Why B2B marketers must set the brand creative bar higher

Business-to-Business marketing, or B2B, to give it its well-worn acronym, has always been a bit of a laggard compared with its consumer sibling. More-so in the digital world.

But that’s all changing now.

In fact, B2B brands are even harnessing B2C creativity in their marketing strategies.

And Richard Parsons, co-founder and head of strategy at B2B marketing specialist, True, says B2B marketers should be aiming high with their creative demands.

Richard Parsons, True.

B2B marketing is finally getting its due. Businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of brand awareness, while the rise of digital marketing has made it easier for B2B brands to reach their target audiences with bigger, bolder creative brand-building canvases on media such as film and social.

This is all serving to inject a welcome dose of humanity, and often humour, into the space.

Recent B2B campaigns such as ‘Rock Star’ from Workday, It has to be Heinz (video below), and Volvo Truck’s Love Story have stood out as prime examples.

From genuine rock legends chastising corporate, so-called ‘rockstars’ for the SaaS provide of payroll, HR and finance software, to Volvo showcasing product features through charmingly ludicrous lovesick trucks taking off into the clouds, campaigns like these have showcased how creativity and originality can be used solve all manner of business problems – no matter how seemingly bland or corporate.

Take Heinz harnessing B2C influence for a B2B initiative (see video below), encouraging consumers to put pressure on restaurants not to make them put up with other ketchup providers: It’s clear that conventional routes of business influence are calling out to be questioned, provoked and shaken up.

These are not campaigns which have been spewed out by an AI algorithm. And it’s clear that true creativity, human ingenuity and lateral thinking is an elevator and strategic asset in B2B just as it is in the world of B2C.

Audacious, bold, B2B campaigns can also drive transformational change. And while Cannes Lions 2023 has been and gone, soon to be a distant memory, many in the B2B marketing community – including myself -are still buzzing about this year’s festival of creativity.

For only the second time, Cannes hosted the Creative B2B Lions – an accolade awarded to campaigns that demonstrated both creativity and effectiveness in the oft-overlooked space.

This is a significant milestone for this marketing discipline, which has long been overshadowed by its consumer-facing counterpart.

But what does this welcome development mean for B2B marketers? For one thing, it means that there has never been a better time to work in this space.

There is now an opportunity to take B2B marketing to the next level. By investing in creativity, effectiveness, and brand awareness, marketers can ensure their brands can differentiate themselves from the competition and drive growth.

And so, in these post-COVID, hybrid-working times, with less separation between our homes and our working lives than ever before, what do marketers need to do in order to capitalise on this long-awaited success and scoop up even more awards along the way?

Cannes do: Taking inspiration from this year’s annual adland festival on the Med.

It seems a good way to start is by looking at some of the steps this year’s Cannes winners took to take their marketing to the next level:

Create a long-term campaign platform

If the market lifecycle is long – say three to five years, as it often is in the world of B2B – it makes sense to build a disruptive campaign platform which grabs attention and builds fame and memorability over a lengthy timeframe. Stop running quarterly campaigns just because this is what you’ve always done.

Lead with emotion

Ensure your campaign creates an immediate, emotional response, Without this, it won’t be remembered in the long run when your customer may finally be ‘in market’ and ready to buy.

Invest in media with a broad and balanced programme

Activate and amplify a balanced campaign which builds brand awareness and generates demand.

For the top-of-funnel brand phase, use ‘big’ canvas platforms such as TV, video, out-of-home, double-page spreads, digital display and engaging social media formats.

A famous brand will do most of the heavy lifting throughout the funnel so spend around 70% of your media budget on building a brand. Spending here can lead to both long and short-term sales.

Measure, learn and optimise

It’s important to measure at all times, learning and reporting those all-important brand metrics as well as short-term sales attribution. Again, the strength of your brand is key. It can enable you to increase your prices, acquire and retain talent and provide a competitive moat that competitors will find difficult to copy.

So, keep track of market share growth, too.

There has never been a better time for B2B marketers to take their marketing to the next level and achieve their business goals. With new tools and technologies at our fingertips, there are so many opportunities for creativity and effectiveness.

Let’s hope we witness more groundbreaking creativity and effectiveness in this realm as we live through this exciting time; celebrating the changing face of B2B marketing.