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Creativity is not a four letter word

March 23, 2015 Categories: Best Practice

A few years ago I picked up a text book that was designed to introduce marketing students to the wonderful world of B2B.  It started by explaining that one of the biggest differences between B2B marketing and its B2C cousin was that B2B has rational argument at its core whilst B2C marketing primarily engages its audience emotionally.  This jarred with me even then and in the intervening years there has been more and more evidence that it is time for a new B2B text book!

When I was setting out in the wide world of B2B nearly 30 years ago I worked with a sales director who sold big ticket IT systems to financial services organisations – not an audience known for its sentimentality!  His mantra was that “people buy from people” and whilst the decision making process may have changed a little over the past three decades there is no question that business people still buy from people and brands that they know and trust … after all they may well be putting their professional reputation in the hands of their chosen supplier.  Building an appropriate level of familiarity and confidence may be helped by the provision of solid facts and figures but at its heart as a supplier you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd and show that you are absolutely on the same wavelength as your customer.

In today’s noisy world, standing out from the crowd and winning the hearts (and minds) of your audience is certainly not easy.  Those that succeed and deliver the best return from their campaigns will recognise the massive role that creativity and outstanding execution of creative concepts play.

So with this in mind, how come “creativity” is still viewed with a degree of suspicion in some corners of B2B?  One reason is that creative campaigning may still be associated with lavish and self-indulgent “big brand” productions.  However, this is certainly not the type of creative output that most of TMP’s clients are focusing on and they are producing some outstanding results and winning a hatful of awards along the way.  So, let’s have a look at a few examples of great creative ideas that sit at the heart of successful campaigns that are renowned for their hard headed commercial results and are certainly not seen as “fluffy” or self-indulgent!

Creative by design

The Microsoft Lumiabiz trial programme is a great example of turning a simple idea into a real winner through creative design.  The challenge was that many decision makers were failing to consider the Lumia products for their business but once they trialled them properly they saw them in an extremely positive light.  Unfortunately sending prospects devices to test often failed to hit the mark, with the product being left in the drawer.

So Microsoft completely rethought how to present devices to potential customers and designed the Lumiabiz trial box to generate a real buzz and deliver a great VIP experience.  These boxes were then used across a number of campaigns to generate great cut through and help double Microsoft’s market share in the course of a year.

Nokia box

Standing in the customer’s shoes

Some of the best creative platforms leverage personalisation and demonstrate an ability to see the world from the customer’s perspective.  The Canon Aiming Higher programme is a classic example of this.  Targeting the hard to reach C-suite audience, the campaign quite literally adopted the customers’ language by sending targeted individuals an annotated version of their own annual report highlighting how Canon can help them meet key strategic challenges.

The impact was spectacular and in the first wave of the campaign the team managed to secure 19 high profile meetings and identified 67 relationships to nurture from a targeted list of just 193 accounts.


Do, don’t say

Some of the most impactful campaigns include highly creative ways of demonstrating a product or service in action.  IBM’s Watson programme is often quoted as an example of this – where amongst other challenges the supercomputer pitted it’s wits against the US Jeopardy game show champions.  Closer to home, the O2 Enterprise team ran a high impact programme in 2012 to change their positioning and boost their credibility as providers of flexible working solutions.  Rather than present the normal set of logical arguments in support of workforce flexibility, they actually closed their HQ building for a day and made every single one of their staff work away from the office.

Not only did this well publicised experiment generate fantastic PR for O2 in the run up to the London Olympics when business continuity was a hot topic, but it helped open the door for more than 170 sales conversations.

The magic of simplicity

While all of these are relatively practical creative concepts, they may still seem like a bit of a stretch for some limited budgets.  However we always stress to our teams that creativity can be applied to every piece of communication and interaction however mundane it may appear on the surface.  So for example our copywriters will look very closely at the language used in every subject line of every campaign email and our Inside Sales executives will continually fine tune the opening statements they make when making calls to potential prospects.  Over the past year our Inside Sales team have been running a successful experiment with very simply worded plain text emails that directly mirror the language used by the customer to help build confidence as they nurture opportunities – a subtle demonstration that creativity is anything but the exclusive domain of big brand campaigns.

Hopefully some of these examples have helped to dispel a few myths about creativity in B2B marketing.  As further food for thought it is worth remembering that research has shown that highly creative campaigns can be up to ten times more efficient at driving business results than less creative approaches.  Further proof that rather than being a sign of lavish self-indulgence, creativity in B2B marketing is actually a sign of hard headed commerciality!


No comments | Posted by Robert Ainger

Creativity sells. It’s a fact.

March 19, 2015 Categories: Best Practice

David Ogilvy once said: ‘If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” This quote has relevance for today’s B2B marketers because the fact is, more creativity in B2B can help deliver sales uplift in the short-term, as well as build longer-term brand reputation and future sales. At The Marketing Practice, it’s something we’ve always firmly believed in, and there’s some compelling research that proves the point.

For a long time, there has been a popular misconception that creative marketing communication is the sole domain of B2C businesses, with their focus on big ideas and access to big budgets. Complex B2B propositions aimed at complex decision-making chains should be presented as serious, logical arguments with little need for any emotional engagement. Or so the thinking goes.

In reality, research conducted by CEB in partnership with Google, shows this is simply not true, with B2B buyers having a far greater level of emotional engagement with leading B2B brands than was found with B2C brands. Increasingly then, B2B marketers are seeing the value that creativity can add to their businesses – both in terms of generating immediate sales revenue and in establishing brand recognition, differentiation and customer trust over time.

Creativity can take many different forms – from how you define the communication challenge and how you apply insights, to the way you use ideas, imagery and language to make strong, profitable and lasting connections with your customers. When every brand, whether it’s B2C or B2B, is competing for our attention at every possible touch point, the rewards are there for those who dare to be different, but remain relevant.

By taking a more creative approach, B2B campaigns can simplify sales propositions, cut through multi-channel clutter and provide a consistent and reassuring brand experience. It’s all about finding the best mix of rational and emotional messages and communicating them in the right way. You can see how this balanced approach can drive profitability and increased return on marketing investment in this logical argument for creativity, where facts and figures from recent research studies are combined and summarised in a succinct and easily digestible commentary.

Business case for creativity

No comments | Posted by Robert Ainger

Finding insights, creating platforms, engaging audiences.

March 17, 2015 Categories: Best Practice

What’s the difference between just another proposition and one that engages and resonates with the target audience, inspiring them to decisive action?

The answer, as has long been common knowledge in the B2C world, is a compelling creative idea born of original insights. Increasingly, this awareness is now intuitive for the majority of B2B marketers, who know that insights with real clarity and authenticity underpin creative platforms with the power to truly engage an audience.

At The Marketing Practice we understand that these insights, these revealed truths, take us to the heart of the proposition and the motivations and aspirations that drive audience decision-making.

We call our methodology the Unified Approach. We analyse the problem, continually refine our thinking, ask different questions and hunt for insights. And it’s the authenticity of the insights revealed that anchors our creative ideas and keeps them relevant to the brand, the market and the audience.

Take a look at this video, in which David van Schaick explains more about our Unified Approach and how it underpins our creation of relevant, compelling and effective campaigns.

No comments | Posted by Claire Lund

Reflections on balancing reputation and revenue

February 10, 2015 Categories: Best Practice

Marketing is always under pressure to prove its worth, with those who hold the purse strings often wanting an immediate return on investment, and this is prominent now more than ever following the recent years of “austerity” in the UK. But it’s worth remembering that marketing truly enhances enterprise value when it balances immediate revenue generation with longer term reputation-building – or to put it another way, balances sales today with enhanced saleability for tomorrow.

While B2B marketing has made significant advances in terms of measurability and commercial accountability over the past few years, in some situations B2B marketers have been guilty of forgetting the bigger picture – what our audience really thinks about our brand. By taking an integrated approach to marketing programmes we stand a better chance of succeeding in all areas: revenue generation, reputation-building and maximising overall return for the business. And with the New Year and refreshed marketing programmes now well underway, it’s a great time to check the balance between revenue and reputation. Here are some pointers that may help.

Start with the insight

To initiate any communication that will drive the right behaviour you need to really get under the skin of your target audience and unearth a simple insight that will resonate. It was through a little upfront research that we discovered that many businesses were not putting Lumia smartphones on their shopping lists because they thought no one else was – so, by simply sharing the figures of Lumia’s growing business market share and a series of customer case studies, we were able to support a rapid uptick in demand as business decision-makers gained trust in the brand.

Employ engaging techniques

There has been a huge amount of research into the science behind decision-making. While B2B marketers have always done a good job of presenting the rational arguments needed to make and justify a decision, we can neglect the often critical intuitive and emotional elements of the process. Think the recent Volvo truck ads – like this one featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme. While not every organisation will have the budget necessary to employ Jean-Claude to capture the audience’s imagination, intuitive engagement can mean taking simple steps – like fine-tuning the wording of a simple email to make it simpler to digest, and consequently more appealing.

Remain channel-agnostic

Marketers of all hues are regularly criticised for following fads and being too quick to jump on the latest channel bandwagon. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of innovation in your channel strategy, the simple rule of thumb remains: to go where your audience is and to look for the blend of channels that will optimally engage your audience. Simple really!

Link sales and marketing

We’ve been harking on about the importance of sales and marketing alignment for years now and in many businesses a lot of progress has been made. But keep in mind that your customers don’t care if you have sales or marketing on your business card, they just want you to deliver them great value and great experience at every touchpoint. So maybe we need to take the sales and marketing alignment discussion to the next level and think about integrated customer engagement… now there’s a thought!

Constantly measure and optimise

For complex B2B engagements, the best results normally stem from continual improvement, so listen to audience feedback every day, measure the response you are getting, and keep fine-tuning your campaigns. If something’s not working, change it. Often this means implementing lots of micro adjustments rather than a big, costly and time-consuming change. Try to take learnings from every prospect interaction and consider whether the successful method can be duplicated across other campaigns.

Of course – each of these areas could take up an entire white paper – this is just a snapshot to give you some food for thought. If you want to discuss how any of these areas could fit into your own 2015 marketing plans then just get in touch

No comments | Posted by Robert Ainger

It’s a new year… so it must be time for some new resolutions!

January 21, 2015 Categories: At the Barn

I have two resolutions this year: one for myself and one I think we could all adopt.

My personal one – because I only eat meat and dairy (should really have been a farmer or rustler) – is to eat (with regularity) fruit and vegetables. Apparently I’ll never get ill, have boundless energy and reap other benefits which are more disputable…

My second one, which I think can apply to us all, is to make 2015 an awesome year for marketing.

And how do you propose we do that? I hear you cry…

Well, here is my five-step strategy for an Awesome 2015 (adapted from Zen).

  1. Create habits, not goals (or resolutions!). The determination to fulfil resolutions can fade with the year’s newness. Instead, think about real ways that you can improve your marketing. Focus on one new work/marketing habit at a time and give it your full attention, until it becomes automatic (a habit). Then start on another new habit.
  2. Be all in. Most people fail at their resolutions because they write them down, start acting on them all at once and then quit when things get hard. Fully commit to making one change at a time – pick a small one to start, find a way to be ‘all in’ (make it part of your routine perhaps, or form a group with other people who have the same goal to help each other along) and you’ll make your habits stick.
  3. Focus on weekly adaptations. Most people try to focus on something that will take a year to achieve – but this makes it easy to lose motivation. And what if things change during that year? Instead, focus on one week at a time. And each week, see how you can adapt your marketing techniques so that your method gets better and better over time. Review how you did, find the obstacles and plan around them for the next week.
  4. Find your crew. You can do great things on your own, but you’re much more likely to get them done if you have a group of colleagues who are holding you accountable and who you’re holding accountable, too. Hold each other’s feet to the fire. Cheer each other on. Hold regular meetings to make sure everyone is staying on track and don’t let your crew fall behind.
  5. Fill your year with curiosity and a marketing learning stance. If you find that your goals remain unreached or that your steely resolve has wandered, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve failed. This is just a wake-up call to let you know that you need to change something. Real failure is repeating the same behaviours and expecting a different result. As long as we treat every outcome as a learning opportunity, success or failure can be equally valuable in helping us win in the long run.

Happy New Year.


No comments | Posted by Clive McNamara

Finding your creative spark

January 20, 2015 Categories: Best Practice

At The Marketing Practice we have always believed that marketing should be the engine for growth at the heart of a great b2b business – driving revenue in the near term whilst simultaneously building reputation to improve commercial prospects for the future.

During the financial downturn of the past few years there has been massive pressure on marketing teams to focus on short-term results, and on occasions the mantra seems to have shifted from “If you can’t measure it, don’t do it” to “If you can’t guarantee the financial return in the next few months, then don’t even consider it!”

Whilst this may have had something of a cathartic effect on marketing leaders and has certainly injected a significant dose of commercial nous into their thinking, it is easy to see that short-termism has reduced the wider impact of marketing and has left some programmes looking dangerously commoditized.

There are clear signs that inspirational marketing leaders are looking to rebalance driving short-term revenue and building reputation across their programmes.  Clearly it would be foolhardy to think that they have the remit to return to the grandiose brand-building agendas of the past, but there is recognition that by injecting more creativity into their programmes, they can build differentiation and truly enhance enterprise value.

Consequently, there seems to be more and more discussion of hunting that intriguing beast, the creative big idea.  Unfortunately, this term can be misleading with its potential implication of pomp and largesse, whereas in practice what we often need is a stunningly simple creative solution to a gnarly core problem.  The real secret is in finding a way to tackle and sometimes reframe the core problem that you face.

So let’s cut to the chase.  If today’s well-balanced marketing programmes are built around brilliant creative solutions to core problems, then the secret often lies in how you frame your problem so that the most creative brains can lead you towards a true Eureka! moment (or at least a campaign that will smash its targets).

There’s no magic formula for creating compelling, memorable ideas. But it is possible to adopt ways of thinking that open up your imagination to new possibilities, illuminate problems from a fresh perspective and allow you to look beyond the conventional for something powerfully different. The teams at TMP know the value of looking at problems from unusual angles. To keep us true to this way of finding new insights, we’ve adopted some simple techniques as shown on the attached summary.

They’ve consistently helped us generate innovative and effective ideas. We’re confident that you’ll find them equally useful whenever you’re looking for inspiration and a creative solution. Either way, let us know how you get on – we’d like to know what you think.

Unlocking the power of creativity

We’ll be discussing how creative ideas can deliver tangible results at our next Sales and Marketing Forum, 24th March at the Ham Yard Hotel, London. For more details or to register your place please visit our website or contact gdavies@themarketingpractice.com.

No comments | Posted by Robert Ainger

The convergence of B2C and B2B

January 17, 2015 Categories: Best Practice

B2B marketing differs from B2C marketing in many ways – from the length of the sales cycle to the motivations of the buyer. But the fundamentals are the same. Successful marketers in either category must define their audience, hone their key messages and focus on what makes them unique. In other words, B2B and B2C have a lot more in common than many people realise. And, B2B marketers can learn a great deal from the strategies that B2C marketers employ, particularly in today’s social media era.

  • Use social media to sell to individuals. Social media marketing allows one-to-one conversations with customers and prospects. No matter what you are selling, buyers are individuals who seek out insights and recommendations. Including social media in your marketing mix can bring the necessary human element to drive engagement.
  • Customer loyalty is a primary focus for B2C marketers and should be for B2B marketers. Truly engaged customers are valuable assets that must be nurtured and protected. Even customers who don’t buy a lot, but are passionate supporters of your services and products are extremely valuable to your bottom line.
  • Deliver a simple and easy to understand message to your customers. B2B marketers frequently over-complicate their message. A more technical sale should not equal a more jargon-loaded message.
  • Social media interactions will enhance your reputation. So be committed. Engage with people, don’t just ‘put stuff up’. Explain why you’re there and ‘warm up’ a bit. Think of questions from your audience as an opportunity to build a relationship rather than immediately sell.

B2C businesses invest significant time and money to understand what makes consumers tick. Whereas most B2B companies have a clear picture of the businesses they sell to, but know very little about the individual making the buying decision.

While B2B sales are often driven by facts and figures, it’s important for marketing messages to appeal to emotions as well. The ‘consumer’ insights you gather should reveal what your product or service does for the buyer on an emotional level. How does it help them do a better job? What are the buyer’s challenges, motivations, and fears?

B2B marketers are getting better at explaining what our products do, how they do it, and why you should care. But we’re a long way from the sort of simplicity demanded by B2C.

People aren’t just buying products or services. They buy with their emotions; they are buying a story. When they narrow down their options to two or three sellers, they buy the story that best aligns with their beliefs and values.

What’s your story? What do you and your business stand for? Does your story resonate with the type of buyer you would like to have? Do you know your buyers’ needs and wants – their buyer persona? Have you populated your stories online to attract the right buyers?

In the end, B2B marketers, like their B2C counterparts, are selling to people – not entities.

No comments | Posted by Taryn Netterville

Do different: does grammar matter in marketing copy?

January 6, 2015 Categories: Best Practice

Marketing copywriting is salesmanship in print. Yes, it is, because John E. Kennedy said so. (‘E’, not ‘F’ – that was another Kennedy). He also said that ‘Mere opinions on Advertising Copy should be excluded from consideration.’

Strong words. But they popped into my head again as I watched the Telefónica O2 enterprise marketing team claim two prizes at the 2014 B2B Awards for their Local Government Digital Fund campaign. They won Best Live Event and Best Campaign for Corporate Decision Makers.


I was reminded of Mr Kennedy’s timeless insight because we agonised over the theme of the award-winning campaign: ‘Do different’.

We knew the sentiment was right. After years of budget cuts, UK councils were desperate to find fresh ways of getting things done.

The Local Government Digital Fund was aimed at helping councils who wanted to develop new digital services as a way of providing better services, without spending too much of their limited cash. ‘Do different’ was a call to action, in the spirit of Telefónica O2’s award-winning ‘Be more dog’ campaign.

But, can you ‘do different’? ‘Different’ is something you are, not what you do. We could feel the wrath of countless English-language academics descending upon us. Would the audience see our clients as hopeless illiterates?

The reality is that advertising copy is not about grammar. It’s about emotion, impact and clarity. English students do not necessarily make good copywriters (or any writers, come to that). After all, is good, formal written English a pre-requisite for success in selling?

Not judging by the emails I get from some of the best salespeople I know.

So we didn’t agonise for long, actually. We knew that ‘Do different’ was just the first attention grabber, a banner that expressed the problem and the solution in a single phrase. A bit like ‘Be more dog’, in fact, which also makes no sense if you run the dead ruler of grammar over it.

Sure enough, we got 57 entries for the Fund, 20 more than a similar campaign the previous year. We also got open rates of 41.6% for the email marketing programme and attendance rates of more than 70% for the events in London and Glasgow.

Then, at the Digital Fund final, the ‘Do different’ banner was there as the backdrop to the awards presentation and the videos accompanying the event. And there it was again at the B2B Awards, as we celebrated the Telefónica O2 team’s momentous double.

For me, the most vindicating aspect of the whole thing (is ‘vindicating’ a word? Do I care?) was that the B2B Awards focus heavily on results. I can look John E. Kennedy in the eye and say, ‘yes, John E., my advertising copy is effective and leads to sales.’

And, on a more personal note, I can look Lynn Truss, John Humphreys and other agents of the grammar police in the eye and say, ‘saucy, pedantic wretches, in my calling I would be unruly. Language evolves, or it dies.’

Otherwise, ‘Do different’ would have to be, ‘gescéadnes missenlic’, which the internet tells me is the Old English equivalent. It probably isn’t, but it doesn’t matter. I’m sure you catch my drift.

No comments | Posted by Stuart Constable

Dark Social – still a problem

December 15, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

When people hear “sharing” they immediately think of Facebook, Twitter and other popular social channels. There is a missing piece which gives more holistic view of social engagement which marketers tend to forget about. This missing piece is called dark social and as it turns out, it can take up to 72% out of your social media metrics.

So what is dark social? It’s a silent sharing of your content that happens outside the usual social media networks. In a nutshell, people copy and paste the URL and share it using email, apps and instant messaging services. If your monthly social reports are only based on metrics provided by social networks (i.e. Twitter analytics), you don’t get the real picture of how your content is performing on social.

To put things into perspective, here’s a real life example of the impact it may have on your social reporting.

A client shared their Twitter reports with us last week and was interested to see how low the clicks were compared to our reports through link tracking tool po.st. While Twitter analytics showed only 13 clicks, po.st registered 137 for the same period. Confusing? Well yes, but if you look into referrers information provided by po.st, you will soon realise that 84% of all clicks came from Email Clients, IMs, and Direct and only 11% from Twitter.

Dark Social2


What is also interesting is that dark social generates clicks even two months after your content has been posted on social networks. The maximum lifespan of a tweet is 48 hours. This is when people are able to share and click on your content. It seems like Twitter and other social networks are just a starting point, while dark social drives content further and for a longer period of time.

It all sounds positive but dark social still remains a problem because it’s hard for brands to monitor and pinpoint where exactly the traffic is coming from. So what would be the best approach? Instead of purely relying on analytics provided by social media networks, use advanced link tracking services and combine this knowledge with the analysis of your content (number of views and traffic sources). This will not only give a better view of how your content is performing on social media, but will also help you better understand your audience’s ‘digital’ behaviour.

No comments | Posted by Monika Lazarowicz

For successful lead generation, turn your proposition into a campaign message

December 13, 2014 Categories: Best Practice

It’s possible to generate leads for pretty much any proposition. Not that you should, of course – if it’s going to be impossible to sell, then it would be a good idea to reconsider the proposition.

But let’s assume that the proposition is a sound one, and that any right-thinking buyer would bite your arm off to sign on the dotted line – if only you could spend an hour with them to explain it (followed by 6-12 months going through the sales process…).

All you need is to sell them on the idea of spending an hour with you. Easy if you’re Megan Fox. Less so if you’re a ‘leading supplier of business services’.

Let’s also assume (it’s a dream scenario) that your data is entirely accurate and you have a contact strategy which is a thing of beauty (say, an integrated campaign plan with multiple touch-points over several months).

So you push ‘go’ on your lead generation campaign, but you only get a trickle of opportunities back. Why? 9 times out of 10, it’ll be because the strong proposition wasn’t converted into a strong set of campaign messaging.

What’s the difference between proposition and message?

The short answer: it’s the difference between a campaign that sounds good to an internal audience (strong proposition) and one that actually works when it reaches customers and prospects (strong message).

The longer answer:

The proposition is the articulation of the superior value (compared with the competition) that you can bring to bear on solving an issue that a prospect faces.

The campaign messaging is what happens when you take the proposition and think about what the audience needs to know there and then, what/who they are most likely to listen to, what will capture their imagination, and what will convince them to take the next step with you.

Let’s take the 4 elements of successful messaging in turn

  1. What the audience needs to know – depending on what stage the market is at for your proposition and what stage of the buying cycle your ideal prospect is at, they will respond to very different messages. The simple example would be to compare a prospect who doesn’t even know they have an issue with one who is already evaluating different solutions. Clearly you need to share very different information with people in these two scenarios – the same applies to the difference between a proposition that is brand new to the market with one in a category that’s well established.
  2. What/who they are most likely to listen to – really an extension from the previous point, the idea here is to think about the kind of information people will respond to and what sources will hold most authority (analysts, existing customers, their peers, your delivery experts….).
  3. What will capture their imagination – this is an invitation to get more ‘creative’ than any standard value proposition would allow. That could mean ‘creative’ in the design/copy sense – for example, we took a client proposition about joining up strategy with execution and turned it into a campaign about great weddings (complete with pieces of wedding cake sent to their key customers). Or it could mean ‘creative’ in a more business sense – for example identifying that building a ‘maturity model’ around your proposition will help you to open doors and sell more consultatively.
  4. Convincing them to take the next step with you – the best campaign messaging is entirely context-aware, and is rooted in the knowledge that buyers will be going through several stages and can be speeded up by focusing on selling the value of taking the next step (e.g. an hour’s meeting) rather than always focusing on the end solution. What’s the value of the hour’s meeting? What will they get that they couldn’t get from someone else? How will it help them to do their job? (In a way, this part of the campaign message is like building a little proposition all of its own for the next step in the sales process)

Get all of these 4 elements right, and prospects should be beating a path to your door – and having spent so much time on crafting vaue propositions it would be a shame for some of the mega deals to get away for lack of campaign messages.

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett