Marketing Week Article Takes Aim At Account-Based Marketing

Marketing Week published an article earlier this month that is sure to elicit a strong response from proponents of account-based marketing. In “Account-Based Madness: The New Madness in B2B,” authors John Lombardo and Peter Weinberg launch harsh criticism of ABM, calling it an “unholy beast.”

The authors reluctantly acknowledge that ABM is a “very good idea” if implemented correctly. But they also emphasized that “…almost no one in B2B does ABM’s job right.”

Lombardo and Weinberg define ABM as “…a strategy in which the marketing department provides personalized communications to the most relevant accounts, which are prioritized based on data from the sales team.” The authors note that this “seems to be” the most common definition of ABM, and they refer to it as “bad ABM.”

Lombardo and Weinberg write that, “..bad ABM is actually three bad ideas—personalization, hyper-targeting, and loyalty marketing—combined into one unholy beast.”

Here’s how the authors describe the three “bad ideas” of “bad ABM.”

Personalization – According to Lombardo and Weinberg, bad ABM assumes that each account has unique needs and that personalized content for each account will lead to better marketing performance. The authors assert that “..personal creativity does not outperform generalized creativity, despite many unsubstantiated claims to the contrary.” They argue that the additional cost and complexity will cancel out any benefits of customization.

Excessive targeting Lombardo and Weinberg say that bad ABM also assumes that targeting the right customers is more profitable than targeting all potential customers. But they argue that “…the best available evidence indicates that B2B brands grow by reaching every buyer in this category.”

loyalty marketing – The third “bad idea” is that bad ABM assumes that marketing will produce more growth by targeting a few large accounts rather than a larger group of accounts of all sizes. The authors emphasize that this assumption is completely wrong.

Lombardo and Weinberg offer three suggestions for turning “bad ABM” into “good ABM”.

Category targeting – Good ABM targets all potential buyers in the relevant category, not just a narrow subset of buyers.

Avoid over-allocation Good ABM features messages and stories covering the most common purchase situations applicable to all potential category buyers.

Avoid excessive targeting – Good ABM strives to reach buyers large and small.

The authors summarize their position in no uncertain terms: “…targeting a huge group of customers with the same message is not a bad marketing strategy. It is the most effective marketing strategy. It is the way almost every brand in human history has been built… It is an ancient strategy, Yes, but it’s old for a reason – it works.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

It would be easy to dismiss this article as expressing views on account-based marketing held by a very small minority of B2B marketers. I don’t agree with most of the points in the article, but I also think it’s useful to contextualize the authors’ opinions.

John Lombardo and Peter Weinberg are both “global leaders” at The B2B Institute, a LinkedIn-funded think tank. Over the past several years, the B2B Institute has been a strong advocate of brand marketing by B2B companies, and has published several content resources by brand marketing advocates such as Les Binet and Peter Field (for example The Five Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing).

The B2B Institute has also published several research papers written by researchers at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Sciences. (Note: Byron Sharp, author of How brands grow, is probably the most well-known marketing thought leader working at Ehrenberg-Bass.) The Ehrenberg-Bass approach to marketing emphasizes the importance of brand building and, more specifically, the importance of concepts such as mental availability, distinction, and brand visibility.

I find a lot of the content posted by the B2B Institute to be compelling and compelling, and I agree with that bone B2B companies are probably Underinvestment in long-term, large-scale brand marketing and overinvestment in highly targeted short-term demand generation marketing.

I suspect Lombardo and Weinberg were motivated by this belief in writing the article. Nor is it surprising that the principles of marketing are discussed in Marketing week The article aligns closely with the views of Binet, Field, and Ehrenberg-Bass. But the attack on “anti-ballistic missiles” is ultimately misleading, and what the authors call “good anti-ballistic missiles” is not really any anti-missile at all.

When ABM is used under the right conditions and in the right ways, it can be vital part B2B Marketing Efforts. The effectiveness of account-based marketing has been clearly demonstrated. B2B marketers just need to remember that ABM isn’t the only type of marketing they need to use. This is the point Lombardo and Weinberg should have emphasized.

Image courtesy of emiliokuffer via Flickr (CC).

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