B2B Marketing stateside - notes from the Windy City
I’m back in London now following a fascinating three days in Chicago for the annual BMA (Business Marketing Association) conference, and feel like I’ve got a much better handle on the differences between B2B marketing on either side of the Atlantic.
As I said in the blog that I wrote on the way out here, my perception (or perhaps expectation) was that B2B in the US is generally more advanced and better respected than in the UK or Europe. But whilst this may be true to a certain extent at least, the reality is more complex than that. There were a number of points of difference that I identified over the course of the three days of the conference, and perhaps the best way to explain my conclusion is to go through these, one by one.
1. Marketing is seen as part of the bigger picture in the US. In the various presentations, there were lots of references to getting the US economy moving again, bringing back manufacturing jobs and generally encouraging entrepreneurship. You could see this as inspiring and broadminded or jingoistic and reactionary, depending on your point of view, but whatever your reaction, understanding ‘why’ is probably more interesting. There is almost certainly no one single reason: perhaps its because in the UK we are more resigned to our status as a post-industrial economy (just as we are of our status as a post-imperialist power - whilst the US economic empire is still all too powerful). Perhaps more pertinently, it’s because many of the companies that UK-based marketers work for are not based here, therefore any reversal in fortune will have less impact on the national economy. Or maybe it is because Americans are more nationalistic than Brits, and like giving business a political dimension, whilst Brits are more self-effacing and reluctant to bring the two together.
2. Social media is just as confusing for everyone. The fact that the big social networks are almost universally US-based and owned makes no difference in terms of brands’ utilisation of them for marketing purposes. No one has any bullet proof answers for how to use social media, and whilst that hasn’t stopped many marketers having success through this channel, they are no more advanced in the US than they are in Europe.
3. They’ve got a lot of respect for European brands, marketers and marketing. Time after time, speakers directly referenced examples from the UK and Europe – including his royal highness Seth Godin himself, who cited a coffee bar in East London (don’t ask). Far from thinking of themselves as more advanced and superior, there’s an acknowledgement that, in the current environment, innovation can and does come from anywhere.
4. They are less cynical about Google and its intentions. Perhaps understandably, Americans (or at least the seven senior marketers that I had dinner with one evening) didn’t really see Google’s growing power as a subject for scrutiny or scepticism. Given that Google is an all-American company, which remains world-beating (unless you’re in China) in an economy which has taken a serious battering, perhaps this isn’t surprising. Of course, I’m not suggesting that everyone should necessarily be sceptical of Google, or that it’s intentions are anything but honourable: only that a lot of people in Europe increasingly are (for good reason, in some cases) and that it was interesting that this perspective was not shared.
5. They have a natural advantage in terms of technology. It’s not just the search engines and the social media platforms that are based in the US: other key forms of technology appear to emanate from here or gravitate to here. Technologies like the new breed of business information platforms such as Bizo or Jigsaw are based here, just as marketing communications platforms such as Marketo. The link between cutting edge technology and marketing feels stronger here, and US-based B2B marketers will naturally be exposed to these solutions first, and get the chance to pioneer them. This is potentially a key early advantage, although given the pace of adoption and evolution of technology, it is limited.
So my conclusion is that B2B marketing in the US isn’t necessarily better or worse than the UK and Europe – just different. The reasons for this are generally cultural and societal – the ideosyncracies of each market dictate its dynamics, and how if functions on each side of the Atlantic.
B2B marketing in the UK in particular has come on a long way in the last five years, but the real winner of an excellent event like this is the global industry. Practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic can feel proud that they are part of a vibrant global industry, which has a pioneering spirit and can and will have an impact on the global economic recovery.