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My key B2B Summit 2014 takeaway: Don’t let data dominate over free thinking

We were privileged to play host to yet another great lineup of expert speakers at the B2B Summit in London yesterday – the third time we’ve run this event and 2014 was our biggest and best yet. Amongst the many standout performers who graced this year’s agenda, and wowed the hundreds of B2B practitioners in attendance, were Sarah Goodall of SAP, Anthea Christie of Standard Life and Heidi Turner of PWC, all of whom provided insightful and candid exposes on how to do great B2B marketing. In total 37 sessions were run across five separate seminar streams, enabling attendees to customise their own agenda around their interests and information needs.

But it was only natural that the two keynote speakers, Caroline Taylor, EMEA CMO at IBM; and Phil Clement, global CMO of Aon stood out. Of course, they were given a bigger platform at the beginning and end of the day respectively to speak to the entire audience, but their wealth of experience and the compelling nature of their presentations set them apart, in my eyes at least.


Apart from their level of seniority, I was surprised and quietly delighted to note a key area of common ground in both their presentations – which was totally unexpected or unprompted. Both focused significantly on the role of data in today’s B2B marketing world, and how it was continuing to transform it and the role of the CMO. But both also challenged the preconception that data should always govern everything that marketers do – ‘if you can’t measure it, don’t do it’. Caroline Taylor said that data can be used to retrospectively justify some of the ‘crazy’ projects that marketers might want to embark on, but which would not necessarily be understood or sanctioned by the powers that be. Conversely, she added that sometimes hard marketing data can actually be the cause or genesis these less conventional marketing projects – it’s potentially a two way street.


Phil Clement, meanwhile, warned us ‘not to miss the gorilla’, referencing a training video where watchers are tricked into being so obsessed with counting the passes of a basketball that they completely ignore a man in a gorilla suit standing in the middle of the shot. He went on to say that marketers should keep some ideas, plans or proposals confidential, not necessarily divulge them across the wider organisation, who might not understand or back them. They should keep these ‘folded up in their back pockets’ and be careful who they showed these to.

For me at least, there was a stark and simple message – that although increased availability and access to data is influencing what marketing is, what it does and how it operates, that’s not to say that it should always set the agenda. Marketers must retain and even cultivate the ability to do the things that they intuitively know are important, which in some instances may be divergent from or even contrary to, conventional wisdom or the accepted corporate strategy.

I find it inspiring that these two highly successful marketers at the very top of their profession were so aligned on this matter. The lessons for those aspiring to these lofty heights are clear – whilst it may be very important, data and numbers are not everything. There’s still a role in marketing for creative, innovative and independent thinking, particularly if we want to stand out in our increasingly crowded and competitive market places.

PS: the lovely people at Earnest have produced a handy guide to some of the highlights at the Summit.