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Lessons from America, part 1

Once upon a time in the mid-west: Notes from the BMA Conference, Chicago 2011

I’m writing this from 37,000 feet above the North Atlantic on my way to my first B2B marketing event in America, and I must confess that I’m a bit excited (in a geeky kind of way). When we launched B2B Marketing in Europe back in 2004, it quickly became apparent how far behind  the US we were in terms of the level of sophistication and acceptance. B2B (or BtoB as it was often known in the US ) was an accepted and respected sub-genre of marketing, with a distinct set of challenges, issues and opportunities. In the UK, meanwhile, it was too often written off as ‘the boring bit’.

Much has changed in Europe in the last seven years, with B2B marketers across the continent raising their game and increasing the effectiveness and sophistication of their activity. This has been helped in no small part by the global recession, the arrival of social media and the maturation of marketing technology – these factors have collectively served to demand that practitioners think and act different.  What might have felt like small, separate evolutionary steps have amounted to big changes in B2B marketing in Europe, and a new sense of maturity. At least, that’s how it feels to me. I’ll be eager to test this hypothesis by comparing the vibe at this market-leading US event, and the confidence of the industry on either side of the pond.

I’ll also be keen to understand whether the US is still ahead in terms of use of things like social media – the fact that the three major social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) were all founded and first propagated in the States gave brands and marketers on this side of the Atlantic a natural head start. But much of that early advantage has been lost, and I’ve heard it reported anecdotally that adoption and use of new digital techniques has been faster in recent years in the UK than the US. For example, there has apparently been something of a brain-drain of staff from Google’s London HQ back to California on the back of the speed of adoption of ecommerce in the UK and the consequent lessons learnt. How true is this in reality?

Finally, I’d like to understand the cultural differences that I expect will continue to make marketing different on either side of the pond. As ever, these will be most apparent in old-school creative, but they will also be visible more subtly from the attitudes and opinions of conference delegates. How profound will these be? Never mind the ‘special relationship’, I’m expecting to confirm that whilst we share so much, profound differences remain – we are still two countries separated by a common language. Perhaps the European B2B’s sense of maturity will have acerbated, rather than eroded these changes?

So all-in-all it promises to be a fascinating three days, with much to learn and absorb. I’ll keep you posted on what I find.