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MARKETING

How IdeaPaint Makes B2B Marketing Fun

Who says marketing to other businesses must be dull? Here's how one small company shakes things up.

IdeaPaint's former offices in Cambridge, MA.

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There’s usually a world of difference between b2c and b2b marketing. The former can be inviting, entertaining, engaging, and fun. The latter? Four-letter words such as dull and yawn come to mind.

But businesses that sell to institutions and companies don’t have to assume that stodgy and predictable are the only approaches. That’s something you can learn from Ashland, MA-based IdeaPaint, a company that produces paints that turn surfaces into whiteboards.

Started by two Babson College students in 2002, the company will exceed $20 million in retail sales this year, according to CEO Bob Munroe, and it has its sights on $100 million by 2015.

The concept is smart: Paint a surface and treat it like a whiteboard. No more standard 4×8-ft. boundaries. An underfunded school can refinish existing white boards and transform table tops into working spaces. Companies like Google can turn an entire wall into a collaborative area. And there’s potential great savings for the users, as Munroe claims the paint runs $4 a square foot, versus the $10 to $30 traditional boards cost.

That’s practical and useful. But … it’s still not fun. Munroe, who spent 10 years running Reebok North America and who previously did stints at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, was a CPG kind of guy. No wonder he gave the green light to consumer-style marketing.

During the last two years, shortly after he joined, the company has been aggressively offering samples of the paint. Sampling is common in some areas of b2b. For example, electronics component companies might offer engineers some sample products in hopes that they will specify them in a design. But for the most part, samples are something you do with consumers. Maybe that limitation is a mistake for many b2b firms.

“There’s still some level of skepticism because we are a new concept,” Munroe says. “At the end of the day, they say does it really work as well as a whiteboard?” A customer tries it, sees that it does, and then starts thinking of all the other places it could use collaboration space. Munroe says that the conversion rate from sampler to paid customer is well over two-thirds. “When we’re in a major business or education facility, if people like the concept but are afraid to pull the trigger, the thing to do is a test wall.”

IdeaPaint doesn’t stop with sampling. It is aggressive in social media. The company has a YouTube channel with users showing what they did with the product. IdeaPaint also ran a contest in which companies and schools could submit videos and essays about why they deserved an IdeaPaint makeover.

Next step? IdeaPaint is coming out with a consumer version of the product that’s easier to apply and plans on television advertising. Other entrepreneurs should learn that limiting your marketing tools means limiting yourself. Find what works and let your business grow.

IMAGE: IdeaPaint/Daniel Stanush
Last updated: Dec 21, 2011

ERIK SHERMAN's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.
@ErikSherman




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