Navigating the complex ecosystem of expanding martech, brand safety, privacy concerns, customer experience, and other advancements, marketers are increasingly pressured to achieve results while also providing inspiration and insights for their brands. This can be a daunting task for business-side (B-to-B) marketers who deal with antiquated business archetypes, complex or niche products and services, and stakeholder mindsets that aren’t always geared toward innovation and change.
These challenges were highlighted during the 2018 Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Masters of B2B Marketing conference held this week in Chicago. The conference was created to provide powerful insights into the approaches that B-to-B companies have taken to create, deliver, and gain value. Right along with the industry, the conference has evolved over the years. According to Duke Fanelli, CMO of the Association of National Advertisers, “this was the year to go to the B2B Masters, the conference is very different to past years.”
Brands such as Stanley Black and Decker, Comcast, Sentry, LinkedIn, and Xerox came together as disruptors and innovators in the B-to-B arena to discuss how they leverage next generation technology and approaches. One of the most reoccurring themes was the idea of no longer marketing as B-to-B, instead market as B-to-H or “Business-to-Human.” The theme assuages the notion that B-to-B is all about business and calls for B-to-B marketers to appeal to the human side of their audience.
Aniko DeLaney, Global Head, Corporate Marketing at BNY Mellon, brilliantly pressed, “We are not B2B, we are B2H. There is a human at the end of every connection.” With advancements in technology and increased exposure across digital, B-to-B marketers now have a more level playing field when it comes to storytelling and creating a brand persona.
Throughout the conference, the B2H theme seeped in to each brand story, whether externally or internally. Stephanie Smith, Vice President, Chief Marketing and Brand Officer at Sentry Insurance explained how it was possible to innovate a brand with a robust history of brand loyalty. Although getting buy-in across the generational internal audience was difficult – Stephanie provided an anecdote that once at a company gathering she “got an earful” from a senior retiree who was upset she was doing away with the century-old logo. Stephanie understood the concern from loyal brand advocates as she relented, “I didn’t want to be known as the woman who messed up the brand.” But ultimately her advice to “Be Bold. Be Loud. Keep Reinventing” paid off for the brand and won over her opposition.
Change, however, is not always as easy for storied brands. As Hue Du, Vice President, Marketing and Communications at Equipment Depot, presented a different outcome as she fought to update the logo of the 50+ year old brand. Although she lost the battle to completely change the logo, she was able to make small changes and her efforts to advance their marketing efforts provided real results for the business. Hue progressed their marketing beyond a simple brochure and her advocacy for women in the hard-nosed equipment industry helped reinvent the brand to show a softer, more personal side.
One of the most interesting innovations of a B-to-B brand was Xerox’s “Set the Page Free” campaign. Barbara Basney, Vice President Global Brand, Advertising and Media at Xerox Corporation, discussed the omnichannel marketing initiative that brought together world-renowned authors and artists to illustrate the modern workplace (and how they utilize Xerox products). Barbara’s story was an effective example of how B-to-B brands can take a human-centric approach to tell their story. Collaborating with a local non-profit organization, the artists were sourced for the campaign with the purpose of championing global literacy.
And perhaps that is the message for B-to-B brands: to think outside the corporate box, market with purpose, and be innovative when it comes to a brand’s story. This was most aptly summed up by Mike Simpson, Chief Marketing Officer at Stanley Black and Decker, when he stated – “today, the new commodity is ‘purpose.’” So, B-to-B brands, start thinking about your purpose and not just your products.
The ANA Masters of B2B Marketing conference also included a B2B Hall of Fame Induction and B2B Awards Gala to honor B-to-B marketers and B-to-B agencies who exhibit excellence in innovative marketing strategy, communications, and product marketing. To learn more, visit: https://www.ana.net/conference/show/id/BMAANC2018