In May this year, the inaugural B2B Marketing Conference brought together some of the global B2B marketing community’s brightest minds for a full day of insights and macro thinking.
Hosted by the Marketing Association NZ, with Energi as a proud sponsor, the event’s topics spanned every corner of the B2B marketing industry – from how to engage a B2B audience, to strategies for continuous improvement. Throughout the day, a consistent theme became clear; the importance of creativity and empathy, both today and in the future.
Here are a few of the day’s big-picture takeaways that we believe every B2B brand and marketing professional should take note of.
1. B2B marketing decisions should be based on data, not hunches.
These days, B2B companies’ decision-making processes are all too often influenced by anecdotes, myths, or gut feelings. Like an anxious account manager paying too much attention to a competitor’s latest move. Or a senior executive’s knee-jerk reaction to a negative Facebook review.
When timely, reliable information is missing, that’s when stories and hunches like these step in to fill the gap.
Velocity Partner’s Co-Founder and Creative Director, Doug Kessler, opened the event with the simple statement; “Marketing is a data game. Business is a data game”. In his signature edgy and entertaining style, he explained that, while hunches can be a quick and easy solution, in any great business the data always wins.
Kessler encouraged marketers to see data not as ‘a bunch of statistics’, but as our stakeholders telling us everything we need to know about them.
As Kessler explained, the world’s smartest companies think systematically on key decision-makers in the client’s organisation. They regularly collect feedback directly from these stakeholders and use it to support their team in solving customers’ problems and earning more of their business.
So, how is this different from relying on anecdotes and gut feelings? It’s all about scale and approach. Methodically capturing, cataloguing, measuring, analysing and hacking individual conversations on a large scale lets companies turn anecdotes into statistically robust and reliable data. And that’s the kind of information worth making decisions based on.
“Live the data. Breathe the data. Be the data.”
2. Stakeholders are people, too.
Marketing content isn’t created in a vacuum. We all have clients to satisfy, managers to please, senior executives to satisfy. We all have stakeholders. And one of the conference’s biggest takeaways was to think of – and treat – our stakeholders as the human beings they are.
Many marketers are still debating whether adding emotion to B2B content is the ‘right’ thing to do. If there’s anything the conference taught us, it’s that the debate is over – and emotion won.
Whether you’re selling Girl Guide biscuits or enterprise-level cloud computing solutions, stakeholders want to learn from, interact with, and buy from actual people.
Today, marketing success means making a genuine, human appeal. Kessler and Monda Lolas, B2B Solution Partner at APJ, Forrester Australia, were just two of the many presenters who shared their belief that connection is key. In his talk, Kessler emphasised that no matter how senior your buyer is, emotion-based brand marketing can break through to them. He added that Velocity Partners have positioned themselves as leaders in B2B marketing by using humour and compassion in their campaigns.
Multiple speakers also referenced YouTube’s most-watched automotive advertisement ever; Volvo Truck’s ‘The Epic Split’. The iconic commercial proved that an unconventional take on B2B marketing works is memorable and it works.
It’s about marketing B2B products in a B2C style.
Volvo’s marketing strategy is based on the insight that – just like in B2C – in B2B, individuals make the decisions. At the end of the day, it’s not just safety, tech, and efficacy that will drive Volvo Trucks’ end users to purchase. It’s also all about image.
A well-defined purpose and a consistent, human brand is the way to connect with B2B buyers.
This was the key message from TRA’s Carl Sarney and Badger Communications’ Sam Irvine. The two speakers noted that today’s audiences aren’t necessarily time poor; they’re interest-poor. From Fisher & Paykel’s ‘Care By Design’ to Marley New Zealand’s ‘Improving lives for a better tomorrow’, the companies that are connecting with a new generation of buyers are the ones whose positioning lines are tugging at their stakeholders’ heartstrings.
“Repeatable methods produce predictable results. This is valuable in manufacturing, but not in pursuing creativity.”
3. Reinvention is the name of the digital game.
In the rush to go digital, many B2B marketers make the mistake of trying to recreate their off- line experiences online. A number of speakers explained that for many, this strategy will fall short. Because successful digital transition isn’t just about replicating real life; it’s about reinventing it.
Companies such as Spark Lab are reimagining the steps of the B2B customer journey through a digital lens, and are finding new ways to use digital to build even deeper relationships. Fiona Cresswell and Darrel Mager from Fisher & Paykel Healthcare have focused on reorganising their company’s culture and marketing department through initiatives that encourage more collaboration. This has made their business more agile and effective, and their marketing more centralised and unified.
4. Change isn’t coming; it’s already here.
A clear thread that ran throughout the day was the seismic changes happening in the marketing industry, and in the world. Technology is ushering in a “third connected age”—an always-on, always-connected era driven by AI, voice, fast 5G networks, and cloud computing. If they’re to stay ahead of the game, businesses need to work these changes into their strategies.
Rishad Tobaccowala, author, executive advisor, and former Chief Growth Officer of Publicis, painted a vivid picture of the scope of change affecting business.
Defining strategy as “future competitive advantage,” Tobaccowala explained that B2B marketing success requires an understanding of what lies ahead. And that means paying attention to three big trends shaping our marketplaces: globalization, changing demographics, and technology. While no one could have foreseen a global pandemic and the ensuing financial fallout, there are steps businesses can take to be prepared. According to Tobaccowala, one of those steps is staying highly current; it’s his belief that any business plan older than six months needs to be rewritten.
Demographics are changing globally, too, and marketers need to take notice.
A number of speakers noted the huge shifts underway in buyer demographics prior to the global pandemic. As always, great ideas start with great human insights. So while it’s tempting for marketers to skip the ‘customer persona’ stage, now is not the time to give in. The fresher the stakeholder insights you can accrue, the better your chances of producing relevant and effective content.
Renewed focus on diversity is also changing the industry for the better.
The ‘Engaging your B2B audience: content, influencers, and new channels’ session saw senior executives from Buddle Findley and Acumen Republic address the persistent lack of diversity in the advertising industry. They highlighted the importance of ‘employee power’ in delivering the genuine change needed in this area.
Collette Philip, managing director and founder of Brand By Me, said: “Allyship is everything. It’s how employees can support and drive change.”
The Marketing Association’s inaugural B2B Marketing Conference placed humans at the heart of what we do.
It’s all too easy to forget that the businesses we’re marketing to involve real, live, thinking, rational human beings. The conference and its speakers showed the industry’s growing focus on the fact that, at the end of the day, we’re all just everyday people with complicated lives. And having empathy for that makes us better marketers.