B2B marketing is not emotionally stunted, it is all about marketing to people

Creative marketers may shy away from B2B, deeming it corporate and creatively-stunted when compared with B2C but actually there’s scope to really make a difference in the world. But creativity and storytelling is no longer a luxury but an effectiveness opportunity for B2B marketers.

These were some of the observations made at the ‘Mapping the new B2B human journey in partnership’ panel, in partnership with Reuters, and moderated by The Drum’s associate editor, Sonoo Singh, during the Cannes Lions festival, while considerations were also given to the amount of emotion that should be applied to B2B marketing. After all, B2B marketers often sit at the same table as industry decision makers, so perhaps they really do have the ability to oversee change and can predict where the industry is headed.

Make business to business marketing more human

The panel agreed the importance of treating B2B consumers as humans and rethink its traditional definition. While some argued that approaches may differ somewhat between B2B and B2C marketers, building on relationships in conjunction with elevating the brand’s awareness undoubtedly helps. “We’re all emotional beings,” says Reuters’ EMEA commercial director, Johanna Krantz. “We do thrive on emotion, whatever the environment.”

IBM iX leader, UK & Ireland, Debbie Vavangas added: “We approach B2B the same way that we approach B2C clients, taking the same approach in terms of what we’re trying to do and the need we’re trying to meet.”

For Kate Howe, executive director, creative, UX and commerce, Dentsu Aegis Network, UK & Ireland, human relevance in marketing has never been more valid and more necessary. Howeve,r a word of caution from Howe, “for (most) B2Bbrands, the context is radically different from B2C.”

Even account-based marketing, a typically longer purchase journey that doesn’t involve a single buyer, can benefit from this approach, she added answering to an audience question.

“Account-based marketing, while a huge channel, also comes down to relationships between individuals built over time,” said Vavangas. “It requires trust to be built based on the content put out and the depth that you bring. Building on a relationship means you’re seeing the whole person and tapping into what they’re motivated by to make it relevant.”

Where is the creativity?

However, B2B has historically played safe and created content that’s shy of creativity – but EY’s global customer leader, Bill Kanarick, believes that this can be changed.

“The reason B2B is emotionally stunted is because there’s so much muscle memory – as to how it’s been done a certain way for a long time,” he said. “It’s about the application of creative thinking to products and more specifically, the problems they can solve. Increasingly, the buyers of B2B products and in B2B marketing are consuming in a high rate of change environment and now more than ever, the opportunity to be more emotionally-driven is imperative.”

Thankfully, with the onset of social and digital media, change is possible. “Suddenly there’s this opportunity to spend less and do much more through digital being able to reach more people,” according to Howe. “But of course, it’s about learning to emotionally connect with people in a different way, without getting distracted by the new tools that have become available to us.”

Howe continued, that ultimately, it’s about using human insights to entertain, inform and connect with B2B consumers just as they would in B2C.

The role of innovation when enhancing the experience of the buyer

But the question remains, just how creative should B2B marketers get? While traditional definitions of creativity remain in the B2B space, Fearless Girl dominated the industry in 2017 as a statue standing for women leadership was erected on Wall Street, bypassing any rules that are required of a typical B2B campaign.

Kanarick explained: “In B2B, you have to ask how the application of the thing you’re selling enhances the life and experience of the buyer. It puts a lot of pressure on the marketer but the buyer’s experience can only help to achieve and realise this result. There’s a great opportunity to be innovative and move into smarter experiences, through the use of data to enable better outcomes.”

And this, the panel agreed, allows for greater creative exploration.

Consider the effect and success of John Deere, a farming machinery company that has turned its hand to software and data development and has transformed into a tech business. While this may seem like quite a leap, Kanarick suggests that the brand was in fact thinking outside the box and finding new ways to target its same audience. He thinks it’s time for marketers to be clever with what they’re selling, especially if they want to remain ahead of the curve and keep up with their competitors.

“In the case of John Deere, they understood that the farmer is not really interested in (just) buying a tractor,” Kanarick says. “He's interested in improving crop field; that’s ultimately the objective and the reason why they make a purchase. All the farmer cares about is the experience that can be designed around this objective. What John Deere did was think about the journey of the farmer relative to seasonality and weather. Their experience provides farmers with the data to drive their outcome.”

Krantz added: “B2B is so much more outcome-driven. You need to think about how to drive additional market presence and how to measure that.”

Though award shows are currently lacking in the B2B sector, perhaps some sort of recognition of the work made in this space would incentivise B2B marketers to create more boundary-pushing work?

Implementing emotion for the ‘new’ millennial buyers

By keeping audiences strongly in mind, B2B marketers can know what motivates them and work out what they’re looking for. Vavangas thinks that B2B buyers are mainly millennials so understanding how they’re consuming these newly-changing medias is key. “It’s important to look at how to effectively emotionally connect with B2B buyers and sellers through social. That requires very different ways of thinking and provides B2B marketers and creatives with a massive opportunity to hit the reset button. How do we connect with this generation of people who are very different to the ones we connected with before? They’re the ones who are most likely to install ad blockers and withhold their data.”

Working out what language to use, how political or socially connected marketers need to be can be tough to decide but establishing core brand purpose probably helps. It certainly does in B2C, is it the same in the B2B space?

Howe said: “In all the B2B experience I’ve had, I’ve always seen marketers feel like purpose is absolutely part of their responsibility. In B2B, you don’t get to the top table for the sake of being there; you want to be there because you want to have influence, so you believe you can have influence and change things. It’s interesting to see that a lot of consumer marketers don’t think they’ve got the influence to do that.”

B2B vs B2C marketing

Ultimately, converting a buyer in B2B is much more difficult than in B2C as purchases are generally more considered.

“It’s a massive achievement,” said Krantz. “It’s much easier to get someone to spontaneously buy something that’s low value and disposable; nothing changes if they do or don’t make that decision. The more we attract people into B2B marketing and get them to really understand that and take pride in their ability to do that, the better we'll actually be.”

There are plenty of opportunities for B2B marketers but they need to realise that their work can help to shape society. While B2B audiences may be select and cost more per item, this means that perhaps marketers don’t need to make sparkling campaigns to attract in audience; often they’ve already got loyal audiences and are speaking directly to them.

“In B2B’s, you have to know something,” concluded Kanarick. “The fact that you know something means you have intrinsic value which in many ways, grants marketers the opportunity to explore their curiosity and ask deeper questions. But most of all, it means they can actively contribute.

“B2B acts as a petri dish for exploration; it’s up to us to do a better job of it.”

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