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Why a Creative B2B Cannes Lion couldn’t have come at a better time

By Jann Schwarz | Global head of the B2B Institute at LinkedIn

December 1, 2021 | 7 min read

The announcement that Cannes Lions is now celebrating business-to-business (B2B) creativity is good news for agencies and marketers alike, writes Jann Schwarz, global head of the B2B Institute at LinkedIn. Here’s why this is the moment for business marketers to shine on the awards stage and beyond.


Cannes Lions has launched a new Creative B2B Lions Award

If you work in marketing and are in need of good news, the announcement that Cannes Lions has just launched a new Creative B2B Lions Award should cheer you up.

It is good news for agencies and holding companies in need of a new generation of high-growth clients, as their former cash cows in consumer-packaged goods companies are focused on cutting costs and consolidating business. B2B brand building is where the money will be.

It is good news for early- and mid-career marketers anywhere who want to work on solving hard problems in intellectually-challenging industries. B2B is rapidly becoming a career goldmine.

It’s good news for a pipeline of product-obsessed B2B brands that are gradually realizing that they need emotionally-resonant creative advertising that will propel them to the top of their consideration sets.

And, most directly, a new set of B2B Lions is good news for any talented creatives who care deeply about the respect of their peers. We could use a bit of that Riviera glamour: the B2B ads category has not exactly been considered the most attractive area of marketing. For the longest time B2B marketers have lived in the shadow of their glossier business-to-consumer (B2C) counterparts. Over the past 18 months, however, that dynamic has started to change.

B2B is no longer the dark matter of marketing

The pandemic has asymmetrically accelerated the growth of digital-first businesses that have professional buyers in their sights. B2B is booming – sectors such as Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, Fintech and Web 3.0 are growing by leaps and bounds.

Like dark matter, B2B may be misunderstood and difficult to define but, just like dark matter, B2B forms the bulk of the known business universe. Products and services that are bought by professionals amount to roughly half the economy in developed countries.

The opportunity for savvy brand builders is clearly there: the rapid maturation of multi-billion-dollar market cap businesses such as Coinbase, Zoom and Snowflake et al has also led to the realization that it takes more than product articulation and growth-hacking to thrive as public companies.

The pricing power and predictable future cash flows demanded by investors comes from building enduring business brands. The B2B Institute’s thesis is that building a B2B brand can create more value than in B2C. For one thing, as we found out in our most recent research project with Warc and Cannes Lions, there’s much less competition.

Perhaps the most startling finding in The Effectiveness Code, an evaluation of 10 years’ worth of B2B effectiveness case studies, is that the use of long-term campaigns, broad targeting and emotional creative work is largely absent from B2B marketing. Overwhelmingly, marketing activities were concentrated on sales activation and short-term sales-funnel optimization, with 76% of campaigns fulfilling these goals.

Just 5% of the 435 case studies evaluated by our research partner James Hurman incorporated activities that focused on building the kind of long-term strategic effects capable of driving the business forward into the future. In other words, 95% of the campaigns evaluated didn’t even have long-term strategic asset-building as a goal.

This industry has it exactly backwards, given that B2B is a category where 95% of buyers at any given time are not actively in-market, and will only respond to emotionally-resonant brand advertising, largely ignoring the call-to-action of lead-gen messaging. But your competitor’s ineptitude here can be your gain. If they aren’t yet trying to win the brand game, and are ignoring 95% of their potential future buyers, there’s an open goal for those who embrace creative brand advertising. It’s worth repeating: far less peer pressure than B2C means more value in B2B for the innovators.

Sciences proves it: B2B creativity drives recall and sales

Thanks to the pioneering work of academics including Byron Sharp, Jenni Romaniuk and John Dawes, we also know exactly how creative actually works to drive memory, recall and effectiveness. The evidence shows that advertising of any kind, whether it is B2B or B2C, has one job: to create memory structures in the human mind that later make a product memorable in a specific buying situation.

In the booming B2B space, this insight is still a secret strategic weapon, as much of the ad industry hasn’t yet figured out how to convince their B2B clients to build brands through creative effectiveness. A stubborn refusal to let go of outdated concepts including clicks and ROI isn’t helping the cause.

But for those ready to embrace innovation and treat marketing as a truly entrepreneurial function, there’s a clearly defined pathway to B2B work that connects with customers, improves brand health and ultimately drives long-term growth.

And for those who dream big, come next June there could very well be a Cannes Gold Lion statuette with their names on it.

Jann Schwarz is global head of the B2B Institute at LinkedIn, which is a strategic thought partner for the new award.

To see all of the pioneering winners of the 2021 The Drum Awards for B2B click here.

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