By Jenni Baker, Senior Editor

July 27, 2022 | 7 min read

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B2B marketing needs to take inspiration from the B2C world – be simple, to the point, authentic and personal. The Drum caught up with Vicki Kassioula and Maggie Walkoff of The Marketing Practice post-Cannes, to reflect on the creative learnings and biggest lessons for B2B marketers.

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Discussions from Cannes Lions 2022 suggest B2B marketing needs to shift perceptions from being boring to being fun + creative

Creativity is critical to marketing. Without it, how can any campaign hope to stand out, catch the eye, or grab the attention it demands? Yet the business-to-business (B2B) world is notoriously ‘un-creative’, especially when compared to consumer-facing advertising and marketing – or is it?

For the first time this year at Cannes Lions 2022, B2B was firmly in the spotlight on the global creative stage, with the inaugural Creative B2B Lions Grand Prix awarded to Sherwin Williams for its Speaking in Color digital service, created by Wunderman Thompson.

While it’s a huge step in the right direction to see B2B brands and marketers upping their creative game, there’s still a long way to go to be on par with B2C and give B2B buyers the same level of creative, exciting, personal experiences that they expect today.

Vicki Kassioula, senior project manager, The Marketing Practice, says: “It’s still early days and there’s untapped potential that might take years for B2B to occupy a global creative stage where everyone knows what it represents.”

Inject emotion and excitement into B2B

As digital innovation accelerates, B2B brands have never been more empowered to learn from and embrace the principles that have served B2C marketers so well for so long. The product a B2B firm may sell might not be the most exciting, but that doesn’t mean the advertising can’t be.

“B2B marketing can no longer afford to be boring,” says Kassioula. “Over time, we’ve seen that with B2C, offering your customers an exciting, personalized experience has been a given for decades.”

However, in today’s world, with buyers in the B2B space overlapping a lot with B2C, they need to be offered similarly engaging experiences. Every B2B buyer is also a person – and with digital, it’s becoming even easier to connect those dots and blend those boundaries between B2C and B2B.

“Understanding the needs and desires of customers to help create more tailored, personal experiences within B2B has never been more important,” says Kassioula. “We’re living in a world of content overload, B2B customers are inundated with content every day – for B2B to stand out, we need to make it exciting and change it from being this dry, corporate speak it has always been regarded as.”

Shift the dial with communications

People are looking for emotional connections with brands and businesses – and that’s no different for B2B. If they don’t get that from their B2B partners, they are going to go elsewhere, adds Maggie Walkoff, creative designer, The Marketing Practice. She says: “The goal is to determine a way to resonate with target audiences. To ensure the work stands out, as marketers we must understand our client and strive to create an emotional connection.”

For step-change to happen, the dial must shift towards content that is engaging and human, to reflect what buyers are looking for. Millennials have been driving this, craving a more authentic, transparent and real voice. To appeal to that audience and resonate with them, the message needs to be simple, straightforward and to the point – letting the imagination do the work.

“People don’t want all the fluff anymore,” says Walkoff. “Having an overarching message right off the bat gets people engaged, so if they only have time to see that, they get the message you want without having to dive into deeper details.”

“With content, it’s about keeping it as short and snappy as possible,” adds Kassioula. “You need one message and one hook. It’s about trying to break through that information overload we all live in and create something that’s differentiating to make people stop and want to find out more.”

Practice what you preach

So, how can B2B push creative boundaries, while at the same time considering the wider impact of campaigns that take into account sustainability as well as diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI)?

“Incorporating sustainability in any comms or campaigns is no longer nice to have, it’s a priority,” says Kassioula. “It’s a tick box exercise and is often more important than price for some customers. The best way to do this is to be authentic and transparent. Don’t greenwash and practice what you preach. Do what you say you do to contribute to society and the environment with actions, and back it up with facts and figures.

“When it comes to adopting a sustainability mindset, key in B2B campaigns is being simple, straightforward, not over promising and using the right language.”

Kassioula points to IKEA’s ‘Taste the Future’ campaign as a great example of this. In line with its sustainability commitments, the brand invited people for a job interview or partnership lunch over experimental 3D-printed meatballs. “It’s an interesting way of appealing to B2B but also to their own employees they wanted to hire,” she says. “And it was through doing a slightly different campaign which brought to life that product and got people to interact with it in person.”

With sustainability and DEI occupying much of the conversation in Cannes this year, Kassioula was inspired by companies not just ensuring representation but emphasizing the need to go further. Her key takeaway being that “we shouldn’t just be doing good for our company, we should be doing good for the world and thinking about the wider impact that diversity can have.”

Pushing creative ideas forward

Reflecting on stand out sessions from the week, Walkoff mentions a discussion between David Droga, chief executive officer and creative chairman of Accenture Song and Alex Schultz, chief marketing officer and vice-president of analytics at Meta. They spoke of the importance of having “a variety of people with different backgrounds and creative ideas in the room to drive different thoughts” and bringing creatives into the fold in higher positions, which leads to more success.

For B2B to shift its perception from being boring and corporate to fun and creative, there’s a lesson to be learned about the client/partner relationship: it must work in service of the creative idea.

Recalling a discussion between PepsiCo and Alma in Cannes, Kassioula says: “No matter what the ultimate outcome of the campaign is, or the return-on-investment (ROI) they want to get, it’s the idea which should be driving those relationships between partner and clients. They should be co-creating it. The ROI is return on idea.”

The overarching message is this: for B2B marketing to be more creative, it needs to be simple, it needs to be to the point, and above all it needs to be human, authentic and personal.

You can watch Vicki's takeaways from Cannes in the video at the top of this article.

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