reach out to the manufacturer, they have already done a large amount of their product research and comparison.

            Sales brochures are no longer the primary vehicle for communicating product information. In today’s increasingly content-driven B2B marketplace, prospects see slick color sales brochures as sales hype.

White papers are now perhaps the dominant piece of collateral today. They integrate some product features and data with a more objective and educational discussion of the problem addressed by the product as well as how to use the technology to improve process or manufacturing results.

The vast majority of white papers are published not as print documents but instead as downloadable PDFs, readily found on the company’s website. To capture a lead from the white paper download, the document is often gated, meaning the prospect has to provide certain information before they gain access to the paper – things like name, title, company, phone, email, and other data points typically collected in lead generation.

  Back in the day, planning a B2B marketing campaign was simpler, involving a standard set of promotions: a trade journal ad to generate inquiries; a press release; a feature article ghostwritten by the marketer for the trade magazine; a sales brochure; some other collateral such as application briefs or data sheets; and trade show exhibits.

There were a few more, but these were the standard elements in almost every campaign: only half a dozen or so marketing vehicles. The big planning was media planning for print ads: size, frequency, schedule, and publications. And usually only the bigger players had the budget for significant print ads because of the cost.

Today B2B marketing is truly multichannel marketing. There are dozens of different marketing communications – from YouTube videos and webinars to social media and Facebook advertising.

Well, with all these changes, why then would I say the essential core of B2B marketing has always been the same and remains unchanged?

Reason: the success of all marketing revolves around human psychology, in particular the psychology of persuasion. And while marketing methods have evolved and proliferated, human psychology has not changed in ten centuries, as Claude Hopkins and others have noted.

It takes quite a bit of testing and thought to figure out marketing strategies and funnels in the multichannel marketing world – there are so many digital communication channels available today, and almost all of them much more affordable than expensive trade journal advertising.

But with the low cost, every company in your industry basically has access to the same tools and techniques, and your methods are somewhat transparent to competitors. For instance, with a few clicks, you can discover the keyword phrases used most often by other companies in your marketplace.

Once you unlock, through testing, the optimal marketing and sales funnel strategy, then you and your competitors are, to a large degree, on the same playing field.

Therefore, you have to get your leverage not from technology, but elsewhere. And that leverage typically comes with a superior knowledge of human psychology – getting inside the mind of your prospects to understand their core buying complex.

What element of your marketing campaign best targets and appeals to the human psychology?

It is the copy.

Some marketers like to delude themselves into believing that no one reads copy anymore, copy is unimportant, and copy should be kept as minimal as possible.

The problem is that strong, persuasive copy may be your edge and the most powerful weapon in your arsenal for pulling customers to your product line and away from your competitors.

And in my observation, while today’s marketers often have a superior grasp of the digital world – social media comes immediately to  mind – they often lack the training, knowledge, and experience to write copy that hits buyer hot buttons in a way that increases clicks, conversions, leads, orders, and sales.

There is an abundance of proof to support the importance of copy in both B2B and consumer marketing.

For instance, simply by changing the limited number of words in an email subject line, you can boost open and click-through rates 25 percent or more.

Through testing of elements on landing pages – most importantly the headline, subheads, lead, visuals, and placement of forms – you can double or triple your conversion rates … and sometimes even do better than that. In the same way, you can double or triple response to paper direct mail simply by changing the outer envelope teaser, sales letter headline and lead, and offer.

So while bright shiny objects are fun, remember: good, old-fashioned, hard-hitting copy may be your best chance of outmarketing and outselling your competitors – even in the digital age.



About the author:

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with nearly 4 decades of experience in B2B marketing. Clients include IBM, AT&T, Praxair, and Intuit. He is the author of 95 books including The Digital Marketing Handbook (Entrepreneur Press). You can find Bob on the web at, email him at, or phone 973-263-0562.