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Brand Purpose Brand Strategy B2B Marketing

Clients and creatives concur: 2022 is the year of creativity in B2B

By Ian Darby, journalist

January 28, 2022 | 6 min read

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Better creativity in B2B has officially become ‘a thing’ given the announced launch in 2022 of a B2B Lions category at Cannes. As part of B2B World Fest, held by The Drum in partnership with global B2B agency Stein IAS, top creative and brand leaders discussed how they can work together to elevate the work across the B2B space.

B2B Creativity

B2B Creativity

At B2B World fest sessions over the course of two days, panel host Reuben Webb, chief creative officer of Stein IAS, was joined by Isla Mackenzie, chief marketing officer at UBS Asset Management; Geoff Colon, head of brand studio at Microsoft Advertising; and Rachael Henke, senior director, brand and B2B campaigns at Dell Technologies.

The sessions addressed how “creatives” and “clients” can move the needle on delivering inspiring ideas by working together toward that shared goal. They also challenged conventional wisdom that creatives and clients have different views of creativity and different lenses for assessing the work.

UBS Asset Management’s Isla Mackenzie stated that while each industry has its own specific challenges, there are common ingredients that lead to better work, including ensuring that the agency and client partnership is built on “an aligned ambition around creativity.”

Curiosity, too, is a key factor. She explained: “Understanding how creativity can play a role across the B2B client journey requires both the agency and client to be really probing, really curious, and to really get under the skin of customer problems. Then, we need to think about how best to respond to those problems using the vast array of creative tools at our disposal.”

Geoff Colon spoke about the importance of introducing both “joy and information” into B2B creativity, a point endorsed by Stein IAS’ Webb: “Let’s take content marketing as an example. It used to be all highly valuable, provocative information. But it's become about a dumping ground for ‘me-too’ information. I think we all need to be aware of that, because we have a responsibility not to add to the content mountain. I do love the thought that the job of creativity is to add the element of unpredictability to the very measurable, scientific approach to marketing that we have these days.”

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

Dell’s Henke addressed the importance of “understanding that we need to have strong brands, and we need to connect on a human level.” This, she opined, requires open minds at both agencies and clients: “We look at the creative ideas that come from our agencies, and sometimes that scares us a little bit. They're challenging us in ways that make us a little uncomfortable, because we're really protective of these safe notions that we've been doing throughout the years. And so, from the client side, we need to open our minds a bit to say, ‘What are some interesting creative risks that we could take that could not only help our sales, but actually help our brand for the long term?’”

The panel also considered the vital importance of agency strategists in boosting B2B creativity, especially when it comes down to overcoming category complexity and delivering the simplicity that cuts through to audiences. They also highlighted that the best ideas often come less from long, drawn out processes but instead from short, controlled bursts of individual and collective creativity.

This thought led to a challenge issued at the end of the first panel session to respond to the brief “Advertise why the world needs B2B”. Nick Entwistle, the founder of One Minute Briefs, issued the brief to OMB community with a simple guideline: “In one minute, create an ad.”

This led to more than 250 entries, with the winners revealed during part two of the panel sessions at B2B World Fest. Dell’s Henke chose an entry that featured a light bulb alongside the headline “How many businesses does it take to make a light bulb?” and the end line “B2B? Now there’s a bright idea .”

How many businesses does it take to make a light bulb?

Microsoft’s Colon selected a creative idea that showed an image of an imaginary store (“Eten & Drinken”), with a headline that people have to identify how many businesses appear to contribute to the store’s success (the answer is 47). Colon stated the ad “actually make us realize there's a whole lot of B2B that goes into running a business in this day and age.”

A creative idea that showed an image of an imaginary store “Eten & Drinken”

Webb’s top choice was a poorly printed sign with text at the bottom reading “that reminds us, we must order more ink from our suppliers!”

hat reminds us, we must order more ink from our suppliers!”

The final winner, awarded by Mackenzie, was a powerful and deeply emotional approach paying homage to the “invisible middle men and women of B2B” – in this case, the individual who engineered the rubber soles that helped make Nike the massively successful consumer brand it is.

invisible middle men and women of B2B

The takeaway from the exercise was that while decisions on ideas may differ from client to creative, the filter is the same: creativity. To this end, the session concluded with views on the direction and potency of B2B creativity. Colon ended with a point about the need for “creative tension” supported by “radical candour.” Mackenzie countered the prevailing notion that “creatives are from Venus, and clients from Mars.” She called for recognition that “creative people exist everywhere,” concluding that creative ideas can come from the most unusual places and from the most unexpected people. “What's really important is that you don't try and pigeonhole creativity. That's the biggest mistake that you can make. If you do that, creativity can kind of die,” she said.

Watch the full sessions, B2B Creativity: In the eyes of the beholder, part 1 and part 2 on demand.

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