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Customer reference marketing: the ultimate creative cul de sac

There’s a tired old cliché that consumer marketing ‘experts’ often dredge up about B2B. “The problem with B2B,” they say, with a slightly concerned but patronising expression, “is that it’s just not very creative. B2B marketers just can’t think creatively, B2B brands don’t understand or value bold ideas, and consequently don’t invest in them.”

It’s this kind of negative preconception that we have spent a decade trying to eradicate. And I thought we were doing a pretty good job, until this week, when I saw Office 365’s latest campaign.

The ad was part of what can best be described as a ‘customer reference campaign’; and read, ‘Aston Martin runs Office 365’. There was a cute accompanying illustration of a car, but that was it.

Now don’t get me wrong: there’s clearly nothing radical here, brands have referenced customers in their marketing for decades. SAP was a recent B2B offender. But just it’s a well-worn path, that doesn’t make it right!

This approach to marketing is laziest and complacent. It’s dull, boring, ignores all the subtleties of psychology and market insight that makes great advertising – and it’s arrogant! The message is “if it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for you”. It’s the worst possible of all worlds, and it proves the point of B2B’s detractors.

Is it the client’s fault or the agency’s? It doesn’t matter – there has to be a more to good marketing than simply shouting the names of your client as loudly as possible. Having organised the B2B Awards judging for many years, I know how hard it can be for B2B brands to be creative, and how many obstacles there can be – but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Quite the opposite.

In creative terms, ‘good’ may be the enemy of ‘great’, but this is neither – it’s awful. If we persist with this kind of marketing, B2B will never shake the ‘poor relation’ label, and will become a creative ghetto. We owe it to our brands and our industry to make our marketing work harder than this, and be better than this.