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.
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.
For more on this topic, make sure to read Balancing Reputation and Revenue: A logical argument for creativity.