Putting self-congratulatory to one side, B2B Marketing’s Annual Conference was an informative and entertaining day, says Alex Aspinall
Key takeaways’ is something of an overused buzz phrase. However, they are sadly conspicuous by their absence at an alarmingly high percentage of the conferences, summits, seminars and symposiums that litter our calendars these days. So it seemed appropriate that, in the bookish surroundings of The British Library, the delegates at this year’s B2B Marketing Annual Conference left having actually learnt something.
The odds were favourable, given the seniority of the assembled speakers. And they didn’t disappoint. After Cisco’s UK and Ireland marketing director, Ian Symes, kicked off the proceedings with an interactive word game and an exploration of the importance of strategic planning, attention switched to a refreshingly candid social case study from Psion. The B2B technology company’s global leader of digital communications and social business, Jonathan Brayshaw, described how his company transformed its offering by becoming a truly social, community-led organisation.
Brayshaw sought to highlight the need for a reinterpretation of ‘going social’. He asserted, “It’s not about social media anymore, it’s about social business.” The key message being that ‘social’ is no longer about making sure you have a regularly updated Twitter and Facebook presence. In order to fully capitalise on the new possibilities available on the social web, you have to engage with your customers, and position the social channel at the heart of any content strategy or new campaign. Social is not merely a channel; it is the Internet.
Time to act
Scot McKee, managing director at Birddog, went further in a bid to hammer home the importance of brands understanding just how greatly their marketing activities should have changed in recent years. In fact, he went as far as saying companies that still have not got it are ‘dead.’ He said ‘dead’ quite a few times, so it was clear he meant it. McKee has made digital advocation something of a personal mission, and he once again used the stage to reinforce the point. “Very few companies are diving in and committing to social channels. They are waiting for something to happen; too late. Those trialling it might make it,” he said.
There was an underlying message of urgency at the event. The time for postulation and debating is over. It is time to act. In many ways, the digital and social evangelising that took place was nothing new. But there was a much greater emphasis on doing it ‘now,’ than there has been in previous years. It was even possible to detect an element of frustration in the air from those that have been spreading this message for years.
Further frustrations with the status quo were aired during Cyance director Steve Kemish’s presentation. He highlighted, and ridiculed, the clichéd stock imagery that still exists throughout the B2B space. Pictures of faceless men and women wearing suits, zoomed-in handshakes and the obligatory receptionist with headset were all singled out for particular derision. His diatribe received a very good reception from the assembled audience of marketers, many of whom were possibly guilty of using one or more of the images themselves. But, laughter aside, the point was clear: it is time for B2B marketers to move away from the way things have always been, and embrace the possibilities of more liberated thinking.
With the imperative to embrace digital, get social and shed the shackles of clichéd thinking reverberating around delegate heads, it was time for some respite. And it came in the guise of the networking lunch, where the stilton quiche, skewered prawns and lemon tart all received noteworthy praise. After lunch came three rounds of break-out sessions, where smaller seminars hosted by companies ranging from Lexis Nexis and MardevDM2, through to Silverpop and Osborne Clarke, covered key subjects such as content marketing, online PR, eprivacy and, of course, the ever-present social media.
Don’t be scared
There was never too much danger of people slipping off to the pub instead of sticking around after the breakout sessions, with Richard Robinson, industry leader at Google, serving as bait. His presentation wasn’t entirely marketing-focused, and instead tried to highlight just how quickly the digital world was moving, lending weight and context to the messages from the morning sessions.
A series of astonishing statistics – 90 per cent of the world’s data was created in the last two years, for example – served to grab attention, and a collection of inspiring marketing and technology videos ensured delegates would go away excited by the possibilities out there. But the headline moment of his presentation arguably came during the Q&A session at the end. When asked if marketers should worry at the speed at which social media and technology is developing, Robinson paid hommage to the Internet as an ideas tool and reassured everyone, “Don’t be scared at how fast the digital world is moving.”
Instead of focusing on the bewilderingly wide range of new challenges technology is creating, he laid emphasis on the new era of opportunities. He highlighted the new possibilities that exist for brands, all of which now have a potential direct line of conversation and insight with each of their present and prospective customers. This sentiment, again, provided a neat reminder of the messages others had been sharing throughout the day.
A lively panel debate with IBM, Deloitte, Opta and Shoretel served to finish the day off nicely, with participants detailing their personal approaches to making the most of the possibilities and avoiding the dangers in the post-social media marketing landscape.
It does, however, have to be stated here that Opta’s Simon Banoub effectively stole the show during his five minutes on the mic. His frank assessment of the complicated marketing conundrums facing the industry at the moment provided a real breath of fresh air. On the holy grail of ROI measurement, he simply said that he doesn’t care that he can’t really track it and that he just got on with his job. He also said that he’d, “Heard from people today that spend more on office tinsel than we spend on marketing,” which arguably created more cause for contemplation than any of the slickly presented, case studies and best practice tips that had gone before.
|The conference in tweets|
B2B stock imagery getting a serious pasting in @skemmo's presentation #b2bconf11
We are all now content creators.
#b2bconf11 #b2b #marketing
#b2bconf11 amazing lunch spread!
Customers you put in "the funnel" don't know they're in the funnel! ;-) #b2bconf11
"Heard from people today that spend more on office tinsel than we spend on marketing" Simon Banoub #Opta #b2bconf11 #realitycheck