B2B Marketing Agency Business Business Leadership

‘It’s time for a new model agency’: as B2B expands its horizons, what needs to change?

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By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

September 15, 2022 | 8 min read

As competition hots up in B2B, leaders in the space are expecting growth and shifting shape. We sat down with nine bigwigs, including the major independents vying for pole position, to ask what must change as B2B shifts gears.

A model town

Is it time for a new model agency in the B2B space? / Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Changes are afoot in the business-to-business (B2B) landscape – and as we’ve heard recently from leaders in the space, many of them think it’s time for B2B’s golden age as work becomes more creative and seen by more people. But what needs to change for that dream to come to fruition? At a recent roundtable for leaders in the space from The Drum Network, we asked them.

Chris Bagnall, chief executive office and founder, Transmission

From the point of view of attribution, unification between channels and the customer journey, the whole historical view of how agencies have been set up has been wrong. And the whole historical view of how clients have been set up has not been conducive to success. If you’re trying to gather as much data as possible across a long, complex customer journey, across a bunch of different people, across a plethora of channels – that baton passing between departments, between datasets and between agencies, is just not set up for success.

Niche, specialist agencies that are only good at one or two things being part of the equation longer-term: those days are gone. You can’t afford to have 20 agencies doing 50 different things. You need five agencies all connected, all talking together, all connecting the data together.

Fran Gibbs, director, brand strategy, Gravity Global

It’s time for a new model agency. The loop team model isn’t working. We need one P&L, whether you’re in ABM or brand strategy. We have to stop fighting over budgets for above-the-line or below-the-line. We need to work together in one cohesive, coherent group.

And we need to help our clients understand the need for brand fame and admiration in order to drive belief in your ability to deliver. Familiarity drives consideration, and it drives all perceptions that underpin consideration. Familiarity and fame are the lubricant throughout the funnel; they’re not upper-funnel functions. We need to give our clients the confidence, ammunition and data to make the case internally for a rebalance of investment in fame-driving marketing. I’m not saying all the money goes to brand from demand. Absolutely not. But it has been neglected. And yet it’s so powerful at every point throughout the funnel.

Chris Wilson, managing director, Earnest

Agencies can provide the most help by working with our clients on landing the need to do the brand piece, the top-of-funnel piece, effectively. We need to help them find the right metrics that matter to the board and help them build a business case. That’s in our interest, and we’ve got access to a lot of data points for it.

Mirza Fur, executive director, The Marketing Practice

What we need to add focus to is that B2B, more often than not, is run in teams. They are humans, individuals and personalities – but they hunt in packs. We do need data and analysis, but it’s about accounts, not leads.

Know the buyer journey, in terms of individuals, IT teams and locations. Start there. It’s not about a sales journey.

Hannah Thompson, group media director, Tug

In B2B marketing, we’re often targeting chief financial officers and chief executives – or that’s the brief we’re given by our clients. But actually, the people who are doing the research on these products and who prepare the RFPs are assistants and executive assistants, junior managers and IT managers – those whose job titles we often neglect in B2B. Not many chief execs will download a white paper to figure out what a product is going to do.

A lot of brands are starting to interview and survey their customers; asking their sales teams to gather more data. We’re getting more back from our customers, and our advertisers are learning more about their companies and user journeys. We’re getting huge documents from clients at the briefing stage now, instead of just ‘target FDs.’ We’re getting 50-page decks about profiles and customer journeys. If we can have that rapid onset of data collection, then we can get even better at it.

Jennifer Webb, director of strategy and planning, TrunkBBI

It’s time to talk to your customers and focus on the brand experience. That’s where the differentiation lies. Try not to think about brand strategy and brand positioning, but about that experience you’re going to deliver for your customers, and then work your way back.

Barbara Bottini, managing principal, experience consulting, EPAM

We need to think about value exchange: what proposition, apart from messaging, is going to make your client better off? How are you going to make people more intellectually stimulated, more entertained, more educated? Think about value exchange along the lines of experience design and customer journeys.

Modern marketing, whether it’s B2B or B2C, is not only about what we do as an output, but also how we do it. It’s as important to enable our clients to do their marketing better as it is about reimagining their brands, campaigns and content.

John Barham, managing director, Roast

Ironically, B2B is set up better for the next two years than B2C; its data maturity is a lot more robust. The panics that we’re getting from some B2C clients aren’t there in B2B because they’ve got the first-party data. It’s a good opportunity for them to be more bold in the market and with their creative. They’ve got the architecture underneath to capture impact in a much better way than some of the bigger B2C advertisers have done historically.

Katie Roberts, head of marketing, Freedman International

We’ve got to remember that markets are humans; individuals. Think about the markets that you want to run your campaigns in, and consider your strategy to make sure that your brand is connecting with people in those markets, and not just in one language to one place. This should feed into the whole experience – it needs to feel applicable and relevant for the different markets and the different people within those markets.

These interviews have been edited for brevity and readability.

B2B Marketing Agency Business Business Leadership

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Transmission

Transmission is the world’s largest independent global B2B marketing agency.

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Gravity Global

We offer full-service marketing communications including marketing and brand strategy, research and insight, and creative and execution. We're a truly integrated, channel neutral, award-winning and proven team delivering marketing campaigns that truly transform.

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Earnest

Earnest is the award-winning B2B marketing agency that’s chasing out the humdrum in London and New York.

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The Marketing Practice

The Marketing Practice is a leading, global B2B agency that delivers growth right across the funnel.

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Tug Agency

Tug is a performance driven, global digital marketing agency, optimised to grow ambitious brands, through the smart combination of data, media, content and technology.

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TrunkBBI

TrunkBBI is an award-winning integrated agency made up of 80 specialist thinkers, creators, analysts, influencers and technologists. Inspired by insights, we’re a place that puts creatives and activation specialists together — storytellers and strategists, designers and data scientists. We capture your audience in the perfect moment with perfect content, producing startling results.

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EPAM Continuum

Our diverse, integrated consulting teams apply a Systems Thinking mindset to get to the heart of our clients’ increasingly complex business challenges.

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ROAST

We are ROAST.

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Freedman International

We help ensure that what your brand stands for is replicated internationally. Our local teams use cultural insights to make sure your marketing communications really connect with local target audiences, while keeping your brand consistent around the world.

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