Aleksandr Orlov’s ‘simples’ expression is just one example of how great B2C ads have transcended advertising and become part of the vernacular. So why are there no comparable examples in B2B? Alex Blyth explores B2B’s lack of apparent creative spark
Think of the last B2B marketing campaign you saw. Now consider the Meerkat campaign from Compare the Market, or the Cadbury’s Gorilla, or Ronseal’s ‘does what it says on the tin’ slogan, or Eva Herzogovina in a Wonderbra.
Unless you’ve been lucky enough to see one of the few striking and memorable B2B campaigns out there, chances are B2B creative is looking pretty mediocre in comparison to those consumer campaigns. This is nothing new. For decades marketers have bemoaned the paucity of great creative in B2B marketing.
There are, without doubt, examples of great B2B creative – think of the balloon from the Energy Saving Trust, which highlighted the amount of C02 wasted by one light bulb, or the worn carpet tile from HP that brought to life the time wasted at malfunctioning printers. However, these are few and far between and for the most part hark back more than a decade ago.
The fact is B2B creative is generally acknowledged to be the poor cousin of B2C. The question is why?
Constraints in creativity
The traditional answer is that B2B marketers are working with smaller budgets. As Chris Butterworth, creative director at marketing agency Omobono, argues, “With campaigns such as the Meerkat and Ronseal, you have the advantage of huge consumer budgets hammering a creative idea home. B2B budgets don't allow this visibility.”
Others point to the recent democratisation of marketing, arguing it has cheapened creative. “The rise of digital marketing means that what a decade ago would have taken a whole load of skilled creatives, production folk, data specialists, and planners, can now be done by one person, a bit of nous and a list of email addresses,” says Daren Kay, director of innovation at creative influence agency TMW.
Yet, creativity is not merely a function of budget. Without doubt, splashing cash on media can help bring a good idea to a wider audience, but it still needs to be a good idea. It seems more likely that creativity in B2B marketing is constrained by a combination of the buying process involved and the profile of the target audience.
B2B purchases typically involve long, complex buying processes, and very often the person holding the budget is not the person who benefits from the product or service.
As Daniel Roche, head of communications at B2B telecomms firm Azzurri, puts it, “The B2B purchase generally involves more than one person, and so B2B campaigns need to convey different messages to meet different people. This makes it difficult to develop one strong, memorable brand such as the Meerkat.”
A new breed of buyer
Rosanne Saccone is chief marketing officer at business analytics software company Pentaho. She has spent 20 years in B2B marketing, with roles including marketing VP to Americas for Hewlett Packard and CMO for BEA Systems. She believes that the root cause of the lack of creativity in B2B marketing is the profile of the typical business buyer.
“Historically, the main business buyers and influencers have been white male executives aged 35-55,” she says. “They enjoy golf, sailing, rock concerts and other mainstream, conservative activities. So marketing to them reflects this. It uses bold primary colours – often navy blue – traditional typefaces, and messages that exude confidence and security.”
She continues, “This tendency is exaggerated by the fact that these people are making large purchases, and their careers rest on not making the wrong decisions. All this means that decisions are taken in a very rational way. The marketing aimed at them is pragmatic, and unemotional, and this helps to explain why so much of it leaves some of today’s buyers a bit cold.”
Indeed, she believes many products that have been traditionally sold exclusively to C-level and IT executives are now being sold directly to people in the line of business, and this is presenting an opportunity for B2B marketers to develop more creative propositions.
“This is a much more diverse audience,” she explains. “It includes more people who are women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and politically liberal. This is not only improving marketing strategy and execution, but the products themselves. Crucially, with the growing popularity of cloud computing and open source, the average selling price for enterprise technology is going way, down. This means that executives don’t necessarily have to be involved in some purchases at all.”
Finding that creative spark
As business buying is increasingly opened up to people outside of this demographic, and as business leaders recognise the importance of risk-taking to innovation and success, more B2B marketers are striving to be more creative.
Yet, as B2B marketers have discovered through the decades, wanting to achieve striking creative is an entirely different matter to actually achieving it.
Here, experts suggest five questions you might want to raise at your next inhouse or agency creative meeting that will help you find that creative spark.
1. Who are our targets?
Saccone argues we should think beyond the traditional 35-55 white male business buyer and aim our marketing at a more diverse audience. Others go even further, arguing the most effective B2B marketing targets buyers outside of the workplace.
For example, IBM ran television ads under its Smarter Planet campaign during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It used humorous conversations between ordinary people about rugby statistics as a metaphor for analysis of business performance data.
Thompson points to the ‘Intel inside’ campaign. “That was a B2B campaign that used ostensibly consumer branding to help make manufacturers use Intel chips,” she argues. “Consumers never went out and bought chips – it was behaviour designed to support their business partners.”
2. Should emotions matter?
For Roche, it is less about who you target and more about how you target. “Appealing to rational aspects, such as saving money and being more efficient, are still important,” he says. “But drawing inspiration from social sciences and consumer psychology can reap rewards.”
He continues, “We recently ran an ‘IT hero’ campaign, which aimed to make our customers heroes. We profiled several customers, highlighting the huge challenges they overcome day in, day out, and then we disseminated these short videos via social media. The campaign not only won several marketing awards, but also built us a major sales pipeline.”
Yet, as George Bell, creative lead at agency WDMP points out, many B2B marketers do not have products that work on an emotional level. He argues this is not an insurmountable obstacle. “The challenge is how to make campaigns tap into our emotions,” he explains. “We must encourage people to buy because they like the brand, rather than because it’s the cheapest.”
His agency recently took this approach on a B2B campaign for the Carbon Trust. The aim was to show how supply chains can affect a company’s carbon emissions. The creative contained no envelope or formal letter; it was simply an engraved box of sustainably-sourced dominoes with a playfully-designed leaflet highlighting the issue with the message ‘Avoid the knock-on effect’ (see image, left). Bell reports that it became the Carbon Trust’s most successful ever B2B campaign.
3. Are we ignoring brand?
“Too many B2B marketers focus on product and getting a direct response at the expense of building a brand that connects with buyers,” suggests Casey Williams, marketing manager at conference call provider Powwownow. “We were founded in 2004 and right from the start we have tried to build a strong brand so that when people want to set up a conference call we’re front of mind.”
She points to the company’s recent Cecil Goldwell campaign as a good example of this.
Williams reveals, “It began in the first quarter of 2012, and featured the character Cecil Goldwell, which we’d devised with our agency Gyro. Cecil is old money, resistant to innovation and loath to worry about saving money – he is the opposite of Powwownow. We’re aiming to make the phrase ‘Don’t be a Cecil’ part of the business vernacular just as ‘simples’ is in the consumer world.”
4. Can we cut the clutter?
We have seen how B2B creative often tries to convey a large number of complex messages, and in many cases the message can be delivered more effectively by simpler creative.
For example, building and construction group Galliford Try recently worked with The Purple Agency on a new health and safety brand designed to keep the message of on-site safety at the forefront of contractors’ minds. Rather than trying to bombard readers with detailed messages, the campaign used simple Soviet-style imagery in posters and training materials to catch the eye (see page 8 for an example of the creative).
Freda Sack is director of Foundry Types, a firm that sells typefaces and fonts to graphic designers. She recently worked with agency On-Idle to redesign her website and also took a very simple approach. “We know what designers want in a website,” she says. “The simpler the better. So, we’ve removed most of the clutter you get on other sites, have introduced the simplest navigation scheme imaginable, kept descriptions short, eliminated the need for scrolling, and we’ve done extensive user testing to ensure customers can find what they want as quickly as possible.” She concludes, “Despite the huge amount of work that went into it, our website almost looks too basic, and it was certainly a brave move. I think that’s important though. To come up with creative that is striking you have to take risks. You have to dare to be a little bit different.”
5. Are we daring enough?
“Some marketers in B2B don’t understand the need for creative differentiation,” says Butterworth. “Many believe that by using the same language and approach as everyone else they demonstrate understanding. B2B marketers need to realise their advertising doesn’t exist in the vacuum of their own sector but is competing for brain-share with every other message out there. If they can be brave enough to take the creative leap, as long as the concept is based on strong strategy, they can use creativity as a tool for competitive advantage.”
Case study: B2B does ‘fun’
Terraquest tapped into gamification to bring its brand front of mind
Property and business process consultancy, Terraquest, recently adopted a more creative approach to its marketing by working with mobile marketing agency GoAugmented to create a mobile game called ‘The Property Puzzle Game’. Terraquest’s marketing coordinator, James Howgego, explains the brand is all about trying to do things differently, adding, “It’s important we carry this approach through to our marketing. I think too many B2B marketers think about calls-to-action and don’t pay enough attention to brand.”
The new mobile game is being pushed out through social media and will also be used in workshops. “More than anything it plants the Terraquest brand firmly in people’s minds,” Howgego concludes.
Since the game launched in April 2012, and with no initial campaign or PR activity to support it, it achieved 202 visits from 59 unique visitors to the app itself, 15 referrals to the main corporate site and an average play time of 22 minutes – all of which demonstrate how a little creativity leads to huge brand exposure.