You are here

Can B2B marketing ‘do a meerkat’? And if not, why not?

I had an spent an excellent and very interesting evening yesterday in the company of...

I had an spent an excellent and very interesting evening yesterday in the company of the Marketing Society, in their latest foray into the world of B2B marketing.

The event was a roundtable (or more accurately in this case, very long thin table with 30 guests) discussion on that perennial bug-bear the lack of creativity in B2B marketing – and specifically why B2B has never produced something as iconic and far-reaching as the meerkat campaign by UK-based insurance comparison website Compare the Market.

The audience was senior marketers from The Marketing Society’s membership, who predominantly seemed to be from B-2-B-2-C end of the spectrum (in other words consumer brands selling through resellers) although there were a handful of tech and professional services practitioners there.

The venue, appropriately, was Shoreditch House, the members-only arch hang-out of East London’s trendy media set, complete with roof-top swimming pool and no-tie admissions policy. Thankfully, for once, I’d left mine at home…

I was asked to kick off the discussion with my observations on the issue and offer some suggestions for reasons why creative is such a perennial issue. What followed was an extremely lively, informed, passionate, entertaining and absorbing discussion between most of the attended marketers, which was miraculously prevented from becoming a free-for-all through the chairmanship of The Marketing Society’s Hugh Burkitt, who did a thoroughly good job.

Lots of great points were made, some of which I agreed with, some I didn’t – Chatham House rules prevent me from attributing these to specific individuals. But I was relieved and pleased that the consensus was not (as I had been half expecting) that B2B marketers should feel second rate for not impacting on the national vernacular in the way that Compare the Market has. The B2C interlopers who suggested that B2B brands need to think different were given short shrift.

There were some particularly fascinating revelations from Phil Rumbol of agency 101 who had been responsible for the Cadbury’s Gorilla campaign, and who testified to the tortuous process of getting this approved. His message: it isn’t really any easier to do something radical in B2C. Initially he was told his campaign would never be aired.

My key takeaway was that B2B doesn’t need to ‘do a meerkat’ – it would be irrelevant and unnecessary. B2B needs and does focus on driving relevant, appropriate, timely and salient marketing activities to its niche audiences – not producing a property with such broad appeal aimed at the mass market.

Furthermore, it was also revealed that the meerkat campaign itself was a happy accident which occurred when the brand’s PPC agency realised how much cheaper it would be to bid on ‘compare the meerkat’ keywords rather than the ‘compare the market’. Meanwhile, the brand, we were told was achieving zero cut-through in a very commoditised market: in short, they had to do something radical to survive. The gamble paid off, but it serves to underline the point that meerkat and gorilla are aberrations rather than the norms of consumer marketing.

The heart of the debate wasn’t really ‘can B2B do a meerkat?’ it was ‘can B2B be creative?’ and furthermore, ‘can B2B be fun?’ The answer to the former is undoubtedly ‘yes’, to the later is ‘yes, although its not always appropriate’. Cisco, for example, has lots of fun stuff around its brand, but this would be less appropriate for a corporate law firm.

These are my thoughts and I’d welcome yours. But all in all, I’d like to offer my thanks to the Marketing Society for inviting me attend a fascinating event, which took my understanding of B2B marketing forward, and more particularly to Fran Brosan of Omobono who sponsored the event and was key in developing the concept for the event. More like this, please.