Hybrid Marketers Require Offline Skills Too

December 4, 2016

The kid in the movie “The Sixth Sense” — spoiler alert!— sees dead people everywhere.

The B2B Beat sees B2B advertising everywhere.

Maybe it’s a product of spending the bulk of my career in B2B advertising, either producing it as a creative director or writing about it as business reporter, but I’m a B2B advertising aficionado. I especially notice B2B advertising when I’m traveling.

This past week, I was in London for a global content team meeting. After touching down in the United Kingdom, I ran across a number of B2B out-of-home ads at Heathrow Airport from companies such as:

  • Accenture, which had billboards posted where travelers waited in long lines to have their passports stamped.  
  • HSBC, which had its logo on the outside of jetways and more detailed messaging on the inside.
  • Tata Communications, which wrapped the Heathrow Express train with its logo and brand messaging.
  • Total, which had posters in the terminal corridors touting its commitment to solar energy. 

All of this B2B marketing at the airport prompted the question: Why, when so many efficient and effective digital targeting options exist, are B2B marketers still using billboards?

PwC estimates that global spending on out-of-home will grow at about 4.3 percent per year over the next five years and surpass $42 billion by 2020. There are a number of reasons why out-of-home B2B advertising persists, even when targeted social media advertising (such as the Sponsored Content and Sponsored InMail offered by LinkedIn) will almost triple in the United States between 2015 and 2021, surging to $30.1 billion, according to Forrester Research.

The takeaway for me is that marketers, even in this digital age, must still be adept at offline and online. Being a hybrid marketer includes offline skills, too. The hybrid marketer concept focuses on digital skills, such as mastering SEO, social media, and online video. But the case can be made that being a hybrid marketer also requires going beyond digital to include traditional marketing skills such as events, branding, and out-of-home.  

Here are four reasons why B2B marketers continue to use billboards, one of the oldest forms of advertising:

Broad audience reach

Heathrow and other busy airports around the globe attract tens of millions of business travelers every year. For advertisers at the airport, many of these travelers can be current customers, some are potential customers, and some, even if they’re not now, may one day become potential customers if they switch companies or jobs. Airport out-of-home executions can make sense for marketers who, like Accenture, are in the consulting business and have exceedingly broad customer bases. Nonetheless, it's clear that there is significant waste in out-of-home marketing.

Talent branding

In addition to reaching prospects, billboards can communicate to potential new hires and current employees alike. Having a public presence on billboards has been known to boost internal morale.

A big canvas

Billboards and other out-of-home executions, even if they don’t allow for complex messages, do provide a canvas for large and arresting visuals. And audiences process visuals faster than words. 

Digital integration

These days, traditional media, such as out-of-home, print and television, are almost always integrated with websites or landing pages. When exposed to a billboard, prospects can immediately access additional information about the advertiser from their smart phones. And some new digital out-of-home formats offer interaction right on the screen, including the capability engage in ecommerce transactions. 

Digital advertising has many structural advantages: It provides targeting efficiency and provable ROI. That’s why it posted double-digit growth of 19 percent in the first half of 2016, reaching a record high of $32.7 billion, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Digital is poised to become the dominant medium for marketing, as advertisers are projected to spend more on digital ads this year than on TV spots. But the continued use of billboards by B2B marketers demonstrates that the advantages of digital and social advertising do not mean other, more traditional formats are going to disappear.

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