Why B2B marketers mustn’t lose sight of visibility

Recent discussions have given me a new perspective on the ‘visibility’ challenge facing B2B marketers. In many B2B organisations, this challenge is pretty simple: the board know the marketing team is there, but they often don’t understand what they are doing, how this aligns with their objectives and (most importantly) precisely what they are spending all that money on.

Perversely, business execs (and CEOs in particular) have been known to exacerbate this problem by instructing their marketing teams to follow their own, ego-fuelled agenda, often to the detriment of any marketing or business strategy. The best example of this is airport advertising, where a B2B brand invests heavily at a particular terminal because they feel the need to be seen there, and (more importantly) their competitors are there already. It’s all about visibility, not strategy, and its reducing marketing to its lowest common denominator: my logo is bigger than your logo.

This scenario may be a cliché, but it’s one that an alarming number of B2B marketing leaders recognise, which suggests that most have seen it played out in reality.

While this example of the visibility challenge has been around for decades, there’s a recent evolution which puts a 21st century spin on exactly the same problem, and this relates to retargeting campaigns. At a recent B2B Leaders roundtable, a number of senior B2B marketers reported having had a conversation with one or more senior execs at their organisation about why their competitors seemed to be ‘everywhere’ on the web, and that their advertising was ‘following them around’.

This is an almost endearing example of the lack of digital savvy amongst members of today’s c-suite, but it further highlights the (over-developed) sense competitiveness of this group. Unlike airport advertising, this misapprehension can be set straight with a simple crash course in retargeting technology, and it doesn’t have comparably disastrous implications for the marketing budget. It also reiterates the visibility challenge: senior stakeholders only see a small and disproportionate fragment of what marketing does, and that’s all they care about.

But there is a further dimension to visibility that was beautifully encapsulated in a presentation at our recent B2B InProf conference by Brian Macreadie of BLP. In a clarion call for creativity, Brian’s point was simply this: there is so much media and so many messages out there that the vast majority of marketing is simply invisible. In order to be visible (and therefore have any chance of being effective) you have to make a conscious effort to stand out – and that means challenging people and taking risks.

Conversely then, if you’re not actively seeking to take risks, to challenge yourself and possibly your audience, it’s quite likely that you’re wasting your time. Marketing is an expensive, time-consuming business, and if the output of that process and our labours is invisible, well, we might as well all clear our desks and go home for all the good it does us, our companies and our profession.

For me, this is the real visibility challenge that marketers need to be wrestling with – rather than reactively responding to the egos, vanities and competitive tendencies of the c-suite, they need to be actively challenging them, pushing back their horizons and sometimes making them feel uncomfortable. This is putting marketing on the front-foot, it’s what we should be aspiring to, and its how we’ll make a genuine difference for our organisations.