B2B Marketing – The Next Stage.

It’s a bit like waiting in the trenches for the command to go ‘over the top’ and get shot in the ass, again.

B2B Marketing can do that to you. As we approach the end of the year and the start of the next one, there’s a lot of planning and forecasting going on.

Some progress has undoubtedly been made in the last six months or so within the B2B marketing space. The frenzy for dataficating everything and monitorization of funnels and tubes and pipelines and all things relating to grids and templates has mercifully eased off a bit. The dawning realisation that demand gen tools are exactly that, tools (like all the other tools that went before…), not a total panacea for marketing, is a blessed relief.

There’s more interest being expressed in brand strategy again, “How do we say this differently? What can we do to stand out from our competitors?” And there’s a growing recognition that between the brand strategy and the demand gen tools, there’s still a gap in the middle that needs to be filled. “Here’s our brand, check. Here’s our machine for processing stuff that will tell us what to do next, check. Umm… how do we join the two together?”

In the ‘olden days’, the gap would have been filled by design work. A graphic designer would have been expected to colour-in the gap, maybe with a Getty image or two. Tah-dah! A beautifully coloured picture with your message at the top and your badge at the bottom. Brilliant. Let’s all go to the pub.

In the new-fangled social world however, colouring-in doesn’t fill the gap. The graphic design requirement for engaging in (for example) social monitoring, conversation and response is low.

There is still a need for design, but the real requirement (the gap) is for creativity. Not just Getty images creativity, but digital creativity – creative thinking based on digital understanding.

The difference of course is that the very last person on earth that you should ask for digital creativity is the same person you ask for graphic design. That’s a tough one for clients and agencies to come to terms with. B2B clients barely recognised good traditional creativity when it bit them on the ass, so the transition to digital is like taking them on a trip to Mordor. Graphic designers craft breathtakingly beautiful work, which is next to useless in the context of most digital platforms.

The gap then, between B2B brand development and digital marketing delivery is creativity. Actually, creativity has always been the missing link in B2B marketing, but the opportunity is to provide creative solutions with and for online challenges. So if the traditional Creative Director’s role has changed, where’s this elusive new creativity going to come from? The Planners, the Strategists, the Community Managers, the Info Architects, the UX testing…? ‘Yes’ – probably all of the above. But not many of the clients or the agencies are prepared to truly take the risk and make the change. If B2B is famous for anything, it’s for not changing. You’ve been sitting on your thumbs long enough. Now you have to deliver it, or not.

The focus for delivery in B2B needs to shift fundamentally, but does that mean ‘ready for liftoff’ or ‘bullet in the head’? I don’t actually know. I guess that’s the next stage.

Scot McKee