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B2B hits the big-time as the Marketing Society jumps on the bandwagon

I was lucky enough to witness a seminal moment in the evolution of B2B marketing (in the UK, at any rate) last night as the Marketing Society held its first B2B-focused event. At last, the news that B2B is an important and distinct discipline has finally filtered up to the heady heights of this august body… only 50 years after it was founded. But better late than never, I say!

The event was a clear success, with a good crowd, good organization and some great speakers… and some not so great… but I’ll come onto that later. First up, Caroline Taylor, VP of marketing, communications and citizenship at IBM and Ruth Rowan, director of marketing at BT Global Services were both full of passion and enthusiasm about B2B marketing, their challenges ahead and their ability to influence and drive the corporate agenda. Next was up was Mark Thomson, media director of Royal Mail, who basically told us how good the post can be as a marketing channel… although I think a few of us might have known that already. So far so good.

Last to speak was marketing consultant and author Laurie Young, who started with the opinion that “passion and B2B marketing generally didn’t go together” – there was literally a sharp intake of breath from most of the audience, and the other members of the panel visibly bristled. He then went on to say that marketing is really only relevant at the board level, and that it needs to find an appropriate language to work in this environment.

Perhaps he was being controversial – if so, he certainly achieved that. I was relieved that his views didn’t seem to be shared by the audience or the other members of the panel. Of course, Laurie is entitled to his opinion, and judging by his credentials as a well-published author and former marketing partner at PwC, they are clearly not without foundation. The apparent contradiction of his views and those of other speakers may simply reflect the differences between marketing in professional services and marketing in IT/telecoms, which is generally regarded as a bit more progressive.

But this example does illustrate the point that, increasingly, you denigrate or dismiss B2B marketing at your peril - at least if you want to be taken seriously as a commentator. And passion has never been absent in the people that I’ve met in the last seven years – if anything, quite the opposite. It’s the consumer marketers who seem to, rightly, more cynical and more jaded.

But overall, well done to the Marketing Society for a great first B2B event – I hope there are many more like it, and I look forward to further ‘healthy debates’.

One small irony occurred to me as I was leaving the venue, the flash HQ of B2C agency Engine Group on Great Portland Street. Engine used to have a fledgling B2B affiliate called Totem, which I understand sadly disappeared last year. Let’s just hope the Marketing Society’s B2B events have a bit more longevity.