How B2B is reaching new heights of creativity
Emotional appeal packs a punch with business audiences and marketers are investing in powerful creative campaigns that deliver. But will this continue in the era of optimization and automation?
The new spirit of emotional creativity in B2B marketing
This year has seen a real coming-of-age for B2B marketing. No longer dismissed as the forgotten sibling of consumer marketing it has moved far beyond “just” a lower-funnel marketing play, and standards of creativity are higher than ever before.
The sharper focus on creativity is highlighted by the recent finding that “creative strategy and execution” is the most important skill in the B2B CMO role, according to the Global B2B Marketing Benchmark. This expertise is on the rise, with 46% more creative skills being added to marketers’ profiles in the past year.
Taking these skills to new levels is no mean feat because B2B marketing has already achieved strong results based on conveying emotional appeal to business audiences. Prominent examples include IBM's ‘Smarter Planet’ campaign from 2008, Volvo Trucks’ ‘Epic Split’ (2013), and Xerox’s ‘Get Optimistic’ (also 2013).
These campaigns fully embraced the principle that creativity in B2B marketing is essential. But what makes B2B marketing so effective? As Keith Browning, director of brand marketing at LinkedIn, says: “ It’s a by-product of the 95-5 rule. Only 5% of your potential buyers are in-market at any given time, which means the other 95% aren’t ready to buy yet. Creative marketing sticks in your future buyer’s memory, keeping your brand in mind until they’re in-market.”
In a recent LinkedIn study of B2B marketing leaders, more than two thirds (69%) agree that B2B purchasing decisions are just as emotionally driven as B2C, and 39% said they are increasingly harnessing storytelling, emotion and humor to help make their creative campaigns stick. More than three-quarters (81%) go as far as saying that B2B brands are now producing creative campaigns that rival consumer brands.
What’s really pushed creative boundaries in 2023 is the ability to combine this creativity with robust accountability and optimization. But just how far has the story of B2B come and where is it heading next? Channels and formats available to B2B marketers have progressed past traditional staples of email marketing, events and banner ads to sophisticated content investment, SEO, mobile and social formats (including video). Influencer marketing and account-based targeted marketing with personalized landing pages and content also offer new opportunities.
The power of creativity
But amidst all these options, marketers are confident in the knowledge that creativity in B2B works. According to LinkedIn's B2B Institute, a think tank that researches the future of B2B marketing, emotional campaigns are more effective in the long term than rational campaigns.
This view is echoed in the recent Inspire study, which demonstrates the importance of brand-building in B2B alongside more rational, product-based messaging. It details how “Inspiring” brands are five times more likely to be a B2B buyer’s first choice, and more than twice as likely to be remembered when buyers are in market.
The report concludes: “Inspiring brands outperform peers on two key metrics, growing market share faster, and enabling them to charge at higher price points. This is as true for B2B brands as in the B2C world but too often creativity is lost.”
However, there are some stunning examples of recent work in the field. For example, the Grand Prix Winner in the Cannes Lions Creative B2B category in 2023 was the ‘Eart4’ initiative for Brazil’s B3 Stock Exchange. Created by the agency AlmapBBDO, it placed Earth as a tradable stock on the exchange to raise awareness of the planet’s most pressing problems. This was a big idea that also deployed technology in the shape of an interactive real-world calculator, and mobilized opinion-makers with content that demonstrated the importance of raising consciousness about the worrying state of the planet.
Other elements of the marketing included partnerships with digital influencers, and an out-of-home media campaign. This was an omnichannel, through-the-funnel approach and, in the words of jury president Tom Stein, chairman and chief client growth officer of Stein IAS, the campaign was a “powerful, highly relevant and deeply emotional call to action.”
On a smaller scale, B2B video agency Umault has recently achieved significant cut through with its range of highly creative social videos on LinkedIn. For instance, one film offers a humorous take on horror film conventions with the character of a young boy, named Damien, who is later revealed as believing he is “possessed” by a B2B marketer.
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These examples show the effectiveness of creating emotionally-driven campaigns and connecting them with relevant audiences. To boost the impact of this creativity, LinkedIn continues to build new solutions specifically to help B2B marketers thrive. These include predictive audiences, which helps businesses connect to audiences that look, and act, like their known customers, and Thought Leader Ads, which helps businesses to build brand equity through sponsored posts from leaders. LinkedIn’s Revenue Attribution Report enables marketers to better understand the impact of their LinkedIn marketing efforts on business outcomes.
To assist marketers in streamlining the ad creation process, LinkedIn has also launched Accelerate, its AI-powered ad creation tool. This allows advertisers to quickly set up optimized campaigns, using LinkedIn's Campaign Manager. The AI analyzes the advertiser's website, LinkedIn Page, and past ads to recommend a campaign. It also autonomously adjusts bids and budgets, targeting high-value consumers within LinkedIn's community of over 950 million members. The feature is currently being tested in limited markets with a focus on B2B advertising agencies.
These innovations are focused on helping to make B2B marketing as effective as possible. Looking forward, marketers will have increasingly powerful tools at their disposal to achieve this, thanks to the growth in AI and machine learning. However, the key to success lies in developing campaigns based on brilliant ideas and emotional appeal to drive both brand awareness and clear business growth.
For more information and inspiration on creativity in B2B marketing, visit here.
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