Business to Business (B2B) brands have traditionally incorporated marketing strategies that differ from B2C (and differ greatly from D2C). But 72% of buyers making business purchase decisions now expect their B2B experiences to be similar to their B2C experiences, with personalized communication touchpoints.
Digital marketing and advertising is an obvious way to accomplish this, and digital has been on the rise for B2B, though not at the same high budgets and rates of adoption as B2C. .B2B brands spent $6B on digital in 2018, up from about $3B in 2015. According to Digital Content Next, the B2B industries that are spending the most on digital are pharma, finance, and professional services. These companies seem to be staying within a relatively narrow comfort zone, focusing mainly on desktop format and direct purchasing. We took a look at some top brands in these categories to see how they’re making digital work for them.
Pharma Loves Facebook
Relative to the B2B landscape, Pfizer Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline are both investing heavily in digital, though their respective budgets varied slightly from 2018 to 2019. Explorer data shows that Pfizer spent $125.1M in 2018 and $112.1M in 2019; GlaxoSmithKline spent $68.5M in 2018 and $71.2M in 2019.
Both companies are purchasing about 90% of their digital ads directly rather than through DSPs or ad networks. Neither brand is devoting much money to mobile: GlaxoSmithKline spent just 11% of their budget on mobile ads in 2019 and Pfizer only 3%. Both had large 2019 spends on desktop display and desktop video, as seen in the chart below, and Pfizer stands out with 68% of their digital ads appearing on Facebook.
These figures perhaps reflect a desire to target Baby Boomers, a demographic that is more likely to be reached on Facebook and desktop, who will then, as the TV commercials so often say, “ask their doctors” for more information. The creatives put bold calls to action front and center, coaxing patients to get vaccines, quit smoking, watch for signs of pneumonia, and tackle allergy season head-on.
Finance Finds Their Clients at Their Desks
The finance sector also skews toward desktop ads, though the reasoning here may be that their clients are a captive audience sitting at desktop computers during their long work hours. TD Ameritrade, Inc. allocated 79% of their 2019 digital spend to desktop formats, while The Vanguard Group, Inc. blew topped that figure with 92% allocated to desktop formats. They’re not meeting pharma’s overall budgets – Ameritrade’s 2019 digital budget was only $57.8M and Vanguard’s was $63.5M – but they are also buying roughly 90% of their ads direct.
Advertising may correlate directly to quarterly earnings, which may explain the trigonometric-looking fluctuations in the graph of their monthly spend. Unsurprisingly, the top sites for these brands are dedicated to banking and investing news: MarketWatch.com, Fool.com, and Yahoo’s finance page, to name a few.
Will Professional Services Catch Up?
Professional services firms face many challenges today, such as winning more business, maximizing the use of emerging technologies, and building deep trust with their clients. It will be interesting to see whether they use digital to achieve their goals. For now, they are lagging behind finance and pharma when it comes to the sheer number of ad dollars.
Two of the professional services brands spending the most on digital ads in 2019, Deloitte and Accenture, topped out at $5.8M at $4.9M respectively. Their spending patterns closely mirror the ones discussed in the other vertical markets above, including a predilection toward desktop formats and direct purchase channels. Their month-by-month spend indicates a heavy push in Q1, perhaps when many of their clients are flush with replenished budgets for the new year and looking to execute on newly-defined objectives. While Deloitte sticks to mostly text-based creatives and very technical-looking imagery, Accenture’s creatives use bold design, bright colors, and a diverse cast of young people to share their messages.
The Future of B2B Marketing
Historically, B2B marketing doesn’t often have the personalized, humorous, or playful touches commonly found in B2C marketing. But the complex or highly technical products or services typically offered by B2B are a natural fit for digital storytelling, such as videos, that make these concepts easier to digest. Reaching prospective customers at their desks, as they’re doing their jobs, is a sensible way to affect them at every stage of the buyer journey. We’re looking forward to seeing how pharma, finance, and professional services expand their use of digital in the future, and which sectors follow their lead.
Work for a B2B company? Pathmatics Explorer can help you stay on top of the rise of digital and analyze the advertising habits of brands in your industry. Schedule a custom insights session to see how advertising data can inform your company’s decisions.
With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.