It seemed a run-of-the-mill idea. Draw together a panel of experts to talk B2B trends in the run up to the The Drum B2B Awards, held in New York recently. But for some reason the mix of creatives, clients and suits combined to create something special. Said Tom Stein, whose agency Stein IAS sponsored both this session as well as the awards, “I have never been involved in something like this, agencies and brands talking together and sharing a uniformity of mission and intent.”
And that intent was around how agencies and brands could do more to support each other to ensure genuinely great breakthrough work. The focus of the conversation in itself was a surprise for this forum. Because the definition of great work in a B2B context is work that simply works. However, this group was passionate that B2B is as much brand regeneration as lead gen.
Despite this they fear that much of the output of the industry still reinforces some of the worst cliché about the B2B sector: boring, conservative, overly data-driven, and looks on it’s audiences as businesses as opposed to sentient beings.
Matt Preschern, chief marketing officer, of Forcepoint summed up the challenge. “We have reached a point where the pendulum has shifted too much to data and analytics and that’s driving me crazy. It is frustrating that B2B leaders are not pushing themselves hard enough to actually create something that differentiates them in a sea of sameness. The core of marketing is an emotional connection with your audience.”
Stein IAS creative director Jonathan Keebler was also strong on emotion “It's all about a balancing act when it comes to presenting creative ideas. I think you need to look at what's the commercial value of an idea, and you also need to look at what's the emotional value of an idea. I think before you sign off on any idea, you need to be able to check both of those boxes. Too often we only focus on checking the commercial box.”
Creativity and effectiveness in B2B
It was a point not lost on the judges of The Drum B2B Awards. Linking creativity with effectiveness was very much front of their mind. As a result neither commercial results nor neither strong execution were enough to win on their own. Only brands that combined both stood a chance of getting their hands on one of the coveted trophies.
Take Embraer, a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer as an example. Aviation is not known for emotion. But in a world dominated by Boeing and Airbus the company decided it had to express passion if it wanted to cut through.
For starters its aircraft was named the E2-190. Not exactly memorable or emotive. So it was rebranded by the agency as the Profit Hunter, the sort of moniker which would even get the pulse of airline accountants racing.
And then a leading artist was commissioned to paint the faces of apex predators such as sharks and eagles on to the aircraft nose cones. The result was flying art, which everyone wanted to photograph and visit when the planes touched down at various air shows. It went on to win orders worth $15.3bn.
As Jeremy Cochran, global chief client officer and CEO, Iris Business puts it while explaining how technology can make creative more intelligent: "We have the opportunity to build both creative solutions and also creative platforms.” He said that it cannot be a discussion around an “either/or” as “It doesn't get you anywhere” because after all it is about creating the most engaging and meaningful moments for our customers.
Building client trust
Projects like this only take off when the relationship between client and agency are in trim. But too often lack of team work and trust can get in the way.
Said Isabel Sierra Gomez de Leon, global head of creative, Bloomberg LP, “Trust and that sense of accountability between business, marketing and creative teams can suffer and we really need to work on the betterment of that relationship.”
Meanwhile Toni Clayton-Hine, chief marketing officer, EY Americas, was quick to point out why creatives can sometimes undermine trust, “I find too often I am being sold. They wait for the big reveal. That can be such a frustrating way to work as it can be such a waste of time.
“It also means that by the time the client sees it, the agency is very much invested in one idea. If they walked us through the process and were more open about how the creative process can be a bit messy. To me that would be really helpful.
“So, I beg all creatives - please let us shape the work together”.
But of course trust has another bi-product. It allows clients to risks with their marketing - usually a prerequisite if they are going to break through. The rather staid world of agritech gives another B2B Award winning example of this thesis in action.
Hectare Agritech asked its agency to help launch a new app designed to help farmers buy and sell cattle on line. What the agency came up with was Tinder based solution ostensibly designed to help cattle find romance. Called Tudder it generated interest and comment which went far beyond the farming community.
And what better juncture to talk bullshit for a moment. If mutual support is a key barrier to great work our panel agreed another issue that needs to be addressed in language.
Clayton-Hine added, “There is a real need to have a common language around what good could and should look like. For example, shockingly the word campaign does not mean campaign in EY. It means tactic. Like, I have a piece of research and that is a campaign. I think no, that’s research. It’s crazy.
“I am struck by how fundamental it is to be able to have a two way dialogue using a common language. It would be far more productive.”
Said Stein, “It is even true with the word creativity itself. The CEO, CMO and creatives all have a different idea of what that means. We know agencies and clients want the same thing. But this also reflects that fact that we have to understand clients so they can get our ours ideas through. We can not go to a client and say this is a super cool idea as that will not land well. We need to present the idea in a way that takes the subjectivity out of the decision making.”
But of course in terms of communication the ultimate opportunity to get people on the same page is through the briefing process. Along with leveraging emotion, trust and language the group seemed to agree the brief was also fundamental in successful agency/client relationships.
For Clayton-Hine, “briefs are too often presented as a static mandate that do not always outline the entire business problem.
“Very often people say when challenged ‘this is what the brief is,’ and I really struggle with that. You really need a conversation about the nuance of the brief.”
The good brief
According to Annie Garvey, associate director marketing at Covance, understanding the nuance of a brief can ultimately lead to better communication.
“It's all between-the-lines stuff that almost matters more than the words on the paper,” said Garvey. “It's the politics of who's involved. It's the culture of the organization.”
Preschern had one simple suggestion to improve briefs: “My biggest request to the agencies is you have to get out of the brief mentality and into an ongoing back-and-forth dialog. Agencies have to work with us as clients in a much more agile manner.”
But if a brief turns into a living, breathing organism that everyone can work on to solve, is their a danger that agencies can lose focus?
Kash Sree, executive creative director at gyro, said collaboration shouldn’t always mean everyone has an equal voice. With pressure to sell from above, that can often lead to “nice” work, safe work that outsiders think plague the B2B marketing world.
Sometimes a “dictatorial” approach is in order, said Sree, no matter if it leads to spectacular failure or spectacular success.
“Here's a really strong opinion,” said Sree. “You may not like it, but it's a really strong opinion and it's a form of leadership and we're going to go there…. I want a little bit more broken genius in there.”
It was a strong opinion and good to end on a reminder that you still have to break a few eggs if you want to crack the brief. However any conflict is far more likely to be constructive if there is a partnership built on trust, a common language, an agile briefing process as well as a consensus that creativity adds value as opposed to cost.
It was to promote a product that helps with the challenges of berthing giant ocean going tankers: a process which in itself is a brilliant metaphor for running B2B campaigns.
Taking part in the panel, which was hosted in association with Stein IAS were:
· Toni Clayton-Hine, chief marketing officer, EY Americas
· Jeremy Cochran, global chief client officer & CEO, Iris Business
· Isabel Sierra Gomez de Leon, global head of creative, Bloomberg LP
· Matt Preschern, chief marketing officer, Forcepoint
· Annie Garvey, associate director marketing, Covance
· Kash Sree, executive creative director, gyro
· Jonathan Keebler, creative director NY, Stein IAS
· Matt Sullivan, SVP Operations US, The Drum (moderator)