Marketing Week published an article earlier this month that is sure to provoke a strong response from proponents of account-based marketing. In “Account-based madness:  The new craze in B2B,” authors Jon Lombardo and Peter Weinberg fire a broadside at ABM, calling it an “unholy monstrosity.”

The authors reluctantly acknowledge that ABM is “a pretty decent idea” if it’s done correctly. But they also contend that “. . . almost no one in B2B is doing ABM right.”

Lombardo and Weinberg define ABM as “. . . a strategy in which the marketing department delivers personalised communications to best-fit accounts, which are prioritised 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 – personalisation, hypertargeting, and loyalty marketing – mashed into one unholy monstrosity.”

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

Personalization – According to Lombardo and Weinberg, bad ABM assumes that every account has unique needs and that content personalized for each account will drive better marketing performance. The authors contend that, “. . . personalised creative does not outperform generalised creative, despite many unsubstantiated claims to the contrary.” And they argue that added cost and complexity will cancel out any benefits of personalization.

Hypertargeting – 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 suggests that B2B brands grow by reaching every buyer in the 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 contend that this assumption is dead wrong.

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

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

Avoid Over-Personalization – Good ABM features messages and stories that cover the most common buying situations applicable to all potential category buyers.

Avoid Hypertargeting – Good ABM seeks to reach both large and small buyers.

The authors summarize their position in unequivocal terms:  “. . . broadly targeting a massive set of customers with the same message isn’t a bad marketing strategy. It’s the most effective marketing strategy. It’s how almost every brand in human history has been built. . . It’s an old 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 that are held by only a very small minority of B2B marketers. I disagree with most of the points made in the article, but I also think it’s worthwhile to place the authors’ views in context.

Jon Lombardo and Peter Weinberg are both “Global Leads” at The B2B Institute, a think tank funded by LinkedIn. For the past several years, The B2B Institute has been a strong proponent of brand marketing by B2B companies, and it has published several content resources by brand marketing advocates such as Les Binet and Peter Field (e.g. The 5 Principles Of Growth In B2B Marketing). 

The B2B Institute has also published several papers written by researchers at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. (Note:  Byron Sharp, the author of How Brands Grow, is probably the most widely-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, distinctiveness, and brand salience.

I find much of the content published by The B2B Institute to be persuasive and compelling, and I agree that most B2B companies are probably under-investing in long-term, broad-reach brand marketing and over-investing in short-term, highly-targeted demand generation marketing.

I suspect that Lombardo and Weinberg were motivated by this belief in writing the article. It’s also not surprising that the marketing principles discussed in the Marketing Week article line up closely with the perspectives of Binet, Field and Ehrenberg-Bass. But the attack on “bad ABM” is ultimately misguided, and what the authors call “good ABM” really isn’t ABM at all.

When ABM is used under the right circumstances and in the right ways, it can be a vital part of a B2B company’s 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 be using. That’s the point Lombardo and Weinberg should have emphasized.

Image courtesy of emiliokuffer via Flickr (CC).