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B2B World Fest day 1 highlights, from IBM, Dell, Microsoft and more


By The Drum Reporters, Editorial team

November 10, 2021 | 9 min read

The Drum’s B2B World Fest, in partnership with Stein IAS, started with a bang yesterday (November 9) as we heard from some of B2B marketing’s most inspiring minds about issues ranging from extracting maximum value from digital advertising to cutting through the noise surrounding sustainability.

B2B World Fest

Live from The Drum Labs: B2B World Fest, in partnership with Stein IAS

Day one of the live two-day festival began with a welcome from our hosts – The Drum’s managing director of events, Lynn Lester, and Stein IAS’s chairman and chief client officer, Tom Stein. They introduced us to IBM’s chief marketing officer, Carla Piñeyro Sublett, who is eight months into her role at the tech giant and shared her thoughts on where this dynamic industry is headed, providing actionable insights that we can all put into practice now.

First though, she started with a clarion call to fellow B2B marketers to stop following the crowd. “The thing that surprises me the absolute most is that we’re all running the same damn play,” she said. “It’s as if we’ve forgotten what our primary responsibility is – which is to add value and build real, meaningful relationships with our constituents, our customers and our clients.”

Warming to her theme, Piñeyro Sublett pointed to projections that display advertising spend will grow 24% to $80bn this year. “But brands in general are wasting about 99.9% of their digital advertising on digital banners,” she warned. “It’s actually not yielding anything. And as our media budgets go up, what’s happening is we’re driving the price up on each other, it’s getting increasingly noisy and our messages aren’t landing.”

Setting the tone for the two-day event streamed from The Drum Labs, in London, and New York, Piñeyro Sublett explained that the B2B world is at “a massive inflection point” when it comes to digital transformation, and the consumer interaction is now driving the B2B expectation. “As marketers one of the things we need to think about is not just how we reach our clients and customers but how we make it easier for them to buy from us,” she said.

B2B marketing’s commitment to the planet

In keeping with another major event currently taking place in the UK – the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow – sustainability was also a major theme to emerge on day one. The Drum’s editor-in-chief, Gordon Young, was joined by an enviable panel that included Qlik’s Leslie Beckman, Stein IAS’s Anna Harris and Danfoss A/S’s Mette Munk to explore how B2B businesses can walk the walk when it comes to making a truly eco-friendly impact.

Joining from Denmark, Danfoss’s Munk argued that B2B marketers are especially well positioned to be part of the climate solution, and not the problem. The engineering giant’s head of group branding, design and digital communication said: “In terms of sustainability we all have a great responsibility full stop. The difference we do see in B2B markets is many of us come from companies where we do deliver some of the technical solutions.”

But as Stein’s Harris warned, B2B buyers will see through and ultimately reject overplayed hands when it comes to supposedly sustainable practices. “Brands are finding it much harder to differentiate [on sustainability],” she said.

“The big shift we’re seeing is a move away from just talking about just sustainability because some of the research we’ve done recently suggests if you mention the word sustainability you have to very quickly say what you mean by that, because sustainability on its own is a bit of a vague term. Consumers and B2B buyers – they will pick out that greenwashing, they will pick out that vagueness. For premium brands talking about sustainability, they have to be very clear about what’s specific to their value chain.”

Staying with the subject of turning words into actions, the ‘Repurposing Purpose in B2B’ session saw NI’s Ana Villegas, Warc’s David Tiltman and Nedbank’s Khensani Nobanda join The Drum reporter Kendra Clark for a frank discussion around what brand purpose really means today and how it impacts marketing, hiring and sales.

Distinguishing between comms artifice dressed up as purpose and purpose that is “fundamental to why that brand exists” is key according to Warc’s Tiltman. On that thread, Nedbank’s Nobanda argued that while purpose has become a buzzword in marketing, it can still carry meaning when brands ‘activate’ appropriately.

She said: “A lot of organizations have a stated purpose – so they’re very clear what they stand for – but do they activate that purpose? Does it drive the product launch? Does it drive service delivery? Is it embedded in your culture? That for me is really what it means. Companies that do it well, it helps them protect their reputation, it deepens the relationships they have with clients and it helps with their growth strategy. Most importantly for us as marketeers, it gives us a platform to communicate on.”

The big moment for B2B creativity

’B2B Creativity in the Eye of the Beholder’ delved deep into how both clients and agencies need to work together amid the most dynamic moment in the history of B2B marketing.

The good news is clients are feeling very ambitious at the moment. In fact, Isla Mackenzie, who was most recently head of marketing for Aviva Investments, said: “Creativity has the potential to be a superpower. It creates so many opportunities to help businesses grow.”

Still there needs to be balance. “Pushing the boundaries of creativity is what we all want to achieve as marketers and as agencies but what matters to us as clients is that you are relevant in the moments that matter to [our customers],” added Mackenzie. There needs to be “a degree of rigor. I think it was Dorothy Parker who said creativity needs a wild mind and a disciplined eye. That’s a good way to think about how you can harness creativity to build that relevancy that client needs.”

The session also took a look at how Covid has changed the creative process forever. For example, Microsoft Advertising’s Geoff Conlon said: “A lot of people don’t travel well. They can’t think creatively on a plane or elsewhere. We don’t think creatively from 9 to 5. Those are business operation hours. My creative time is usually late at night. I found that during the pandemic, I’ve been more creative in being able to write those ideas down. In the world of work we had inhabited, that just didn’t happen because you’re just trying to go to sleep or you need to get on an airplane.”

Dell’s senior director of global brand and B2B campaigns Rachel Henke argued the need to travel all the time is a thing of the past. “We figured out how to connect via video. We became more creative in how we connected and how we produced. For example, instead of flying to TV shoots, we did remote streams. Now for some of the minor shoots, I prefer stream. It’s a lot more efficient and effective in saving time.”

Business events were the subject of further discussion for LinkedIn’s Kelly Farrell, Vee’s Andy Dougan, Attentive’s Natalia Rybicka and The Drum’s Lynn Lester. Real-world, hybrid or virtual, they took a deep dive into the future of events. And the day was rounded off with three more sessions: one providing a strategic roadmap for growth for B2B businesses, one on how to authentically speak to Gen Z and Alpha decision-makers, and the final panel of the day looking at the evolution of the role of brand in B2B.

As day one came to a close, the live audience at The Drum Labs HQ in Shoreditch were invited to the bar to sample another world-first: a specially created B2B cocktail for the occasion.

You can catch up on everything you’ve missed on the B2B World Fest website. And you can join us at 9 am ET/2pm GMT today (November 10) for day two of B2B World Fest, where we will hear from more amazing people in the B2B sphere, including Accenture’s chief marketing and communications officer Jill Kramer, Adobe’s vice-president of marketing David Carrel and EY’s digital marketing and demand generation leader Lou Cohen.

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