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Thinking B2B: The importance of ATL in B2B marketing

by Warren Moss (@warrenmoss) There’s a popular belief that business-to-business Marketing should use predominantly below-the-line (BTL) marketing in order to reach and engage with its audience. The rationale for this is that, because B2B audiences are smaller than those in B2C, you can market more directly using BTL, and generate meaningful and measurable results. While this is absolutely true in many respects, it’s very difficult to generate true trust and chemistry between a brand and its target market when you’re only communicating BTL.

In my opinion, it’s much more meaningful to view potential partnerships through the lens of values, rather than through the lens of price or capabilities. As author and speaker Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” — in B2B, that’s probably truer than in any other category. Companies have core values and, if those values resonate with you, the likelihood of your switching to the product or service they are selling is significantly higher.


Pitching is a pure example of B2B marketing. My view is that, if you’re at a pitch stage, you’re there because the prospective buyer already believes that you have the capability to do its work, otherwise you wouldn’t be there. So, it’s actually listening to the pitch to see whether you’re aligned in terms of its values. It’s asking: is this the agency that can take our brand to the next level? If it believes you can work well together and that you’re the best fit for them, then it’ll hire you.

However, in the absence of this 90-minute pitch, when you, the B2B seller, have no lengthy opportunity to talk about your beliefs and values, how do you go about marketing yourself?

Above-the-line (ATL) is a great place for that, because it offers platforms whereby you can invoke a reaction and a connection between a brand and a person. With ATL advertising, you can create this connection by delivering a beautiful story in a 30-second TV ad or in a well-thought-out print, billboard or radio ad.

However, when using ATL, the call to action should never be, “Come and buy from me”. It should instead be, “Do you agree and do you believe what we believe?” Once you’ve identified that the audience believes in what you do, it’s much easier to have the price and capabilities discussion.

Not for everybody

On the other side of the coin, you’ve all had experiences in pitches where you don’t get appointed or where you walk away because you don’t share common beliefs. That’s okay, because you’re not for everybody, and neither is your product or service; the trick is finding the people it IS right for, and then marketing effectively to them.

In summary, it’s time to think of B2B marketing beyond the scope of always using BTL, because that’s an old-fashioned and ineffective view. It’s no longer about giving someone free rugby tickets and expecting them to choose you as a supplier. It’s about demonstrating shared values between the brand and target market — and ATL marketing is one of the most-impactful ways to do this.

Warren MossWarren Moss (@warrenmoss) is the CEO and founder of Demographica, a multi-award winning full service agency that specialises in the B2B category. He is the chair of both the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) and the Assegai Integrated Marketing Awards (Assegais), as well as the only African to judge the B2 Awards, which recognise the top performing B2B marketers in the world. Warren contributes the monthly “Thinking B2B” column, which looks at the latest trends in B2B communications and explains why it is fundamentally different from B2C comms.

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Thinking B2B: The importance of ATL in B2B marketing


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