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Is B2B marketing becoming less boring?

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By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

August 30, 2022 | 8 min read

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It would be unfair to say that the B2B space was ever completely boring, but some argue it’s at a turning point toward deeper connection and more creative work. We tracked down six industry leaders to ask: is B2B becoming more exciting?

Two primates sat on a branch, looking bored

If B2B was once boring, is it becoming less so? / Sepp Rutz via Unsplash

Business-to-business (B2B) marketing has long been thought of as business-to-customer’s (B2C) unattractive sibling. If that’s ever been fair, it’s becoming less so every day with major networks reforming their B2B offerings and a raft of hungry indies mixing up the space. We asked six leaders from The Drum Network what’s shaking up B2B.

Emily Kleist, partner, vice-president and executive creative director, the Mx Group

B2B stakes are high. Fear is a factor. You can fail to make complex products and services accessible and understandable enough to be appealing. Audiences fear admitting how emotionally-affected their decision-making is. There are many stakeholders with many (sometimes hidden) emotions. Lots of complexity, lots of contributors – so lots can go wrong.

Fear leads creative right to the other F-word: forgettable. To get to better work, B2B marketers have to look inward. Simplify the complexity that gets in the way of a great creative product. Fall in love with a big idea and get it out into the world.

Make a commitment to unforgettable creative. Don’t be afraid of the thing that will make you great.

Jamie Ross-Skinner, insights director, Tipi Group

It’s 2022. You’re a B2B marketer. Your customer profiles consist of stock photos of grinning business people. Their goals are ‘supply-chain transparency’ and ‘digital transformation.’ Their hobbies include golf and sharing thought leadership on LinkedIn. They were born wearing a tie.

I’m exaggerating. But B2B suffers from a chronic dehumanization of customers, who want the same things as everyone else: to be loved, respected, entertained and sometimes left alone. They also want pay rises, promotions and to get home to tuck their kids into bed.

B2B is undergoing a crucial shift toward wider-reaching media and more emotional creative, but many marketers are still missing the vital human insights that should be informing this work. To uncover the kind of insights that can drive real B2B effectiveness, you need to look beneath the suit and tie.

Savannah Westbrock, account strategy director, Coegi

B2B marketers should focus less on where they think their ads should be, and more on where their audiences actually are. Limiting your campaigns to the obligatory few B2B spaces limits your ability to form relationships with the people behind the professional. Lawyers listen to podcasts. Physicians are on TikTok.

Testing in these spaces breaks through the boring, because they won’t be seeing a dozen interchangeable jargon-heavy ads in the same environment. The reward for diversifying your messaging and channel strategies is the engagement data you receive. These insights help form real, lasting relationships, rather than clogging your CRM with low-quality leads who download your white paper and never speak with you again.

Alistair Robertson, creative partner, Nucco

It’s no great revelation that authenticity and connection are in vogue. Creative campaign testing has for years suggested people react better to communications when they connect with those in them.

Peter Field for the IPA has said that during recessionary times brands should focus on warmth, generosity and humor in their campaigns. B2B needn’t be different. The idea that B2B is more conservative is old hat. There’s good and bad work in every field. The award shows prove it.

B2B comms do often have more information to convey, with more involved products and services, and longer sales processes. That doesn’t mean you need to be dull, but that you need an elegant solution to help your message stand out from a sea of sameness.

Let’s reject the idea that people at work are more conservative than people at home. Whatever the circumstance, great creativity catches the eye, pervades the mind and drives audience behavior.

Sammy Mansourpour, managing director, AgencyUK

We’re seeing a purpose-driven uprising and ever-more authenticity in advertising, perpetuated by consumers and influencers. This actually complements the heartland of B2B. Some years ago, the AgencyUK strategy team moved away from B2B and toward human-to-human, focusing on the people we’re communicating with (and less on the products and services we’re marketing on behalf of our clients). Long may this evolution continue.

Charli Edwards, creative director, LoveThat

‘Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.’ Perhaps the greatest B2B strapline ever. It was never written or published anywhere, but people have been saying it for 30 years.

Once, B2B was the domain of men in gray suits, power ties, shiny shoes and tired smiles, traveling the world to press business cards (and drinks) into the hands of buyers. Beyond that, cold calls and well-polished print collateral. Creative license extended to an extra spot of color for yet another corporate brochure. B2B print is like vinyl records now: some are lovely, but would you want a house full of them?

Digital has driven the B2B renaissance. In the film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko says: “The most important commodity I trade in is information.” B2B has grown into a fascinating pursuit, because information is everywhere. The means to hunt for new business is supported by everything from social listening to intent data. We’re able to refine audiences; to craft human-to-human messaging in real business terms. Maybe nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM, but in the age of the disruptor, who cares? Show me the upside potential.

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Content created with:

The Mx Group

The Mx Group is the second largest independent, integrated B2B marketing agency in the U.S. Our mission is to impact the marketplace for companies that impact the world. For over 30 years, we’ve created meaningful end-to-end buying experiences for B2B brands. Our clients are leaders and innovators in energy, utilities, manufacturing, hospitality, automotive, health care, technology and SaaS who rely on our expertise to influence and grow their businesses. Our relationships with our clients and people are why B2B Marketing recognized us as Agency of the Year. Our headquarters are in Chicago, but our reach is global. Whether a client is an established or startup B2B brand, we have the people and perspective to be a strong partner that makes a difference.

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TIPi Group

TIPi Group is an award winning network of specialist digital agencies. Our agencies are built on performance and profitability and share an ambition to use the power of digital to shape the future.

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Coegi

Coegi is an independent digital agency providing services across digital strategy, media buying, paid social, search and influencer campaigns. We bring together people, platforms and tech partners to create custom marketing solutions focused on your business results.

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Nucco

We are communication and experience experts that change behaviour and perspectives. We use powerful creative and emerging technologies to create projects ranging from film and animation through websites and deeply immersive AR and VR experiences.

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AgencyUK

We’re an independent brand communications agency voted Ad Agency of The Year 2019 and Brand Strategy Agency of the Year 2020 by Drum Recommends. Our services span brand strategy, identity, positioning and activation; creative development, media planning, social and PR including influencer outreach, community management, content strategy & planning and web design and development.

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LoveThat

Collaborating and working together with our clients allows us to answer these questions and deliver powerful and effective creative solutions through the insights we gather along the way. When a client comes to us with a challenge, we’re passionate to solve it.To channel that passion efficiently, we take a phased approach, making sure our solutions are solid from start to finish. We’re approachable and empathetic, working together to conquer challenges.

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