Creativity Agency

B2B marketers: it’s time to tackle ‘B-to-boring’ problem

By Paul Hirsch | President and chief creative

March 10, 2022 | 7 min read

Yes, yes, we know business-to-business marketing doesn’t have to be boring. So stop talking about it and actually do something about creating better work, writes Doremus president and chief creative Paul Hirsch. Here’s how.

Earlier in my career, I worked at an agency that allowed every employee to ban one musician from being played in the office. I chose to ban Jackson Browne (The Eagles were a close second.) It’s not that I have anything against Running On Empty, but by then I’d heard enough of his songs to last a lifetime.

Today there’s another kind of refrain I’d like to retire from meeting rooms and Zoom gatherings: it’s that tiresome ‘B-to-boring’ reference about work for business-to-business (B2B) marketers. And it’s not just in agencies. I’ve heard B2B marketers use it. So do publications that cover the industry. When scanning a recent advertising awards submission form, there it was. Copy under the B2B section read: “B2B doesn’t have to be boring.”

Yawn

Wake up and make better B2B creative / Adobe Stock

I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t have to be boring – I get it. The B2B world is complicated. There’s no work with holiday ornaments holding beer (Miller Lite’s ‘Beernaments’.) There are no bologna-inspired beauty masks (Oscar Mayer.) There are few celebrities. So, no, B2B work isn’t as attention-getting as the best business-to-consumer (B2C) creative but, let’s be honest: there’s lots of boring there too. Just turn on your TV, listen to the radio or drive down the street. And digital? Has anyone ever clicked on a banner they didn’t create? A medium where the industry-standard benchmark is a 0.07% clickthrough rate for banner ads hardly screams ‘not boring.’

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So, let’s put a permanent hold on ‘B-to-boring’ references. Impactful creative work is possible at any budget and, with a proliferation of platforms and new ways of creating connections with customers, marketers have many ways to use creativity to engage key audiences – and every reason to feel confident about taking creative risks.

How can B2B marketers do that?

Resist boiling the ocean. B2B marketers need to engage multiple stakeholders, from customers to employees, but advertising should have one message that’s easy to remember. Who hasn’t heard clients insist their ads include so much information that their message becomes a watered-down stew? This doesn’t have to happen. The best ads make one point. So pick a point of view, a clear direction.

Volvo Trucks did this well back in 2013 when it showed Jean-Claude Van Damme performing a graceful ‘Epic Split’ between a pair of trucks in a spot created to promote Volvo’s steering capabilities. Yes, that was B2B. Within a week of its release the video was reportedly viewed by more than 25 million people.

Sure, this is a bit of a cheat. Volvo is hardly your typical B2B brand and the money spent is hardly the category norm, but it’s the idea that holds. There is no string of product benefits read by a voiceover that equals 30 seconds. Simplicity and clarity win.

Earn your audience’s attention. Nobody’s waiting for your product’s next video or tweet. What ad maverick Howard Luck Gossage wrote 50 years ago is still true: “Nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them, and sometimes that’s an ad.” So, make it interesting – irresistible, even. Make it something your customers, not just your shareholders, would want to read, watch or stop doomscrolling to consume.

It’s easy to look to Apple for memorable work – it gets the power of marketing. The best way to celebrate the Lunar New Year and show off the features of Apple’s new iPhone isn’t with a list of product features jammed together in 30 seconds; it’s with a 23-minute film shot with the same product it is advertising. Is it a film? Is it an ad? Who cares? It’s attention-grabbing and focuses on the phone’s key features.

Test the work. Yes, I said it. Test the work. Like many, I’ve seen Apple’s famous ‘1984’ spot getting dressed down in a focus group in a video that once opened the Hatch Awards. It’s ironic that B2B chief marketers don’t test their campaigns to see what resonates with their audiences given that they tend to be more conservative than their B2C counterparts, but they don’t. For sure, testing irks some creatives, but please: test away. And not just in front of six people. Agencies should wave the banner for more B2B pretesting if only to reassure skittish clients.

Look at Progressive’s approach: I once asked Arnold’s Sean McBride how the agency evolved its campaign and he said it started with testing. “We added a joke and it tested better. We moved Flo outside that white room, it tested better.” I’m not sure if they still test, but look at the brand now. I couldn’t be more envious of the simple, surprising work in which ‘Dr Rick’ keeps young adults from acting like their parents when they buy (and insure) their homes.

Consider this a Dr Rick moment for B2B marketers: don’t buy into outdated beliefs about what works when it comes to positioning brands and selling products. The best way to put ‘B-to-Boring’ to rest is to create work that works because it gets noticed, engages audiences and rewards them for a moment of their time.

Everyone has music they’d like to ban, not necessarily because it’s awful, but because they’re sick of it. As long as we create work that is fresh, and isn’t stale or too familiar, people will want to see it and read it. And listen to it more than once. Because when the work is good enough, it never gets boring.

Paul Hirsch is president and chief creative at Doremus.

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