Cracking the creative code in B2B marketing

There have been long-held misconceptions that creativity has no place in B2B. CD Benedict Buckland makes the case for why this isn't true, and the 5 steps marketers can take to achieve it.

B2B marketing is seemingly forever derided for a lack of creativity. But that’s fine, right? We’re correctly the sensible, safety-first professionals to our imaginative B2C cousins. The Peep Show Mark to the B2C Jeremy. No. 

Creativity is paramount in B2B marketing.

Historical assumptions about B2B marketing being all about rational, logical messaging are just that. History. B2B marketing activity based on emotional messaging has been shown to outperform traditional methods consistently. Indeed, a study by The B2B Marketing Institute found that such activity delivered seven times the significant, long-term business impact.  

Historical assumptions about B2B marketing being all about rational, logical messaging are just that. History.

Creating engagement on an emotional level demands creativity. This may seem daunting to a profession where the white paper still holds sway (just) but it need not. I believe that one of the biggest barriers to ‘creativity’ in B2B marketing is in fact the semantics of the term itself. 

What is creativity?

Creativity in marketing is often conceptualised as a purely visual, artistic pursuit. Whilst the visual expression is an important element such a definition of creativity is limiting. Not only does it fail to reflect what creativity truly is, it excludes many B2B marketers from the creative process. And, it is this notion of creativity being a process that is key.

Creativity is about understanding what works in one environment, reconfiguring it and applying it to a new environment.

One more myth to debunk quickly is that creativity is all about the invention of something brand new. This is not the case. As Voltaire puts it “originality is nothing more than judicious imitation”.

I would argue that fundamentally creativity is about understanding what works in one environment, reconfiguring it and applying it to a new environment. Viewed in this way, creativity becomes a discipline that all B2B marketers can engage with and learn to be highly proficient at.

The five steps to creativity in B2B marketing

So what does this mean for B2B marketers in practice? What’s the creative formula for generating emotional engagement? Whilst I am going to stop short of a recipe, I do believe that there are a series of steps that can be followed to crack the creative code in B2B marketing.

1. Visualise your audience

Think about your audience in a holistic sense. Go beyond their job title to understand the nuances of how they relate to their environment. What narratives are they engaging with? Which memes, trends and cultural phenomena are catching their attention? Data should play an important role in this exercise but don’t dismiss the myriad sources of qualitative information available to you or be afraid to conduct a thought experiment.

2. Deconstruct the concept

Examine the phenomena that your audience are engaging with. How and why is this resonating? You need to understand both the mechanics and the relevance. 

3. Reconfigure the idea

Consider how the concept could be applied to the context you share with your target audience. In most cases, this won’t be a simple copy and paste. Analyse to understand which parts don’t quite work and identify what adjustments are required. 

4. Activate a minimum viable product (MVP)

Create a workable version of the creative concept. By all means run by internal stakeholders and friendly clients but don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. There is no substitute for live testing so be comfortable taking the risk and treating the first iteration as an experiment.

There is no substitute for live testing so be comfortable taking the risk and treating the first iteration as an experiment.

 5. Optimise the creative

Collect as much qualitative and quantitative information on how your audience are responding as possible. Updates to the creative should not be done reactively. Therefore, build in a number of checkpoints to give you the opportunity to recalibrate the execution.

The creative output

There are two key advantages to following such a framework. Firstly, it has the potential to transport you to concepts that would be otherwise unimaginable. Secondly, , and arguably a greater benefit, is that it adds rigour. This not only makes the concept more likely to be effective but ensures that it stands up to scrutiny internally.

Take the famous HPE IT monster. On the face of it, a big red monster to communicate the inefficiency of IT operations would have seemed a bit far fetched. However, by referencing the Churchill Bulldog or the Compare the Market Meerkats, marketers at HPE would have been able to demonstrate how characters make messages more memorable.

The IT monster is an example of larger than life creative but the process can be applied effectively at more modest levels. For instance, in the past week here at alan. we have used it to develop a client event inspired by the Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch and editorial borrowing from David Attenborough’s Witness Statement.

However, given that 1 in 3 B2B CMOs we spoke to want to use Covid as a catalyst to take more risks and be bolder with creative perhaps we’ll see more monsters “coming over the hill”!

Benedict Buckland

Creative Director, alan.

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