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A few years ago I was invited by a government tourism authority to speak at one of their conferences. I was to do a presentation on the event marketing industry, a category in which I have quite some experience.

To prepare, I reviewed 12 months of trade magazine advertising – there are 3 main publications – to see what the industry says about itself through its advertising. Or should I say “paid content” to keep up my digi-creds?

I scanned all sorts of ads for hotels, conference centres and other meeting venues. It was a fascinating exercise, so I presented as if I was from another planet and had just been appointed to a marketing role for a venue in the industry.

I explained to the audience that their computer keyboards had a key that computers on our planet didn’t have. It was a pun key and it had been used in specific ways.

First there was the ‘golf’ pun – here’s a few sample headlines, accompanied by various images of golf courses:

  • What is our role in one?
  • What better place to improve your staff’s drive…
  • Par for the course at…
  • We’ll go a fairway to impress at your conference
  • A conference venue on par with the world’s best
Four!

Four!

Then there was the ‘meet’ pun:

  • Meet here. Right now
  • Meet in the Pacific
  • Meet with us
  • Meet at the Sydney Boulevard

Then there was the ‘view’ pun accompanied by various views:

  • A different view to your conference
  • We’re currently rated amongst the best in the world. You should see our view of the future.
  • It’s our view that makes you think clearly!
  • Our view on meetings? You deserve a choice.
  • Here’s a new point of view on conferences
  • The Blue Mountains. We have a higher point of view.

view

Then there was the ‘break from convention’:

  • Just meet an hour north of Sydney and leave convention behind…
  • Break with convention and meet in our garden
  • Take a break from convention
  • Fly in the face of convention

And then of course there was the one you’ve never heard of “The unconventional convention”:

  • The unconventional convention centre
  • Resort to the unconventional
  • We may look unconventional
  • At the Carlton you’ll find our 5 star service decidedly unconventional
but conventional headlines...

but conventional headlines…

shame our ads aren't...

shame our ads aren’t…

And there were a few just weird messages with images of people in suits floating in the ocean like this one:

if this is relaxed what does stressed look like?

if this is relaxed what does stressed look like?

By the time I finished showing the various advertisements much of audience was hiding under their seats in the fear I was about to show their ads. I even showed an ad by The Duxton hotel and one by The Sheraton hotel that were identical. Same size, same three original photos – an empty bedroom, an empty conference room and an empty table setting.

What the presentation revealed is what happens when people who don’t understand B2B marketing get control of the marketing budget. These are usually marketers who have only ever worked in brand advertising roles – they’ve never sold anything and don’t understand the consultative sales process.

Traditional brand ads do not work as the primary communication in B2B marketing. They are a last resort only if you have loads of budget to waste, or are not interested in generating leads or accountability.

And you can always tell copywriters who don’t know how to sell. They rely on a pun in the headline in the vain hope the ‘creativity’ will somehow break through the clutter and magically create a rush of business. They think that going ‘beyond convention’ makes the ad interesting.

One of the better ads that demonstrated the marketing team understood customers was this one:

what the boss wants

Unfortunately the offer was buried in the paragraphs. But it tapped into the problem faced by executive staff who are tasked with organising events on top of their usual workload. Though I doubt these people read event industry trade publications.

B2B marketing requires highly targeted personal messages with an offer or proposition to encourage response. It’s the classic way of direct marketing that works – mass marketing doesn’t. Leads need to be generated for face-to-face meetings, familiarisations, trade show attendance and relationship development. The sales process can take a couple of years.

These DM skills are rarely learned working in consumer brand advertising departments. Events marketing is entirely different to hotel accommodation marketing. Yet time and again marketers waste money on conventional hotel advertising hoping for an unconventional result for their events department.

Looks like my keyboard does have that pun button afterall.