Blockbuster B2B Marketing

Blockbuster B2B Marketing

Last year Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo at the LinkedIn B2B institute published their excellent “2030 – B2B Trends” report

Not every B2B marketer will have the time to work through every argument and nugget in the report’s 43 pages which is a shame as it’s closely packed with good advice. 

So with due deference to the authors, I’ve tried to capture the essence of the report in three bites-zed blogs, one for each of the 3 trends Weinberg & Lombardo have identified. 

You can find my blog with a summary of Trend 1 “The War on Brand” here.  

This is the blog for Trend 2 – Blockbuster Marketing 

A key challenge many B2B marketers face is that their marcoms budget will be a fraction of the budget their B2C cousins have at their disposal. 

This heightens the importance of ensuring the creative execution of the B2B communications achieves maximum cut-through.  

Weinberg and Lombardo argue that “creativity is one of the most important variables in marketing success. Some would say it is the single most important variable and that strong creative can multiply the financial returns of a marketing campaign by 12x”. 

There are many schools of thought as to what makes for compelling, persuasive creative, but Weinberg and Lombardo make the case for adopting some core probabilistic principles that can increase the likelihood of achieving effective creative communications.  

Yet being the true contrarians they are, the exemplar the authors cite for these principles isn’t from the B2B world at all: it’s from Disney. 

Creative Principle # 1 – Big Bets 

Disney realised “consumers only see between four and six movies a year, and to de-risk that purchase, buyers choose movies with big stars, big effects and big budgets”. By focusing budget on a small number of big budget productions, Disney were able to concentrate effort on movies that would have broad appeal and mass cut-through.  

The report authors argue that for B2B marketers (who generally don’t have the budget of a Disney), fragmenting creative approaches minimises the likelihood of achieving cut-through brand awareness. And given (as we saw in part 1) strong brand awareness is a predictive precursor to effective sales activation, brand fragmentation ultimately leads to lower sales, both now and in the future. 

Lower budgets tend to lead to creative caution. The authors’ contrarian position is that overreliance on “test and learn” leads to fragmentation of execution, a lack of consistency of message, and ultimately a failure for communication to achieve their objective. 

Indeed, as Weinberg and Lombardo point out: “The truth is that marketers don’t usually learn much from their tests because the tests fail to replicate. What works at a small scale with small numbers rarely works at a big scale with big numbers”. 

Creative Principle # 2 – Surprising Familiarity 

The authors’ plea to “take risks, think big” in Principle #1 doesn’t mean that applied thinking goes out of the window. Again, they analysed Disney’s creative strategy to look at how Disney decided which big bets to place, and the criteria for placing them. 

They found that Disney’s biggest grossing, most profitable movies focuses “on familiar franchises—old creative from the back catalog that everyone already knows.” The fact that cinema-goers already knew many of the characters from the Avengers, Star Wars and Jurassic franchises meant that for the sequels / prequels, much of the selling had already been done before the latest movie was even conceived.  

Yet, as Weinberg and Lombardo point out “Marketers are obsessed with newness. We want never-been-done-before ideas. Most CMOs begin their tenure by scrapping the old creative campaign and launching a new one. This tends to be a catastrophic mistake and an enormous waste of money. Stick with your old, familiar creative. Any change to the brand needs to be incremental.” 

B2B marketers don’t have the budget of Disney. We have got to get far better at leveraging existing brand assets than trying to create new ones. 

Creative Principle #3 – Extreme Distinctiveness 

Pause for a moment and ponder how often B2B comms rely on generic stock imagery of businesspeople shaking hands. Stock shots of cityscapes. ‘Industry in action’.  

You cannot hope to stand out from the crowd if you copy them. 

The authors argue “Marketers need to do a much better job of employing their own distinctive assets in their creative” and widely cite Professor Jenni Romaniuk, author of Building Distinctive Brand Assets and How Brands Grow Part 2. “Romaniuk explains that without distinctive assets, consumers fail to link the creative execution with the brand. And as she often says, no matter how you think advertising works, it can’t work if the ad doesn’t get attributed to your company. If EY runs a terrific account services ad but no one remembers that the ad came from EY, those EY marketers have created zero value”. 

They continue: “Every brand has at least two distinctive assets: their name and their logo… Find assets that are unique to you (not your competitors) and famous (known to all buyers in the category). And put those assets on every single ad.” 

That doesn’t mean that the logo is the first thing anyone should notice about the ad – no-one browses their favourite media looking for logos – but it’s vital that once the reader’s attention has been grabbed they remember who it was who grabbed that attention. 

Creative Principle #4 – Total Merchandising 

By applying consistent creative to every piece of communication, over time you build brand presence and brand saliency. In a B2B world where marketing budget is scarce, this is vital. 

Again, the Disney analogy: 

“Every Disney asset markets every other Disney asset. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an ad for The Mandalorian, which is an ad for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World, which is an ad for all of Disney’s merchandise. This approach creates an awe-inspiring flywheel of money and allows Disney to squeeze every cent of value out of every creative asset it owns.” 

Throughout the report, the authors cite Salesforce as a B2B company that has successfully adopted these principles. Personally, I’d cite The Economist, which has been applying the four principles flawlessly, successfully since the last century: 

  • Big Bet on singular creative approach: singular relevant insight, displayed in white on red type-only ads 
  • Surprising familiarity: the ads have run for decades, yet each new ad brings a fresh insight, and creates a desire to learn more 
  • Extreme distinctiveness: compare any Economist ad to an ad for Newsweek or Forbes or HBR. 
  • Total merchandising: the ad colourways reflect the branding assets. Even though the logo is the smallest thing on the ad, creative & brand consistency means you are in no doubt about whose ad you’ve just read 

You’re probably now struggling to recall an ad for Newsweek or Forbes or HBR. If you’re a B2B marketer with a relatively small budget, please have a think about why. 

Simon Hayhurst 

Simon Hayhurst | LinkedIn 

January 2020 

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