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Creative Brand Strategy B2B Marketing

Santander, LinkedIn & Wunderman Thompson reveal the secrets of great B2B creativity

By Ian Darby, journalist

November 22, 2023 | 9 min read

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B2B marketing has a reputation of focusing on short-term ROI and performance marketing – but leaders say there’s a growing creative confidence in B2B that’s having a massive impact on the bottom line. And we’re only just getting started.

‘The art of B2B: creative campaign secrets’

B2B experts shine a spotlight on the secrets behind the latest and greatest creative B2B campaigns

B2B marketing is on a roll. The recognition that big creative ideas work hand-in-hand with more targeted solutions has unleashed a wave of campaigns that focus on brand building alongside lead generation.

From Succession star Brian Cox’s appearance in Santander’s latest ‘Connections’ ad to Wunderman Thompson putting nostalgia at the heart of Sherwin-Williams’ ‘Speaking in Color’ campaign, companies are tapping into emotional storytelling and humor to build memorable, valuable B2B brands.

That’s unsurprising, perhaps, given the mounting evidence that creativity and emotion in B2B marketing is a very effective tool for advertisers. Research from marketing effectiveness experts Les Binet and Peter Field for LinkedIn’s B2B Institute shows that B2B strategies that appeal to emotions are seven times more effective at driving long-term sales, profits and revenue than rational messaging.

Across the industry, there’s growing creative confidence, and with a professional community of 1 billion members and 67 million companies, LinkedIn has a front-row seat in seeing this creativity being unleashed and is supporting brands in unlocking this untapped opportunity in B2B.

To discuss the art of B2B creativity and how brands can make a real impact with buying audiences, The Drum assembled a panel of B2B marketing leaders to share their creative campaign secrets, advice on how to get stakeholder buy-in, and the impact of creativity on the bottom line.

The Drum’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, Gordon Young, was joined by Rachel Lines, head of marketing for corporate and commercial banking at Santander, Lizzie Snell, managing director at Wunderman Thompson UK and Tom Pepper, senior director at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

Focus on insights

Santander’s Lines kicked off the session by talking through the company’s decision to grow perceptions and familiarity around its corporate and commercial business, bringing consumer marketing principles to B2B through its campaign featuring Brian Cox. She said: “We did try to answer it [the challenge] through advertising and through engaging at that brand level rather than running lower-funnel activity, which we might have done a few years ago.”

Lines described how the campaign was underpinned by insights from Santander’s own teams “on the front line,” noting, “That’s really where we started to flush out the idea that we go above and beyond to help people... we just stayed really true to that one insight. It’s quite tempting to go very broad and try to sell everything that you do. But actually, just remaining really single-minded in that proposition, as you would do in traditional B2C marketing, really helped us.”

The power of long-term brand building

The panel moved on to discuss the importance of investing in long-term, sustained efforts towards building relatable, distinctive brands, and moving away from short-termism. LinkedIn’s Pepper talked about how the buying cycle in B2B is longer and more complex compared with B2C. “That’s why B2B marketing is trying to solve a different challenge. As per the B2B Institute’s 95/5 rule, only 5% of your target audience is in the market to buy at that time, so you have to build trust and mental availability over time.”

Pepper cited the recent example of the London Stock Exchange, which rebranded its Refinitiv software brand to LSEG Workspace and used humor in a LinkedIn campaign to get across what the acronym means to business audiences.

“It really stands out. We find that a powerful creative on LinkedIn can add 10 times, 20 times, to the performance,” says Pepper. “So, it’s something that I encourage B2B marketers to lean into more and more.”

Wunderman Thompson’s Snell talked about the importance of bringing in humor in B2B campaigns, and referenced the ‘Is That Heinz?’ campaign that solved a B2B challenge with humor. “A lot of B2B campaigns are devoid of humor, but humans enjoy humor and it can be cleverly used in a campaign.”

Brand consistency and commitment

Snell moved the discussion forward with a point about depth and consistency in brand campaigns. This was highlighted by the agency’s ‘Speaking in Color’ campaign for paint company Sherwin-Williams (which won the Grand Prix at Cannes Lions in the Creative B2B category).

Snell said: “Yes, it’s a brilliant use of AI. Yes, it’s incredibly powerful and inspirational, but it’s persistent... That was three years in the making. It wasn’t a quick shot, ‘let’s do something.’ There was a lot of thought that goes into it. But as a brand, it’s now building the largest collection of colors in the world, so it’s an ongoing campaign and we’re learning and growing. And this campaign talks to the importance of committing to something and making it pervasive.”

To continue to fuel B2B creativity, it’s also important for marketers to learn to speak the language of finance and prove marketing’s impact on the bottom line. Lines said: “What really helped to get this campaign (with Brian Cox) on board was making the business understand that if nobody knows who you are, why will they consider you, and that’s why growing ‘brand familiarity’ is a top priority.”

LinkedIn’s Pepper concluded the discussion with a point about how AI is transforming B2B marketing: “The arrival of generative AI is really changing the game and the opportunity. Areas include the day-to-day mechanics of marketing, [removing] the drudgery of a role is where we can see a lot of opportunity for efficiency and productivity.”

The big takeaway here is that this application of AI can then unlock more opportunity and time to focus on great creativity to sit on top of the more efficient, machine-driven work. This will enable B2B marketers to deliver that perfect balance of art and science in their campaigns and push standards even higher.

Watch the full discussion on ‘The art of B2B: Creative Campaign Secrets’ here.

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