Agencies B2B Marketing

‘Brand and demand aren’t opposites’: What mistakes do we make in conceptualizing B2B?


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

March 7, 2024 | 11 min read

We ask leaders in the B2B space what they hope changes in their corner of the industry as it matures.

Two colored pencils, on backgrounds of alternating colors

Leading marketers help us to dream up a reconception of B2B / Alice Yamamura via Unsplash

At a recent roundtable with business-to-business (B2B) leaders from The Drum Network, our assembled experts shared their conceptions of how B2B is maturing, beyond the buzzwords of ‘humanization’ and ‘commercialization’.

But what of their hopes for the space? Here, we bring you a bumper crop of their wishes and predictions, from re-conceptualizing what B2B is to a more tailored marketing approach to (of course) bigger budgets.

Jody Osman, group director of growth, Propeller Group: “There are so many complexities to B2B marketing, in terms of the size and nuances of each of the sectors, that we’ve got to go beyond describing it as a single sector. We target all these different sectors for our clients in B2C, and we can put a real focus on each of the industries. To try to lump all of this into one sector, and just call it ‘B2B’ and apply the same rules to it, isn’t doing it justice. There's so much more to it than that. We need to open up our vision on B2B beyond those three letters.”

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Chrissie Smith, strategy director and brand lead, Earnest Agency: “The dream for me is that marketing within B2B organizations can be seen as a growth driver, not a cost base. We need to see the value marketing can drive through the organization; there's this tension of short-term quarter-to-quarter numbers versus longer-term brand building. It's still a hard pill to swallow, to convincing a CFO to spend more money and not expect a return for 18 months. The industry is guilty of getting excited by the next new thing, and moving on very quickly. But we have to step back and think: what position do we want to own? What do we stand for? What do our customers want? It goes back to old school marketing: being market-orientated, understanding your position and your customer, and never forgetting it.”

Vanessa Cheal, head of brand services and creative planning, Transmission: “As marketers, we need to keep flying the flag for brand building; to keep on pushing how important brand is. We’re probably still in the early stages of the brand building journey in B2B compared with B2C – we can’t get disheartened by that. We’re making small steps and progress in the right direction. Hopefully in five years, brand will be a much more prominent part of the B2B marketing strategy, and we’ll see budgets that are 50% brand and 50% demand gen, but there’ll be a journey to get there. We’ve got to keep positive and motivate our clients, convincing them how important it is, with evidence and research and moral support. It’s tough for a CMO to be in the boardroom and to fly the flag for brand when they haven't got everything they need to prove value.”

Alastair Hussain, senior vice president, strategy, The Marketing Practice: “B2B marketing is probably the most exciting space for any marketer to be. Because B2B matters more matters more to customers, it matters more to the world, and there's more to discover: it’s a slightly less ‘mature’ part of marketing, so there's much more fun to be had and a much greater role to play in shaping the future of it. But it does need continue to become the growth engine for B2B businesses.”

Alison Michael, lead creative strategist, Sköna Advertising: “We all dream of larger budgets. And we’ve all had struggles with quarter-to-quarter thinking, and it’s hard to build brands that way, but I don’t think that's going away. Quarterly earnings will continue to affect our budgets. Rather than bringing more brand campaigns to the world, maybe we can bring more brand to demand gen, lead gen, and account-based marketing – elevating that hard-working creative. It’s more of a blend of brand and demand gen and lead gen; we call it ‘brand gen’ at our agency: elevating what you do when targeting specific audiences on specific channels, and bringing creativity to it, rather than just saying ‘let’s do a billboard or a TV spot’. I'm hopeful that that the work will become better and better.”

Edd Southerden, head of planning, Bray Leino: “We need to be disciplined about pulling apart real brand work and campaigns. We have to really get to the crux of what a client’s brand actually is, and what it stands for, and who it's for. All of that should impinge every aspect of their business. That’s what I’m hoping we do more of in 2024 – and the campaigns will naturally come along as a result.”

Dan Srokosz, creative director, AgencyUK: “I'd like to see more integration of things like behavioral science and psychology to interpret strategy and customer research, to then lead to more exciting and brave creative – to, essentially, ‘live more vibrantly’.”

Sarah Robertson, vice president, account management EMEA, George P. Johnson: “B2B doesn’t stand for business-too-boring. I want brands to be brave; to try new approaches; to start with big ideas; to use the great array of tools that we’ve got, like generative AI, to create more efficient and creative experiences.”

Anna Harris, vice president of brand strategy, Ledger Bennett: “We’re moving on from the ‘we need to talk to buyers like humans’ argument – it’s 100% right, but a bit 2007. We've heard it before. Great brand building comes down to two things. The first is understanding that brand and demand are not opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re like the right and left sides of the brain, contradictory and co-dependent. We must understand customers’ individual needs, then target them with consistency to build both brand and demand. The second is successfully using tech to deliver on that first point. Sticking AI onto your big data will help you understand how to sing to the masses while, at the same time, wooing the individual. By generating brand awareness simultaneously for the 95% of buyers who aren’t in market and for the 5% who are, great brand building can deliver the most effective results without trade off.”

Craig Johnson, head of industry, Merkle High Tech and B2B, Merkle: “Great brands fully grasp the concept of go-to-market and leverage all user interactions to thoughtfully execute their brand vision with maximum efficiency. They don’t think of ‘brand’ as generic, wide-reaching activations; they create a coordinated plan that infuses brand building across all in-market activities, throughout the user journey. Whether that’s the very beginning of the education process or in post-sale service, customers never need to guess what the brand is about because it shines through every engagement. Great brands can do this because they use advanced measurement and attribution to tie revenue to branding activities. This allows them to value all touchpoints and optimize brand spend over time as they would with non-branding activations.”

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Jen Kelly, head of campaign management, Search Laboratory: “Great B2B brand building needs to be tailored. Unlike the broader ‘awareness’ approach we see with B2C brand building, B2B must put the audience first. First- and third-party data are essential in defining the unique needs of different audience profiles. But you must also tailor how you target users through the right balance of digital channels, communicating the right messages, in the right publications, to resonate with the audience. That doesn’t mean B2B brand building will be an overnight success. Not all users will convert into customers immediately. That’s why tracking and valuing the key touchpoints must be part of B2B brand-building activity too. Plus, great B2B brand building doesn’t shun demand gen or exciting new products in the market. Instead, it champions it by using the most sophisticated products to generate successful results at every stage of the funnel.”

Jovan Buac, executive director marketing & growth EMEA, Landor: “We’ve been talking about brands with purpose for years: a clear purpose can positively impact business performance in both B2B and B2C. Patagonia was implementing ethical business practices long before ‘purpose’ was a buzzword, reportedly leading to a quadrupling of sales in the decade leading up to 2019. But the big unlock in making purpose jump off the annual report page and into world is people. People power purpose. What separates the good from the great is investing in employee experience, to ensure purpose is lived and made tangible, in big and small ways, for every employee, in every role, every day. We shouldn’t think B2B or B2C, but instead B2H – business to human. No matter the industry, people are at the center of fueling action.”

Agencies B2B Marketing

Content created with:

Propeller Group

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