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Reimagining the B2B Playbook

Transformation, digital and otherwise, tops the agenda of most organizations. But how are business-to-business marketers dealing with it, and what are their key areas of focus now that we’re well into 2021?

Hard on the heels of the recent B2B WorldFest, The Drum held a roundtable discussion to answer these questions and to explore B2B marketing’s innovation in terms of strategy, creativity, and culture.

Taking part in the roundtable, moderated by Kenneth Hein, US editor of The Drum, were: Amie Stankiste, senior marketing director, S&P Global; Collette Philip, founder, Brand by Me; Theo Theodorou, advertising sales director, Microsoft; Connie Theien, senior vice president, payments industry relations, Federal Reserve System; Sam Poulter, head of corporate branding, AP Moller Maersk; and Tom Stein, chairman and chief client officer, Stein IAS.

Transformation and experimentation in B2B proved to be a hot topic among the experts, who provided several examples of innovations that have changed their businesses in the past year. Amie Stankiste at S&P Global provided some great insight into how her company has pivoted from in person to virtual events, while Microsoft’s Theo Theodorou emphasized the role of digital transformation in helping brands understand “what’s happening in real time”.

Tom Stein said that working with Stein IAS clients on prioritization is a key challenge: “There’s the whole aspect of transformation and thinking about things like the technology stack and agile methodologies. You can’t transform everything all at the same time, so how do you strategically prioritize where to place the energy and investment that’s required to go that fast?”

Transformation goes beyond technology, too. The conversations started by the Black Lives Matter movement had a significant impact on B2B marketing, said Collette Philip at Brand by Me: “It’s not just about racial justice, but also about wider social justice and the role of brands within that… It was having to understand very quickly our role in helping brands and our clients really delve deeper into these conversations, understand the role across all of their audiences, internally and externally, but then also interrogate ourselves.”

Looking forward, the B2B experts explored how a growing emphasis on values was transforming the B2B playbook and boosting customer engagement. Sam Poulter at AP Moller Maersk said: “Communication of your heritage and values becomes even more important but, whatever you do, this is not a time to sell but to actually prove what you promised previously.”

As a consequence of the pandemic, actions have become more important in B2B marketing, said Stankiste: “It's not about a big marketing message that we're here to help, we're here to support you. It's actually enabling and facilitating your entire organization to do just that.”

Connie Theien at the Federal Reserve System agreed: “We spent a lot of time… stepping back with a lot of our sales and marketing programs and supporting customers in figuring out how to operate in this virtual environment. Even to the point of offering a lot of our services at no charge for extended periods of time, so they could have the things in place they needed for this whole new world.”

Authenticity and transparency in B2B messaging will be more important than ever as we move through 2021. Philip said: “The other value that is universal, that we need at this time, is empathy. Empathy with our customers, empathy with our staff, and really demonstrating that we have that insight, and we understand.”

Alongside the importance of the more emotional side of B2B messaging, the discussion also focused on data and targeting, and the issue that data is in danger of becoming a commodity that loses value over time. The conversation highlighted that, ultimately, organizations must be transparent with customers in terms of the collection and use of this information to avoid any loss of trust and efficacy.

The session ended with some practical action points covering B2B strategies for the year ahead. The experts around the table went into detail on how marketers can introduce empathy into touchpoints across an organization, build agile structures within companies, apply a consistent focus on brand, and renew their emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

Tom Stein at Stein IAS wrapped up the session with a point about responding to people’s experience depravation during the pandemic: “As we all work from home, I think that there's a real opportunity to imagine extraordinary experiences and deliver extraordinary experiences in the interest of all of our marketing objectives. Focusing on that is always an opportunity, and right now it's particularly an opportunity.”

You can watch the full panel above.

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