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Does creativity undermine the seriousness of B2B decision making?

The word 'creative' in marketing is an ambigious one. Andrew O'Sullivan dissects what it really means and its effect on decision-making.

Creativity is a wonderful word, but it can mean (wildly) different things to different people. Creative agencies dread the client brief “we need something creative on this one”. As opposed to what exactly?

I think creativity in B2B marketing is commonly misunderstood. It’s  a shared problem that stems from both agencies’ and clients’ different interpretations.

What creatives think creativity is

Let me define creativity from an agency view: the simple act of solving a problem in a less ordinary way. All this means is marketing should always aim to address target audiences in an imaginative way. For agencies, creative, intelligent, imaginative are one big happy synonymous family. It’s inclusive too – whether creativity comes from the data scientist or the ex-consultant, the UX specialist or the economist. Diverse perspectives are true creativity drivers.

But creativity doesn’t work if it’s self-serving – just being different for the sake of it. Understanding what sort of different will create standout without sacrificing message and credibility is where experienced agencies earn their fee.

Today, creativity is not so soft as it once was. It’s become important for business in general – not to mention transformation or disruption. Enough already, you get my point.

Whether you’re an IT director, a CEO or in procurement, businesses are, or should, always be looking for the next edge or improvement. This in turn requires creativity. If you think of a service a business currently has as “ordinary”, then changing the supplier of that service is a “less ordinary” next step.

As for B2B buyers?

Businesses want to see a difference. They want to buy dynamic, confident, brave partners. This means being authentic as a brand, making the business personality the USP, because we all know the offerings are pretty similar from competitors. The businesses who win are generally the ones who are not afraid to be genuine. This is currently the less ordinary path to better B2B communications.

I’ll give an example. When I was working on some campaign concepts for a highly regarded hedge fund management company, we looked at the competition. We discovered the biggest companies within the industry were, almost obsessively, the safest pair of hands. Erm, not the greatest strike pad for creativity.

What we did was, like a carnival on Ipanema beach, celebrated boring. Fanfairs, ticker tape, the lot. Why? Because in this space, boring is exactly what the target audience wants. They want their money to be handled by the guy who talks complex analytics at a dinner party and has a sensible haircut. But, they also want to work with a company that has personality.

With all that in mind, you could reframe the original question. Does seriousness undermine the creativity of B2B decision making? Yes, I think it probably does.

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