Connecting with B2B audiences through digital marketing channels can be difficult at the best of times, and during COVID-19 it may prove extremely difficult for some B2B companies to keep their sales funnels growing. Whilst some companies have furloughed entire marketing teams, and others are running on reduced staff numbers, some companies are gaining market share and attracting new customers. For March, analysis of our B2B clients’ digital performance shows significant performance increases.
Professional industries can often have limited audience sizes and small keyword sets, meaning that competition levels are high and costs go up, and in a lot of cases it can be expensive because it’s difficult to distinguish between valuable B2B users and B2C consumers due to crossover with keywords.
These factors may dissuade prospective B2B companies from running digital advertising campaigns altogether, and especially during COVID-19 but there are, in fact, some really valuable channels and tools B2B advertisers can use to reach professional audiences – if used correctly and with sensitivity to the current conditions.
In this article, we’re going to detail some of our favourite tools for targeting B2B audiences, and tips for how they can be used for B2B prospecting.
If you’re a digital marketer operating in a B2B environment, LinkedIn is going to be vitally important to your digital advertising strategy. Other popular social media ad platforms like Facebook and Twitter have their place in the B2B marketing mix, but are useful mainly as remarketing channels unless you’re looking to directly target sole proprietors or small business owners.
With over 600 million professional users across the world, LinkedIn is the go-to ad platform for many B2B advertisers – particularly for prospecting and lead generation.
Matched and lookalike audiences
What sets LinkedIn apart from other digital ad platforms is its powerful audience segmentation capabilities. LinkedIn allows you to serve ads to users based on user demographics and interests, but it also has some unique targeting tools like Education (where a user studied), as well as Company and Job Experience. These can be especially useful targeting tools in a B2B context, but there are more sophisticated targeting methods you can use on LinkedIn to reach your audience.
One of those methods is through what LinkedIn calls “Matched Audiences”, whereby you’re able to retarget website visitors or upload (GDPR-permitting) user data so that campaigns can serve to existing customers/prospects you might have collected in an email database or CRM system. These capabilities do exist on other platforms – Facebook Ads, for example – but as of last year, LinkedIn will now allow you create lookalike audiences based on a matched audience. In essence, this means that the platform can help you generate new professional audiences similar to your existing customers or website visitors, which is ideal for prospecting, and reaching audiences unfamiliar with your business.
There is also a third type of matched audience which is particularly useful for reaching decision makers within companies you’re looking to target. “Account Targeting” will match a list of target companies against the 13-plus million company pages LinkedIn has in its database, and allow you to select these as your targeting criteria. Account Targeting is a powerful tool for connecting with prospecting audiences you know will respond well to your messages, especially if you already have an existing list of target companies put together by a sales team, or collected in your CRM. As with the other matched audience types, this can also be combined with lookalikes to help you target users with similar characteristics to your account list.
Sponsored content and lead generation ads
One of our favourite aspects of LinkedIn’s advertising platform is its choice of ad formats to suit a range of business objectives – those formats being Sponsored Content, Sponsored Inmail, Dynamic Ads, and Text Ads.
Of all these ad types, perhaps the most prevalent ad format you’ll see used in B2B prospecting is sponsored content. These ads appear natively in newsfeeds across both desktop and mobile, and can help generate leads, build brand awareness, and cultivate relationships throughout your sales cycle. Because sponsored content appears natively in the newsfeed, it can be effectively assimilated alongside other organic social content, taking the form of thought-leadership pieces, industry reports, and other engaging content. To maximise their effectiveness, you’ll want to combine the ads with compelling imagery and rich media such as videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare, all of which play directly within the LinkedIn feed itself.
If your business goals are more focused around direct lead generation, then there is also a specific type of sponsored content which can help you find qualified leads on LinkedIn: Lead Gen Ads. These differ from standard sponsored content in that, when a user clicks your ad’s CTA button, a form opens within the ad through which they can submit their details in exchange for some kind of offer. For the best results, make sure that your offer is something that will be of value to your target audience – we have found that free guides, industry reports, and other gated content tends to work well.
One of the major benefits of using this ad format for B2B prospecting is that most of the form fields are pre-populated by LinkedIn, using information from the user’s profile (name, company, email address, etc) which makes it easy for users to submit their details. The information can then be downloaded as leads from LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager, or even integrated with your preferred marketing automation or CRM tool so that they can seamlessly enter your sales process.
Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising
The challenges of running successful SEM campaigns for B2B services can be significant, but there is great potential for return if used correctly. Both Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising platforms have a host of tools which can help you connect with professional audiences and eliminate wasted spend on consumer traffic.
Keywords and targeting options
One of the most important steps to running a successful campaign is ensuring that you choose the right keywords. Making sure that the keywords you’re bidding on are qualified with terms that indicate B2B intent can reduce unqualified clicks through to your site. Generally, the more specific you can be with your keywords the better, but not at the expense of all search volume.
It’s important that you do some research before launching your campaigns to determine the correct balance of specificity versus search volume, and one of the best tools for this is Google’s own Keyword Planner, which is available through the Google Ads interface. Using Keyword Planner, you’ll be able to discover new keywords related to your products or services, and how often they’re searched for. Additionally, you can pull seasonal performance metrics and bid estimates to help you create a plan that you can use to build campaigns in line with your marketing budgets.
Both ad platforms will also have targeting tools to help your campaigns run more efficiently for B2B prospecting. Adjusting ad schedules so that campaigns only run during working hours and limiting your demographic targeting to those who are likely to be interested in your business (eg eliminating students or pensioners) can greatly improve campaign efficiency. Using these tools can enable you to concentrate efforts in areas where you’ll get the most return and help avoid consumer crossover.
And remember, any keywords relating to COVID-19, virus or pandemic are going to be blocked by Google as these are restricted to government and healthcare bodies only.
Once the fundamentals of an SEM campaign are in place – keywords, ads, targeting, bid strategies, budgets – something that’s often overlooked are ad extensions. By leveraging ad extensions you can help improve the visibility of your ads, and as they incur no extra cost to create, they’re a simple tool which should be implemented where possible in all B2B campaigns.
Alongside the established ad extensions like Sitelinks and Callouts, Google Ads has recently launched (as of 2019) a Lead Form ad extension which allows users to provide their contact information on the ad itself – ie without ever leaving the SERP. In the right industry, this extension could prove to be very effective for B2B prospecting, as it makes it easier than ever for a user to register their interest in your product or service. If the searcher is signed into their Google account when they click on the extension, the form will be pre-populated with their information. This means that they can effectively convert with just one click.
Whilst Lead Form extensions may be a good fit if your business thrives off B2B lead generation, it’s worth saying that they are officially still a Beta product and not perfect. There’s currently no CRM integration, and lead form fields are not yet customisable or include all the fields you might want from a B2B audience, such as company name or professional email address.
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- Sensitively planned B2B campaigns are working and producing healthy returns.
- Use LinkedIn’s matched audience lookalikes to find new prospects who are similar to your current customers.
- Make use of LinkedIn’s native ad formats, like sponsored content, to promote relevant content to your target audiences.
- If it suits your business objectives, use LinkedIn’s Lead Gen Ad format to generate qualified B2B sales leads.
- Google Ads Keyword Planner can be used to research relevant, qualified keywords and their search volumes to help with campaign planning.
- Use SEM audience targeting tools to narrow your demographics, locations, and schedules to fit the prospecting audience you’re looking to connect with.
- Don’t forget ad extensions, particularly new innovations like Lead Form extensions which are available in Beta for Google Ads.