Picture: 123RF/rawpixel
Picture: 123RF/rawpixel

There’s a perception that business-to-business (B2B) marketing is quite boring – and definitely not as sexy as business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing. Where are the huge television commercials (TVCs)? What about the glamorous Cannes-or Loeries-type awards ceremonies? When people think about business buyers, they think of pragmatism – procurement processes, decision-making units and an approach to comparisons that’s driven more by spread sheets than by emotion.

The truth is, people are not robots and emotion does play a role in purchasing decisions, even if they’re tempered by pragmatism. There’s a case, then, for creating initial interest in a B2B brand with an emotive B2B marketing campaign – like Volvo Trucks did in the ‘Epic Split’ TVC they created with Jean-Claude van Damme doing the splits between two trucks. If you think about the buying process for purchasing a fleet of trucks, it’s a very organised and comparative process. All the competitor trucks offer a similar cost-to-km operating cost, and they’re all safe and reliable – if you had to compare them on a spread sheet, wins for one brand in a particular column could be outweighed by wins for a competitor in another column, against a different metric, so there’s little to differentiate them.

Now if people believe that B2B decision-makers make their purchasing decisions purely on the basis of this type of spread-sheet comparison, you can make an argument for any of the brands they consider. The Volvo Trucks campaign, however, catapulted Volvo into a position as the global leader in the truck manufacturing space, simply because the TVC got people talking. The company’s growth illustrates the campaign’s impact in the B2B space, while the campaign also garnered significant international consumer interest because, at its heart, it was innovative and interesting. It was a really beautiful, creative – and wonderfully cheesy – way of illustrating one particular selling point of that particular line of trucks. In a lot of ways, that campaign, which is nearly seven years old now, reignited the debate about the case for creativity in B2B marketing.

Another example is State Street’s ‘Fearless Girl’ campaign, which was a B2B launch of a fund that focused investment on companies where the boards were majority controlled by women. A statue of a young girl facing up to the famous statue of the charging bull on Wall Street was put up. Confronting that symbol of a male-dominated industry – which is also, to many, a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the business world – sparked not just global interest in the fund, but also a movement around equality and representation in the corridors of power.

The campaign ticked all the B2B boxes in terms of the scale of the launch of the fund and its subsequent success, but the fact that the statue of the young girl still stands on Bowling Green park is also a measure of the enduring success of the campaign beyond the B2B space.

These two campaigns ticked off every hard metric in a B2B campaign. Volvo Trucks was not the market leader at that point and State Street was not the first investment firm to launch a women-focused fund – but those campaigns delivered huge success largely because their deep creative execution captured the hearts and minds of the world.

The big take-out:

B2B CMOs frequently make decisions that are most easily justified – which means these are often the ‘safe’ option that can be backed up by the numbers.

Those examples give plenty of room for putting forward the case for B2B creativity in the SA market. Our B2C marketers are globally renowned and regularly win international recognition for campaigns – so why don’t our B2B marketers also? I would argue that there’s no shortage of world-class B2B marketing talent here at home – the problem is actually that they and their work are often forced to operate in a defensive-minded decision-making ecosystem.

B2B chief marketing officers (CMOs) frequently make decisions that are most easily justified – which means they are often the “safe option” that can be backed up by the numbers. If they green-light a defensive campaign that works, they get the plaudits. If it doesn’t work, they can point to a set of stats that indicate why it should have worked, and they’re also safe. It’s hard to justify a brave decision, because there’s no set of stats that illustrates how a video of Van Damme doing the splits between two trucks is going to take your company to the No 1 spot globally. There’s no data there other than great creativity – and commissioning fantastically creative work takes a gut feeling about the impact it’s going to have.

Many CMOs and decision-making units are making safe choices in a recession because they want to keep their jobs and preserve the jobs of their teams. You tend to see more risks being taken in a thriving economy because there’s more opportunity. The problem is that putting your head above the parapet with the right bold idea in a tough market has proven time and time again to be eye-catching and effective. People need creativity when everything else is weighing them down. Even B2B people.

 

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