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Cracking the creative in B2B: This much I know

Paul Anderson from Gravity Global, headline sponsor of the B2B Marketing Awards 2016, explains why creativity is the responsibility of all – not just those with the word 'creative' in their job title

Creativity can be the difference between life and death for products and brands. In our world of measurement and ROI, marketers seek repeatable performance, and in a creative context, this often translates into a process. If we all follow the process, we’ll spit out the right creative solution and that in turn will lead to riches and success – right? Well, actually no.

Creativity is a free spirit and it doesn’t just rest with people that have creative in the job title. The best models I've seen for producing creative answers involve a more rounded starting point - different minds gathered around the table, all considering the challenge and seeing it from different perspectives. It's probably the best process you can have for trying recreate what used to be called ‘happy accidents’ – that moment you randomly happen on a piece of creative brilliance.

Cracking the creative nut

Try it for yourselves and see how you get on. Gather a few folks you like the look of, discuss the challenge and talk through some initial ideas for a couple of hours as a group, then go away and think about how to improve on the ideas or create new ones as individuals, and then come back to the table a few days later and share your thoughts. Your results will be far more interesting and you never know, you may stumble on genius. Previously, individuals or small teams would think about the creative challenge then come to the table for a first discussion. By having a broader team initially, you don’t all spend time replicating first steps and thoughts so when you do apply your thinking as individuals it's a lot more focused and often rewarding.

B2B creativity

Our B2B world is often laden with process at every turn. This will filter through in to a creative process and as we consider our long list of challenges and deliverables, we often start trying to tick boxes before we have invented the pen to tick them with. We also have the issue around whether or not the client values creativity in the first place or whether they just need ‘stuff’.

"For a B2B brand to be front of mind is a rare thing considering all of the marketing clutter out there"

Sixteen years ago I presented the idea of using a zebra for the specialist banking group Investec whose audience, in the main, is B2B. I'm pleased to say that they went with the idea; it is now a business superbrand and I was flattered to see it mentioned in the latest Jilly Cooper novel.

The Investec brand has been called iconic but what interests me as a creative person is the value the idea has had in terms of marketing spend. After only a few years of running the zebra as a brand icon for Investec it was punching 11 times above its weight in unprompted recall. In hard statistics it was achieving 95% recall matching two other leading competitors. Creativity turned the value of a £100k budget in to £1.1m. Using an iconic platform means every marketing communication leverages off the next increasing the value of any future marketing to come. For a B2B brand to be front of mind is a rare thing, considering all of the marketing clutter out there. So having a strong, singular thought and sticking to it inspires confidence in the brand and ultimately trust.

What idea do you own?

I often look at brands and ask ‘What idea do they own?’. Do they own safer, faster, smarter, cheaper, enduring, value, difference? What is their thing? A core idea expressed creatively is often missing from many brands in outward communications. Why? I have a theory. I think the pressure placed on marketers over the last decade has often pushed marketing requirements to seek short-term gain in revenues. The ability to be more forensic on measurement has made us all keen to only seek marketing channels that can be truly measured in terms of ROI. ‘Owning an idea’ is mainly placed in the brand space and this area has been underinvested in as it's less measureable. The issue surrounding this lies in an emotional connection with audiences as many will buy into why you do something and not what you do.

Right now, we can all point to many marketing projects that operate without supporting the brands they are meant to represent – they are in effect just projects. When operating at a project level where a product or service is not providing the evidence of a strong core brand thought, B2B creativity has no choice other than to be disruptive as it has to cut through so much harder. In effect it's paying to reinvent wheels, and in the long term, adopting this approach will also cost you a lot more too.

Creative disruption only works once or twice as even that approach can cause fatigue with audiences and eventually become irritating. Disruption is an ideal tactic for new brands, services and products but it's not long before a brand play needs to come to the fore as a bedrock for any future communications if true enduring brand value is to be created.

If I ruled the creative B2B world

I'd like to emphasise to the c-suites that hold the purse strings of B2B marketers the importance of emotional and relevant core brand ideas... the sort of creative ideas that add value to the whole of the organisation from the staff right through to the customers. A really strong and ownable idea springboards every future project and builds on marketing investment; it stops you always thinking you have to be disruptive and allows you to confidently grow. Importantly, your company will be worth a lot more if you decide to sell it.

A strong enduring creative idea can deliver all this and more. These ideas, however, will not fall out of a process but are built by a belief in the boardroom that the idea you own is your strongest asset and as such it should be invested in and nurtured. It's a simple concept; throw some good money after good ideas.

Paul Anderson is the executive creative director and founder of the Gravity Global network of agencies. Paul is credited with more than 200 creative awards.