Is it time to stop differentiating between B2B and B2C?

Cannes festival of creativity

With less ad tech presence, a scaled down agenda and more marketers than ever, the 2018 Cannes Lions took us back to what the Festival is really all about: creativity.

For me - and many others I spoke to along La Croisette - it’s been a week of fruitful conversations, with an air of getting down to business.

As I headed off from Cannes in my hire car at the weekend for a few days with my family, I mulled over some of the things I will be taking away from this year, which I thought I would share.

Is it time to stop differentiating between B2B and B2C?

Last year State Street’s ‘Fearless Girl’ showed the ad world something many still find hard to believe - B2B businesses can be creative too.

Sure, KFC’s Apology, LadBible’s Trash Isles and a whole host of Christmas ads scooped numerous awards this year, but B2B brands continued with quiet confidence, producing some of the best and more impactful work, in my opinion.

My favourite winner of the week has to be IBM’s Pundit Watson #WhatMakesGreat campaign, which picked up a silver Lion. Watson becoming Wimbledon’s first AI tennis pundit was not only an awesome and tangible use of AI, but it increased familiarity of IBM Watson with a business audience by 18%.

Refreshingly, the conversations, panels and events I took part in last week indicated that marketers are less inclined to talk about B2B and B2C marketing as two different disciplines, as many have traditionally done. There’s a realisation that B2B audiences are consumers too and I’m sure we are going to see even more exciting work as B2B brands and agencies push themselves further outside their comfort zones.

Trust trumps all

Right at the start of the Festival, Edelman published a social media iteration of their Trust Barometer which revealed that consumers are looking to brands to work closely with social media platforms to alleviate ambiguity around fake news and data. The week also saw a backlash against fake followers and influencers from some of the world’s biggest advertisers. Trust and transparency still rightly remain at the forefront of marketers’ minds.

Speaking at a Dentsu Aegis Network panel early last week, LinkedIn’s country managerJosh Graff observed that “trust is built in drops and lost in buckets”. In today’s age of transparency, that goes for not only what you are saying or how you are saying it, but what your business stands for and believes in. Ultimately, people and their organisations want to work with like minded partners, who share similar values, culture and outlooks.

Trust was the focus of some debate during a panel session hosted by The Drum last week, which referenced research by the FT and gyro. This found that 83% of B2B decision makers say culture is among the most important attributes when researching a company. It clearly cannot be underestimated in any customer journey.

Emotion and the role of technology

Last week, Christopher Becker, global CEO of gyro, captured it well when he said, “we are moving from an age of reason to an age of feeling.”

You would be mistaken to think that feelings and emotions are not as high a priority for B2B brands. I would actually argue that they are even more important. After all, buying a new IT system or fleet of vans is a far more emotional buy than a pair of trainers or packet of crisps. It impacts your organisation, the team around you, effectively your job could even be affected by the decision.

Much of the conversation in Cannes centered around the role of data and technology in building this emotion and being creative. From Publicis’ focus on Marcel through to IBM’s Watson winning a Lion, there was plenty to fuel this debate.

I agree with Marc Pritchard, who said during one panel on the subject, that machines will never be able to replace the human craft of creativity.

Technology and data should free up marketers to be more creative, not get in the way. They need to be used to help marketers better understand their audiences and what drives them, beyond the job title. Because no one is just a procurement manager or head of IT. B2B decision makers are people too, they consume media in the same way as ‘consumers’ and similarly they’re much more likely to respond to campaigns and brands when they feel entertained, personally engaged with and emotionally driven.

While the industry continues to face a number of challenges, last week demonstrated a shift back to basics in many ways. There’s a healthy realisation that, despite the evolution of technology, the secrets to engaging both a business and consumer audience lie in understanding your customers better, building a compelling story full of emotion and reaching them in the right place, at the right time. If this is the “new” direction Cannes Lions is going to take, I’m already looking forward to next year.

Tom Pepper, director and head of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions UK

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