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Will the monster of B2B clichĂŠs ever be defeated? A study of creativity in B2B Marketing

IAS White Paper Š 2012

Will the monster of B2B clichés ever be defeated?

The study This is an exploration of B2B creativity inspired by the findings of a study into the attitudes of both clients and agencies. IAS B2B Marketing held two separate focus groups to ascertain industry views on creativity in B2B marketing. One group comprised marketing professionals from international B2B companies, the other a mix of international agency professionals. The first observation to make is that, overall, the attitude of agency people wasn’t very different to client attitudes. Nor were there significant differences of opinion from the different nationalities represented which included Americans and Northern Europeans.

The hypothesis As anyone who paid attention at school will remember, every experiment should start with a default hypothesis which you then set out to disprove. When we reviewed the general global B2B communications landscape we saw that it was a rather dull and uniform world. Very blue in colour and very stock standard in its imagery. It was with heavy heart that we devised the hypothesis: Creativity is not important to B2B marketers.

The findings It is with regret that this paper reveals to the reader that the findings of the study disproved nothing much. It wasn’t totally devoid of support for creativity in B2B either, it just seemed no-one was really out to champion its cause. This could be disheartening for people with ambitious plans to make their creative mark in B2B Marketing. On the other hand, it represents a great opportunity – no-one who took part in the study could recall a single B2B campaign! Yours could be the first. This paper explores the results of the study and discusses ways to disrupt the status quo to make a difference.


Will the monster of B2B clichés ever be defeated?

What’s the point of creativity in B2B Marketing? A fair question and one which gave cause for optimism for fans of right brained marketing. It was agreed that there was indeed a point. That being to ‘standout’, ‘help sales’, ‘spice up dry content’, ‘increase the value of a ‘proposition’ etc. So international marketers know that creativity is a good thing for marketing campaigns and brands. But the evidence all around us seems to suggest they are not achieving it.

Is it important for B2B agencies to be creative? This was the most telling question about the current B2B creative position. Clients and agencies were asked to rank what they thought were the most important criteria were for selecting an agency responsible for creative work. The results below are their top 5. Agency professionals • Quality of strategic deliverables • Ability to measure performance and deliver ROI • Personal click with agency team • Cultural fit with your company • Quality of creative Clients • Cultural fit with your company • Ability to measure performance and deliver ROI • Personal click with agency team • Quality of creative • Price We are troubled by these results. Perhaps it’s just us. Do you think the quality of creative should take higher priority? Is creativity important you? It is to IAS, and each successful campaign we undertake proves that it’s not just important, but vital for B2B businesses that want to stand out.

Scintillate, don’t replicate Marketing text books tell us that people don’t absorb an ‘ad’ until the 4th or 5th viewing. Are things really that bad? Do we have to use concepts so uninspiring the only chance of success is to shovel it in the face of a weary audience until some mud finally sticks? We don’t think so. To solve the problem, first look at why this repetition is needed. People don’t order a dish that bores them. They don’t read a book if the synopsis sounds unoriginal. So why do some agencies and clients think people might be persuaded by a creative concept they’ve seen before? If an idea isn’t original and engaging, repetition is your only hope. At IAS we are so sick of ideas being recycled in B2B marketing, we wrote a book about it. 101 Clichés is a guide of what not to do if you have any respect for your audience. So how do we improve creativity in B2B marketing? Unfortunately, we can’t just say ‘hey, let’s all be more creative’ and watch the groundbreaking ideas flourish. It’s not that easy, IAS has found that out over several cliché dodging years, but there are steps we can all take to combat the festering dullness in our industry.


Will the monster of B2B clichés ever be defeated?

Original ideas are more important than ever in our media-soaked and internet dependent existence. Communications flash away like a strobe-light and anything without uniqueness is just white noise on the TV of life. It is difficult to keep things fresh, but you can make your job easier with a bit of research. What has already been done in this sector? What motivates ALL the customers and stakeholders involved? What differentiates your client from the competition? There are several methods and tools at your disposal to help at this stage. For more details request IAS B2B Marketing for Dummies.

Creativity with usability So you’ve had an idea that isn’t in 101 Clichés – go with it, right? Well it’s a good start but don’t rush to market just yet. At IAS we have more questions to ask before taking any idea further. Is it contextual? Many agencies make the mistake of approaching B2B as they would consumer creativity. Big mistake, we aren’t selling a packet of cornflakes here. B2B decisions can affect thousands of people and have serious financial repercussions. A concept must demonstrate relevance and understanding of your audience’s business world if you want them to trust it. Is it positively different? Positive difference means presenting people with an interesting idea that shows their professional universe in a different way. If you think that someone selling office stationary all day is going to be enthralled by a photo of a pen, you’re sadly mistaken, even if it is a really nice pen. But if you show them the benefits of that pen in a new and creative way, you could be onto a winner.


Will the monster of B2B clichĂŠs ever be defeated?

Is it multi-dimensional? Here is an example of the possible stakeholders to consider in a B2C marketing campaign.

Now let’s see a typical example of the stakeholders to consider in a B2B campaign.

This web of influence illustrates the multiple audiences and concerns we have to satisfy with one creative concept. This makes it vital that our creativity is flexible and fit to carry any message we want. Many ideas fall at this hurdle and some, unfortunately, just run around it. What starts as a good concept can often be ruined by agencies brutally forcing it into confused messages that don’t work. We would rather walk back to the starting blocks with our head held high. So keep going until you are sure that the idea is big enough to resonate in all the mind spaces in the market.


Will the monster of B2B clichés ever be defeated?

Now look at all the media possibilities in a contact strategy today.

There’s a lot of ways in which your idea needs to be expressed. Test it out in Social Media and a Video banner and anywhere else you need your idea to communicate. So now it’s really big! But minds and media are not the only dimension it needs to work in. B2B buyer journeys take time. It’s not all banner ads and exhibitions. At some point people will want to read a case study, a whitepaper, a technical spec and then they’ll want a sales presentation. Can your idea help inform the content and the sales argument across all stages of the buyer journey? If so you have both a big and long idea, which is what B2B brands need.

What are the barriers to creative ideas taking flight? When asked this question the participants highlighted a problem most people will find familiar. ‘Fear to be different’ and ‘Refusal of peers to buy in’ were common themes from both clients and agencies. So what can we do as an industry to tackle what can be described as an unwillingness to commit to being different? There’s no substitute for diligently building a case for change. Creativity is a naturally subjective area of marketing. Which is why people have so much trouble convincing groups of stakeholders about it. However, if you can build an objective case for creative change you will give your audience more chance to overcome their subjective stance and make a judgement based on reason rather than emotion. Let’s assume we have made the case to develop a differentiated brand positioning and that creativity plays an essential role in drawing the market’s attention to this, making clear the differentiation and instigating relationships with the brand. Next we should attempt to define creativity in ways people might recognise it. Here are three types of B2B creativity out there in the marketing universe: 1.

Pure design where information is presented in a clear, matter of fact way with no ideas involved.

2. Tactical creativity where an idea is developed specific to each communication exercise for specific products, services etc. 3. Strategic creativity where a single idea represents the brand proposition at the corporate level and comfortably houses the tactical exercises at product and service level. 6

Will the monster of B2B clichés ever be defeated?

Option 1 is extremely safe for an internal audience because it boils down to look and feel of design. It’s also cheap. However, it struggles to get noticed by the market and deliver any points of differentiation with charm and inspiration. Option 2 is the status quo for the majority of B2B brands. It can overcome the problem of getting noticed but is invariably hit and miss. And has a strong tendency to drift from any brand proposition diluting the power of the brand. It can also be expensive as a constant stream of new ideas takes time. Option 3 is the hardest to achieve politically because creativity at the strategic level of a brand has its head furthest above the parapet. It gets noticed by everyone. Of course this is the point, we want the brand to get noticed, but invariably the people who own and work for the brand notice it the most and first. But a brand stands to gain the most from this option. An idea that represents the brand proposition will build a better, clearer argument over time. And if the idea can also house the tactical brand communications, ongoing investment is minimized. This option introduces the concept of creativity as a consequence of brand strategy as a consequence of business strategy. Internal audiences outside of marketing may be totally unaware that these are choices for their brand. Presenting the pros and cons of the types may be a good place to start preparing your audience for analyzing their brand creative with objectivity. So why go to all this effort? There are still agencies in business that shamelessly dip into the tactical cliché bucket and soak their clients in mediocrity. It can be fast buck if you’ve got the stomach for it. But for how long? Imagine the B2B agency of the future if we allow creativity to become a recessive part of our process. Strategic Planning departments would still work tirelessly to research the needs of our clients and desires of their audience. But their good work would be to no avail when it was handed to the downtrodden creative department and formed into another off-the-shelf concept. Account handlers would attempt to keep agency-client relations strong but even the most loyal customers would eventually get tired of their company’s identity running into their competitor’s like drops of ink on a wet tissue. Our point is that although every working part of an agency is essential, creativity should be embedded in everything it stands for and does. So at IAS we encourage and nourish creativity at every level of our organisation. Sounds lovely we know, but we do have an ulterior motive. We are a successful business, and we want to keep it that way. It’s our creativity that keeps our clients happy and us healthy. Persuasive and inspiring content is the lucrative golden thread that holds our industry together, and we have to recognise that to be truly successful.


IAS b2b Marketing Clarence Mill, Clarence Road Bollington, Cheshire SK10 5JZ T: +44 (0) 1625 578 578 E: W:

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