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Big stars, big productions and big emotions: what’s behind the ‘B2C-ization’ of B2B?

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

November 17, 2022 | 5 min read

B2B chief marketers have taken a magpie’s approach to their marketing strategies in recent years, raiding the consumer brand bag of tricks. How useful will that approach prove over the long term?

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A still from Salesforce’s Super Bowl campaign / Salesforce

One of the biggest stories of this year’s advertising Super Bowl didn’t come from a household-name brand or meta-narrative bravado, but from a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.

Salesforce brought in the big guns – Matthew McConaughey in a sly nod to his Interstellar role, soaring rhetoric and the grandiose opening movements of Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathrustra – to bring its brand to the widest possible audience.

Speaking at The Drum’s B2B WorldFest, Martin Kihn, Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s vice-president of strategy, explained the ad had two key aims: “Top-of-funnel growth and brand perception.”

In particular, he pointed out the spot’s optimistic message of a clean future brought Salesforce in line with other purpose-driven brands. “This particular ad was around business platform change,” he explained. “That’s an important part of the brand mission... and the Super Bowl is a big platform. And so the whole purpose of that ad was to promote net zero and sustainability and to align Salesforce with it.

“B2B brands are increasingly taking a stand on issues that improve life for everybody.”

B2B brands borrowing B2C marketing tactics isn’t necessarily new, but Kihn and fellow chief marketer Kirsten Allegri Williams of Optimizely argue that TV commercials, mass campaigns and brand awareness are now all part of the permanent B2B playbook.

“The industry has grown up in a very product-led environment. In order to really break through the noise, you have to connect your brand strategy to the core truths,” said Williams.

What’s more, B2B marketers don’t have to sacrifice efficiency or preciseness while wielding these tools, added Williams. “It has to drive outcomes,” she said. B2B brands should aim to have “the ability to create inclusive collaboration across the entire digital team, which now includes marketing, product and engineering. It’s about customer foresights, using data and analytics insights to actually inform the next best action for customers.”

Williams said she expects the “humanity” in B2B marketing to become more apparent, and that a better understanding of customers, plus the fact that many tech B2B companies are maturing, will trigger more B2C-style marketing from those brands. “I do not think it’s going to get easier. It’s going to get more nuanced. And to the point of connecting from a story perspective, you got to understand the motivations and drivers and risks and fears that every single influencer in the C-suite is embarking upon in that context.”

Kihn noted that, as the number of business decision-makers affected by tech purchasing grows, B2B brands need to have the ability to reach broader audiences. “The decision-making process has expanded to the point where there are more people with relevant opinions. Ultimately, the tools that you’re using [need to be] relevant for different departments.”

Watch the full session with Salesforce and Optimizely at B2B World Fest, and others, on The Drum TV.

Creativity B2B Marketing B2B World Fest

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