The importance of ad testing in B2B markets

The importance of ad testing in B2B markets

B2B marketing and the role of advertising

Advertising to customers is a crucial part of B2B marketing efforts – and ad testing is one of the best ways of ensuring a return on investment for your creative.

Whether your goal is to increase awareness of your brand, attract new customers, announce new products, or change perceptions… A strong ad can achieve outstanding results. 

But why is advertising testing important? Because ad success is never guaranteed.

Even if your advertising is objectively impressive, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right fit for your brand or your target audience.

A one-size-fits-all approach to marketing doesn’t work – an identical advertising strategy won’t yield the same results for two different companies. 

Arguably, B2B ads also need a more nuanced approach. At a high level, B2C and B2B marketing approaches shouldn’t match because of differences in who you’re selling to, what you’re selling, and how customers make purchase decisions.

For example, LinkedIn has found that the balance between brand-building and activation marketing activities for B2C and B2B brands should differ, to achieve the best results. 

Their study claims the most efficient balance for B2B brands on average comes from giving 54% of the marketing budget to activation and 46% to brand-building activities. In contrast, for B2C brands the optimal balance is only 38% for activation versus 62% for brand building.

More specifically, every brand needs its own tailored marketing approach because each one is unique. Therefore, individual ads must not only be unique, but credible and compatible with that brand’s reputation and experience.

This is where ad testing has value. It’s not about letting your customers overhaul or redesign your ads, to be something that they want to see – far from it.

It’s about assessing their feedback and learning how effective your creative is, highlighting opportunities to optimize it for better results or reducing the risk of making any costly mistakes.


The benefits of ad testing for B2B marketing

Examples of ad testing in B2B marketing

How to conduct ad testing for B2B marketing

Ad testing in B2B marketing: best practices



The benefits of ad testing for B2B marketing

B2B ad testing is a subset of broader B2B marcomms research, which keeps your message and channel strategy up-to-date with changing buyer needs or wants, helping you capitalize.

Strong research can also shed some light on how ads play into the emotions affecting B2B buying behavior.

The value at the heart of ad testing is its ability to provide insights that shape your strategy, by factoring in the right feedback from your audience.

However, this doesn’t mean it should act like a public voting exercise, where you relinquish the final say on a winning ad to customers or let them build something completely new.

Make sure your research goals are targeted. Respondents aren’t creative experts, so be careful not to give them free reign with their feedback.

For example, useful testing means discovering their reactions to an ad, not encouraging them to recreate it.

You’ve based the ad creative development process up until this point on a range of brand considerations – a range of information that respondents won’t have. Therefore, they won’t know exactly what you’re trying to achieve.

Instead, some of the most valuable benefits of ad testing for B2B marketing are:

  • Checking the reactions of your target audience
  • Providing data to support your ad decisions
  • Validating the most effective ad creative
  • Indicating how to improve ad performance
  • Testing interpretation in different markets
  • Informing marketing budget investment

Examples of ad testing in B2B marketing

You can test the effectiveness of any type of ad with market research, regardless of format. 

Moreover, you can run ad tests for both traditional and digital marketing:

  • Traditional: Print, mail, television, radio, OOH, product placement
  • Digital: Email, display, video, mobile/in-app, social, podcast, native, PPC (e.g. Google Search ads)

In other words, ad testing works for text, image, video, and audio materials. It’s informative at whichever stage of a product life cycle you’re planning to run an ad – whether to introduce it to the market, or at the maturity or saturation stage.

You can use ad testing for several objectives, answering important questions such as:

  1. How effective is the ad you’re planning to launch?
  2. Which version of a specific ad do they prefer?
  3. Which complete ad does the audience prefer?

Knowing which methodology or metric to use for your research objective isn’t always easy though.

There are plenty of metrics designed for measuring ad effectiveness for question 3, including click-through rate and conversion rate, as well as several qualitative research options.

Addressing question 1 may require A/B testing – meanwhile, you could use a form of sequential A/B testing to answer question 2. We’ll explore all these in the next section.

How to conduct ad testing for B2B marketing

To meet your ad testing objectives in B2B marketing, allocate a good amount of time to the following stages:  

  • Project design
  • Target audience recruitment
  • Fieldwork
  • Analysis

Taking each of these in turn:

#1 Project design

Let your research objectives guide how you set up any advertising testing work. Are you looking to…?:

  • Assess or refine just one creative in a single ad test, or… 
  • Choose between several different ad concepts

There are many ways of testing ads to answer these questions, using both quantitative and qualitative research.

For the former objective – optimizing one chosen ad – A/B testing, also known as split or monadic testing, is a popular quantitative option. 

It involves taking two slightly different versions of the same advert with just one change – to the color, layout, text, or imagery, for example. Half of the test audience sees variant A, half sees variant B and at the end, the results will determine which version is the most effective.

Sequential A/B testing is another alternative, where all respondents see each ad variation. While this is more efficient and needs less sample, the order in which ad versions are shown to respondents risks biassing the results unless you ensure a fair 50/50 split.

A more complex alternative – assessing several versions of an ad – is called multivariate testing, requiring more sample and analysis. 

Taking it a step further, for feature-led ads, you could design a survey with a statistical trade-off analysis technique in mind to run on the results, such as MaxDiff or TURF. 

For the latter objective – validating which of your ad concepts should go live – a quantitative or qualitative approach would involve a form of sequential A/B testing. Typically, you show all respondents each different ad, while avoiding order bias, then evaluate their preferences.

However, for both objectives, to understand reasons why an ad is or isn’t effective and how to improve it – you need a level of detail that can only be provided by qualitative research.

There are lots of useful questions to ask, depending on the information you need – we’ll cover these at the analysis stage.

#2 Target audience recruitment

For reliable feedback and results from participants in B2B research, use a thorough recruitment process.

Genuine business decision-makers for B2B market research are hard to find. They are short on time and much harder to reach than consumers, plus the target market tends to be smaller.

Most third-party research panels are unsuitable for B2B research – the incentives are too low and many respondents are really consumers rather than senior business decision-makers. 

Once you have ensured the quality and reliability of your B2B respondents, make sure you also include several screening techniques designed to catch out any bad actors.

In quantitative research, these include:

  • Using balanced scales
  • Adding open-end questions
  • Designing red herring answers
  • Removing speeders and flatliners

Just note that in terms of robustness for quantitative research, sample sizes are smaller in B2B research compared to B2C. 

For qualitative research, in most cases, 12-15 interviews are enough to test ads thoroughly, but you may need more if carrying out research for several segments or in different markets.

#3 Fieldwork

To validate a choice of creative or assess its effectiveness, a quantitative ad testing survey is a popular choice. It’s an efficient way to gain statistical data for sign-off decisions.

While it’s harder to get detailed responses and reasons for respondents’ answers, compared to qualitative techniques, you can still include some very insightful additional exercises.

For example, on a display ad, you can ask participants to select areas they like or dislike – then visualize the data as a heat map.

The typical qualitative approach to ad testing fieldwork involves depth interviews, via either a phone or video call.

In the right circumstances, qualitative research also allows for some behavioral ad testing exercises. You can present a creative in-situ, i.e. in a mock-up environment like a Google Search page or a dummy social media feed, then study how respondents engage with it. 

You may also be able to use neuroscientific techniques to explore their subconscious thinking around your ad – for example, via eye-tracking or facial expression analysis.

#4 Analysis

Whether you’re using quantitative or qualitative research for advertising testing, key areas to analyze are:

  • Do they understand the message? 
  • Is the ad’s claim credible or believable?
  • Does the ad fit with their perceptions of your brand?
  • Is it unique?
  • Does it appeal? 
  • Is it compelling?
  • Can they recall the CTA? How likely are they to take that action? (If there is one)
  • How likely are they to purchase after seeing the ad?
  • Which ad or ad version do they prefer? (If there are several)

With qualitative research, you can explore some of these themes in more detail to better inform your next steps. 

For example:

  • What are their instant reactions or first impressions? Why?
  • What aspects do they like? Why? 
  • What do they dislike? What do they want to improve? Why?
  • Why do they prefer this specific ad or this ad version?

If you’ve soft-launched to a test audience via an ad platform – e.g. Google Ads – you can combine the findings from the market research with the built-in performance metrics. 

Among many others, these include:

  • Click-through rate
  • View rate (for videos)
  • Open rate (for email)
  • Unsubscribe rate (for email)
  • Conversion rate
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Return on investment

Combined with market research data from your individual ad analysis, some of these metrics are extremely insightful. Yet even though it’s at their fingertips, many brands don’t use this data.

For example, according to HubSpot, while 95% check email open rates, only 55% monitor the conversion rate, and just 17% track email ad return on investment.

Ad testing in B2B marketing: best practices

#1 Set clearly defined parameters for ad feedback

Before starting, decide which aspects of an ad are non-negotiable. Don’t ask participants for feedback on these areas.

Focus on writing questions to see how effective an ad is or how tweaks could improve it, rather than how it could be re-designed.

Otherwise, respondents may use up too much time making suggestions about possible changes or ideas which are out of scope or that your team will never realistically consider.

Instead, agree on the key aspects you want to test and are open to revising or optimizing, if the results indicate the potential for better results.

#2 Ask scene-setting questions to put views on ads in context

For qualitative research in particular, you need to ease participants into the study – their answers won’t be so insightful if you start by asking them questions about ads straight away. 

Use the early questions wisely by exploring some context. Get a picture of a B2B customer’s world, in which they may see your ads or consider buying products.

If there’s enough time, asking the right contextual questions can help you find the underlying reasons shaping their views on advertising effectiveness. Explore their buying process, decision-making criteria, pain points, or needs, for example.

These contextual questions don’t need to feature solely at the start of the research either. Find the most relevant section where they fit in well with the overall direction of the conversation, or flow of the online survey if using quantitative research.

#3 Don’t overlook ad tests in other languages

Test the translations of any ads you’re planning to run in different languages.

An ad message that works well in most markets, may not in others – perhaps due to the standard of translation, but potentially also due to local context or culture.

A translation of insufficient quality may not portray your brand authentically. There’s always the risk that a bad translation could be embarrassing or cause offense in another country.

Think about conducting international market research if you’re planning to launch an ad in several markets.

#4 Use consistent questions and benchmark results

In quantitative research, once you’ve identified the questions to ask that will meet your needs, ask them the same way each time you run any new ad testing studies.

That will let you compare the performance of all new ads with previous ones, to give you another way of rating their effectiveness by benchmarking the results.

You could also run ad testing studies comparing competitor ads to yours, for an industry-specific benchmark.

Moreover, conducting competitor research shows you how rivals are positioning their ads – helping you find white space that can set your marketing strategy apart.

#5 Consider testing before, during, and after the launch

Most advertising testing takes place pre-launch. Doing so informs the creative development process, provides reassurance and tends to improve advertising effectiveness.

However, it’s often a good idea to run an ad test during and post-launch too. That way, you can measure the impact throughout an individual campaign and evaluate the reasons behind its success or failure.

Testing during an advertising campaign can reveal why the creative is failing to meet original expectations – showing you where to make changes for improved results.

Post-campaign research may also provide valuable insights to feed into future ad strategies.



The benefits of ad testing for B2B marketing

These are: checking the reactions of your target audience; providing data to support your ad decisions; validating the most effective ad creative; indicating how to improve ad performance; testing interpretation in different markets; informing marketing budget investment.

Examples of ad testing in B2B marketing

You can use ad testing for several objectives, answering important questions such as: How effective is the ad you’re planning to launch? Which version of a specific ad do they prefer? And which complete ad does the target audience prefer?

How to conduct ad testing for B2B marketing

To meet your ad testing objectives in B2B marketing, allocate a good amount of time to the following stages: project design; target audience recruitment; fieldwork; analysis.

Ad testing in B2B marketing: best practices

We recommend you: set clearly defined parameters for ad feedback; ask scene-setting questions to put views on ads in context; don’t overlook ad tests in other languages; use consistent questions and benchmark results; consider testing before, during, and after the launch.

Chris Wells

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