B2B marketing history could be told in three acts. But some of the greatest tales have four, even five—just ask the Shakespeare estate. And as a B2B O.G., whose three-decade career has been in B2B—at one agency—I’ve had a front row seat to all plot twists.
Remember B2B 1.0, the quaint, pre-digital days of print buys with 1-800 numbers and reader service reply cards? The late ‘90s dot-com boom lifted B2B marketing online—call it 2.0. After that bubble burst, the data technology revolution coalesced around programmatic data-driven advertising—B2B 3.0. Adapting to an omnichannel world, B2B marketing became more sophisticated. For the next growth stage, B2B 4.0, we must embrace the Strategy Era.
Brand Goals and Demand Generation Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
B2B companies have looked at demand gen and brand marketing as a zero-sum game. But now it’s time to put brand at the center and fully adopt strategic, brand-to-bottom-line omnichannel marketing. Acknowledging that demand gen must be imbued by brand and mission, marketers can future-proof their brands, building stronger organizations that stand up to the biggest challenges.
COVID was a great example of this approach. Brands with a strong brand-to-bottom-line foundation successfully navigated abrupt shifts in business and media usage patterns. By having all elements in place, companies can shift strategies/tactics more easily because core identities are strongly defined.
Put a Nail in the “B-to-Boring” Coffin
A more strategic approach offers B2B creatives more on-point fodder to inspire big brand ideas executed in an omnichannel brand-to-bottom-line framework. B2B’s bad rep for the lack of buzzworthy creative is undeserved. Many B2B campaigns hold up against the best in B2C—validated by the Cannes Lions’ new B2B category.
To have consistently great B2B creative across the board, creatives will need to unearth key strategic insights underpinning every campaign. This can spark many ideas that live across all platforms. A brand’s overarching message is the clay that shapes to meet the needs of all verticals, producing a marked impact on demand gen.
Top-of-funnel brand ads can drive ecommerce and demand gen through all different customer journey intersection points, with every message infused with brand. Overarching upper-funnel hero content—typically a video declaring brand—is followed by tactics aimed at those in market for a B2B product/service. Paid social is a key driver at this stage, along with banners, large-scale OOH, and audio—fueled by much deeper targeting.
New Talent Required
The “Great Resignation” has been a wake-up call. It’s led to much self-reflection on resetting talent development. That’s good, as self-reflection is the first step toward reinvention. B2B agencies that embrace the Era of Strategy are positioned to onboard strategic and planning visionaries who, more often than not, have wound up in B2C.
Being more brand-to-bottom-line attracts the best and the brightest eager to showcase their abilities across the entire funnel. Though it may be difficult to find individuals who do everything, those with eclectic backgrounds can cohere into teams that cover all bases. Leaders can encourage people to lean out of their comfort zones: analytics people thinking about how insights feed creative; ad ops anticipating which tags improve media plans; planners with working knowledge of ad ops.
B2B has always made accountability paramount—at the expense of strategy. The grand irony is that making strategy central improves accountability. The key is to look at the present and future of B2B through the broader lens of growth and sustainability instead of falling into short-term obsession with performance. If we do that, B2B 4.0 will indeed be the Era of Strategy.