Why B2B events need just as much creativity – if not more, than B2C

We should view B2B as B2I - business to the individual and therefore inspire them with creativity, says Suzanne Malhotra, director at 4D 

In marketing you spend a lot of time focused on the difference between B2B and B2C. You’re also told that different marketing practices suit each. B2C is creative, fun, light-hearted and backed by big budgets. These are the brand activations and the experiential marketing experiences. The Red Bulls and the Nikes. In B2B, the big budgets go into weeklong conferences, sales pitches and I’d imagine, new suits.

Just a few weeks back at the huge Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, an event infamous for the brokerage of deals and its ‘in-crowd’ technology persona, I watched hundreds of men (and women) in suits queue for hours to get a go on the Samsung Gear VR Theater. Men in suits. Queuing up, missing the sunshine (and the beer) that was just steps away for what was essentially, a ride on a rollercoaster. 

Here’s where it’s going wrong; in business to business, you’re not marketing to the business. You’re marketing to the individual. And it is the individual who has the power to buy. 

In B2C we often focus on the power of emotion, interaction and education through vehicles such as technology, social media and big data. All of which, are enticing sentiments for an individual looking to purchase – whether for themselves or someone else.

Why, should B2B be any different?

Creative license 

If you look at most B2B (and many B2C) focused experiences, not much has changed since The First Exhibition of 1813. The format of the day remains the same, the sales materials are bundled up into click-bait personas and the floorplan is decided by who booked first. Where is the creativity, the innovation? Imagine the affect say, of a brand who bought an exhibition space at a B2B event and simply left it empty, with a placard to explain how their event budget had been rerouted into the social issue they were trying to solve. Bold? Yes. Risky? Sure. Hard to explain to your CEO? Of course. But what a message to leave your potential customers with.

As the designers of live experiences we’re not saying every brand should perform something so publicity bearing. Perhaps it is something as simple as the well-known technology brand we worked with recently, so known for its products, removing all products from its stand and creating a space where customers could relax. By removing its products, it took down the wall between the company and its customers, opening a dialogue and gaining so much more insight from customers on their daily issues and concerns. 

Fixing the B2B event marketing cycle

Unlike B2C, B2B events are not impulse-driven environments. Even if the visitor likes what they see, it can be months or more before budgets are signed off and POs raised. Months where your competitors are busy snapping at their heels. More focus needs to be given to the space between events, where brands need to build conversation and delight with their customers. Again, this relates to the mantra; individual first, then business. If you didn’t speak to a friend for a year, then called them out of the blue and asked for a favour they’d likely say no. For brands attending or organising events, the space between each cycle must be filled with meaningful dialogue and useful information. Assisting customers with problem-solving, offering help and advice in creative and more evocative ways. Stunts such as Uber’s sending of kittens to offices may seem a little ‘out there’ compared to the B2B tactics of follow-up emails and mailouts but the person on the end of each is still the same; a person.  

Customers, not competitors

Too often, B2B event campaigns are led by a drive to beat competitors, rather than entice customers. Products are revealed and case study showreels are created, but neither creates an emotional response or enjoyment for the visitor. Instead, brand managers and the agencies that serve them need to think about how to drive a response to brand values. This is a process we call Brandmosis™ - where a visitor is able to absorb a brand’s values just from being within close proximity to it. Values that are communicated through easy-to-understand and creative ways. This is the process by which Apple and other archetypal brands have had so much success. For B2B, it is increasingly becoming key.

So is creativity in B2B event marketing a myth? We certainly don’t think so. With the right approach, mindset and individual-centric approach, B2B events will soon be taking creative lead. Producing campaigns that are emotive, intimate and that provide pleasing results. As, if not more, creative than its B2C counterpart.