Performance Creatives - The Need to Break Patterns in B2B SaaS
You compete against all ads, bold creatives are essential.
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Imagine having a life where you are interrupted 10.000 times daily while trying to do what you want. Chances are, you will do your best to minimize interruptions as much as possible and pay attention only to those interruptions that seem to be genuinely beneficial. Everything else would probably be ignored, forgotten, and avoided. That is because in a world where the need for hyper-performance is so prevalent, being interrupted is not something we look forward to.
Advertisers today, digital or traditional , face the dilemma of competing for their audience's attention. We, the viewers, are exposed to 6 to 10k ads daily, and our brains naturally do their best to keep us sane by filtering out the unnecessary. If we could remember all 10K of them, we would probably never sleep again.
Or at least I know I would not!
I have two different sets of ad blockers running whenever I use chrome, and my primary browser is Brave, the Ad-free solution to remain focused on an attention-thirsty red ocean. And still, even with doing my best to train my digital algorithms to know as little as possible about me, sometimes, I do end up buying cool stuff I find via ads.
You might think, "sure, but it was a t-shirt, not a SaaS product," and yes, you are somewhat right. But, in our fully-immersive digital environment, all brands struggle to grab people's attention regardless of their category. So, whether your product is a swimsuit (B2C) or a B2B SaaS product with a much longer sales cycle, the goal is to genuinely add value and/or solve a problem with a well-placed, well-targeted Ad that stands out and is memorable enough. Not to add additional noise.
Yet, for some reason, many B2B marketers (myself included) often forget that we compete for ‘attention and meaning’ - not just in our product's category but from all over the internet.
It is almost as if we stopped ourselves from allowing our B2B brands to compete in terms of Ads and creativity with B2C categories. So, we tell ourselves repeatedly that given the essence of B2B, we must highlight the pain points and problems our ICP’s have, and we obsessively track MQLs and SQLs.
Instead of creating bolder Ads with solid aesthetic value, we go for smaller experiments like A/B testing on background color or CTA color, that are easy to test and execute. We follow the fail-fast, learn-fast mantra, and in the end, we compare our metrics with our previous month and the industry standards.
We prioritize incremental lifts and we avoid risk (by doing what is safe, what we think “works”).
Not that any of that is wrong.
But, in a world where you are presented with hundreds if not thousands of possible things you should buy, simply iterating cookie cutter Ads and trying to find quick wins might not be enough for us anymore. You need to make bigger and bolder bets.
Standing out From the Crowd
Adding a dash of creative inspiration to your marketing campaigns helps your brand stand out in the ad-free cookieless world that is only getting more restrictive of ads. Creative inspiration can be in any form whether it is innovating your channels of distribution, attribution models, copy, ad creatives, or overall appeal, so the idea is targeting to win a market instead of just a single ICP.
One of the first things we must remember as marketers, especially in the B2B space, is that our ICPs consume all kinds of ads, not just B2B ads. That means we are facing a digital consumer looking at advertisements that borrow concepts from a more aspirational vertical (B2C).
In such a scenario, just highlighting the benefits of your product or the pain points they are experiencing might not be enough. Especially if all your competitors are doing precisely the same thing.
The digital consumer today has already faced:
Ads that exploit most psychological tips and tricks to influence purchase
Millions of click-bait messaging and CTAs
Lookalike ads with similar offers
On rare occasions, an ad that is moving and memorable
On rare occasions, an ad that genuinely solves a problem they have with an offer that makes sense for them
Given that we know this is the zeitgeist of the digital experience, it is a maxim for marketers to go beyond what is comfortable into a riskier unknown, artistic territory.
How Creative Ads can be Memorable
Art and advertising have been linked for centuries. They feed one another to a point where the difference between them is almost inextricable. We find genuinely moving art that inspires products and products that are so inspiring they are closer to art than anything else.
Advertising used to be where some of the brightest minds dared to dream crazy campaigns for brands that were brave enough to embrace them. The 1984 Apple Ad on the superbowl, heavily criticized for not showing the actual product, was a major success. Apple sales topped $150m in the 100 days following the debut of "1984", not a bad feat considering they were the underdog at the time.
I am currently writing this on a Mac computer. If that ad hadn't worked (because it did not show the product), this would probably be an IBM computer. But it did.
Another famous example of advertising that dares to go beyond the limits of the product itself is the "Just do it" motto. Almost everyone instantly recognizes those three words, associating them with a brand that is more of a global movement than anything else. A brand that takes a stance against injustice and inequity, and ultimately, a brand that managed to become hardwired into our brains.
As Robert Goldman, co-author of "Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh," mentions, Nike is "an emblem of individuality, in an age where individuality has become rampant."
Nike does not sell shoes - it sells identity. And it does so because it navigates the intersection between art and advertising.
It is a brand that pushes meaning across its ads.
It is not just a brand; it is a cultural movement.
And yet, your brand isn’t Nike, and this is B2B SaaS not shoes (so please take everything you see here with a grain of salt).
42s Process of Ideation – a B2B Creative’s Journey
What came first, the chicken or the egg an apt adage for ad concept development to ad execution. Design and creative process, you may ask from any creative, is never a linear process. It’s not as easy as going from A ─> B. Suppose we iterate the whole process on paper. In that case, it looks like these loops of interconnected mid-point in the journey, where there are many K’s, C’S, F’s, and Z’s before we finally develop a solid ad design, and even then, the idea can be shot down if your client does not like it.
And that happens—a lot.
But if we ever unloop the string and try to create a linear pattern, just for simplification and explanation, then it all begins with the art of storytelling.
The Art of Storytelling – Looking at the Bigger Picture:
The essential starting point of any conceptual development is understanding the brand image or how the product/service is represented and inferred by the market. At this step, as creative strategists, we harness the power and wisdom of our inner child –where we let our imagination go wild, explore and make connections. The Genesis. The moment where binaries do not yet exist and where there are no right/wrong, good or bad ideas.
We start with empathy. And we do this by exploring our client company's website, social media presence, and review sites. The purpose is to capture the brand DNA and understand the picture it creates in the ICP's mind.
Even when selling to B2B, marketing is a human-centric process, and we believe that people can be influenced, provoked, or engaged through their emotions. So, we anchor our creative approach to tap into their primordial instincts, whether we are talking about their pain points, the product's benefits, or any other angle.
A business is not a monolithic structure; it is a group of people trying to make the best decisions at any given time to gain profit.
And, even when we think our ads are working exclusively for rational reasons, we know we can influence people to execute an action (click or book a demo) with an excellent offer or a subject of interest that appeals to their beliefs.
Questions we ask ourselves in this creative process.
What makes you stop? What stands out?
What's the emotional trigger of this product?
Would we buy/book/click it?
Why do we believe in it?
Brand Identity and Imagery
We believe that any good brand should be considered and explored as a place – by this, we mean that marketing your brand should give your viewer/customer a sense of atmosphere in which they can develop an emotional sensibility. So, all the elements of your marketing mix, i.e., the materials, colours, typography, graphic language, product shots, landing page, elements, text, and scale of the image, should create a sense of place or association in your ICP's mind.
There are numerous frameworks out there that can steer your creative ships. Still, for us, the simplistic framework, developed by Peter Zumthor, an architect by profession, works best when we are in the ideation process and looking at the bigger picture.
To give you an idea of how this ideation process starts, think of a meaningful place in your childhood. Once you have it, try to remember the following characteristics:
The Body of Architecture: The materials and their ratio compared to others.
The Sound of Space. Echos, acoustics, noises.
The Temperature of Space: The sensation of temperature.
Surrounding Objects: The things that people keep around them.
The Movement in the place: Your movement in space.
Repeat the exercise with your client's website, brand, and general assets. Remember that no idea, connection, analogy, metaphor, or thought is bad in the creative process. There are only said and unsaid ideas!
Reading between the lines.
Understanding the actual wordings, i.e., the text used on the website can clue you in the sense of the brand. This can give creatives a good idea of how to develop a banner or landing page that can create a more meaningful impact, not just betting on exploring ICP pain points.
Creating a direct meaning, for instance, just hinting at resolving pain points, can be dull and, therefore, forgetful to your ICP. Building an emotional association leads to a lasting affiliation for the viewer, even in the B2B sphere. Yes, it is more complex than selling a piece of jewelry or a pen, but Cartier did not build its brand image by selling to its consumer's pain points. Instead, they trade with the emotional hook of luxury by projecting high-end value through their adverts to the customers.
Similarly, a B2B SaaS logistic company is not just selling software that provides logistic services to its customers but is selling a journey/adventure/consistency to its consumers.
Synthesizing – Pulling back
The final critical step of ideation is zooming back into focus. Once we have explored the bigger picture, drawing back can be difficult for a creative, but it is necessary. In this step, you pull back and rationalize to consider your target audience – who they are, where they come from, and their cultural norms.
You also need to understand the purpose of why you are creating the ad, which could be getting a signup, subscribing to a newsletter, signing up for a demo, or even making a purchase. It would be best if you also considered where in the funnel your customer is to adjust your ads specs accordingly.
A mood board can help get inspiration from the work of other creatives from all art world spheres. This gets creative juices going and allows us to create meaningful work that can create an emotional hook for the audience.
And there you go Folks!
That's how we explore the known and the unknown to create an idea/ad/concept/memory that forces your audience to pause and reflect on your message. Because in this era of limited attention span, a pause in scroll can make or break a marketing campaign.
How informational ads can be aspirational
Here are some examples of ads that we believe can be both informational and aspirational:
Creativity beyond Metrics
Samuel Brealey, in his fantastic blog, demonstrated that the most successful ads are the ones that work for a specific market, not for a particular individual. He explores this idea that marketing has become an engineering process of iteration and measurement, while in reality, we probably need to think more about the market.
Thinking about the market means, as we have said earlier, moving beyond ICPs pain points and product offers to see the overarching picture the market dictates. In other words, it is about taking a step back from the micro (ICP focused), and paying a bit more attention to what culturally resonates with people in your market. And, once you are there, have a powerful enough ad that stands out from the crowd.
If your Ad lacks any artistic/creative weight, something that deeply resonates with the culture of a particular market, chances are you will go unnoticed. Being unnoticed means, you do not build the correct brand associations for those who are not "in-market" now but will be, and it also means you lack salience in the minds of those who need a solution like yours but have no idea what product to purchase.
Basically your ad becomes noise. Another image to ignore across screens.
What ends up mattering, in the end, is getting people to stop scrolling. To stop and actually try to think about what you are trying to communicate. Ads work, ultimately, because their "cultural imprinting" potential is met.
Paid programs are hard to manage. CPC can go up in no time, LTV can be reduced in a slow global economy, but creative ways to deliver your brand to your market might have a long-lasting effect beyond the screen.
So how do you merge creativity into your overall marketing campaigns?
✅ Be creative about the content you deliver. For example, if everyone is talking about pain points and features, try a different approach.
✅ Be creative about generating demand by focusing on more prominent market-driven ads rather than niche ICP specifics.
✅ Use a clear and differential creative, copy, caption, and CTA across all channels.
✅ Stop using the generally successful corporate Memphis aesthetics. Everyone is doing it, which means it becomes less valuable over time.
So Let's do a quick recap , buyers do not buy products based solely on reason (the entire behavioral psychology field has proven so over the years) but also on memory and emotion. This is as true in B2C as it is in B2B. We are selling to a person, but we are also selling to communities that push and pull market dynamics on a daily basis.
We are not saying you must go full Duchamp and create a statement about how something is artistic/creative beyond the realm of traditions. But what matters is that we think of our role as marketers beyond the weekly metrics into long-term, market-driven and cultural logic.
Stop focusing exclusively on solving problems and try to focus on creating meaning. Move beyond iterating with similar Ads that worked before to taking controlled risks with messaging and creatives that resonate at a deeper level. And more importantly, let go of the myth that personalization is the ultimate key to sales. Sure, everyone loves the sound of their name and feeling unique when being offered something, but in the end, campaigns that touch a symbolic fiber that truly resonates at a deeper cultural level are still worth striving for.
Be brave !
Your brand will thank you for it.
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Really great examples. New to the newsletter and looking forward to more. This was a longer newsletter than I'm used to but it kept me engaged the entire time.
As for the various ad designs you are mentioning, I think the creatives are important but I'm finding that less words are also catching on in designs.