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That said, some universal truths emerged that we’d be wise not to ignore. And one overarching theme hovered below the surface.
Speakers to a man and woman agreed that B2B marketing has changed and will never be the same again. There are two reasons for this.
One, the online world is now the home for B2B decision makers. And two, information/knowledge/data are the tools of the marketer’s trade, because they exist (if you know where to look), and because they are essential for us to do the job of connecting with the diverse B2B audiences in all the places we must reach them.
Most content is crap
Throughout the day, no single word was more all-pervasive than ‘content’. But where, five years ago, marketers agreed that Content is King, the recognition now is that Most Content is Crap. It’s unquestionably true, but maybe needed saying out loud for the B2B world to sit up and take notice.
When is content not crap? When it is highly relevant and informative, or deeply engaging? When is it great? When it’s both.
We need to acknowledge that both ‘highly informative’ and ‘highly engaging’ are goals that are hard to achieve. Both take sweat and time, and a bar set high.
‘Produce some great content for us tomorrow please’ is a request we must educate our clients never to make, because we do them a serious disservice if we even try to respond to it.
People to people
Theme two might be categorised as ‘making it personal’. Whether it was called ‘insight’ or ‘personas’, speakers focused weightily on the idea that we should not think of ourselves as helping businesses sell to businesses, but as helping business people sell to business people.
Clearly then, we need to know who these people are, where they go and what they want, as people. That’s a big ask, especially as in the B2B world, there’s always a large and diverse group of people who need to be reached and influenced.
We sometimes expect our clients to have this knowledge. Perhaps they should have it, but they frequently don’t (even, at times, when they think they do). That means as an agency, we need to have tools to help them achieve this goal. Clients will be eternally grateful to us if we can tell them exactly who their customers really are.
Which brings us to journeys. Nothing separates B2B for B2C more dramatically than the length and complexity of the trail from first engagement to first sale, and from first sale to loyal customer.
Again, our clients should know their journeys, and they know they should know. We need to be able to map those journeys for them, for their sake and ours.
It’s easy to get the impression from all this that B2B marketing is becoming a science - turning big data into key data into insights into journeys into iron-structured comms, measured, analysed and honed at every point.
The B2B world feels like a relentless quest for CONTROL – to know and manage everything.
A note of caution, then, and perhaps a reality check. We are at risk of concluding that with sufficiently insightful knowledge and kitten-filled content, we can rule the B2B world.
But brand still matters too
Even if our content doesn’t directly talk about brand, it should still come from it. Every brand still needs to stand for something, to have a point of view, to make its customers feel a certain way. And, indeed, to be able to do the vital task of enabling employees to know what sort of business they work for.
Because without brand, one business’s content will eventually be indistinguishable from another’s.
And while brand matters, so do ideas. Ideas are what bind all this content together, what launch and direct it, what make a brand a brand, not just a business.
Clients are excited when an agency is able to encapsulate their business for them because they’re too close to it to do it themselves.
And (hallelujah), the B2B Summit acknowledged this, if indirectly. Because one more clear and present theme emerged
Stories should be our secret weapon in B2B, and B2C too. By thinking narratively, we force ourselves to tell audiences things they want to hear and to connect with them in authentically engaging ways.
There is no better way to define a brand than with a story. And therein lies the key.