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B yourself, B2B. Why B2B should stop imitating B2C

Mirroring B2C strategies might not ensure B2B success. Creative director Daniele Pulega explores the unique challenges for B2B marketers and the importance of strategy in crafting resonant campaigns.

8 mins
Written by
Daniele Pulega
Published on
July 5, 2024

The increasing scrutiny over B2B marketing's shortcomings in humanity and creativity has pushed B2B marketers to look up to the work of their (supposedly) more glamorous peers in B2C to learn how to make their creative campaigns a bit more… creative.

As a result, we're starting to see B2B campaigns that more or less successfully emulate the unbridled creativity we admire in B2C. For example, look at this campaign from Workday that won gold at this year's Cannes Lions ceremony. From the star-studded cast to the high-production value of the film to the wacky nature of the idea, it screams B2C.

But is mimicking B2C the right path to B2 B's creative emancipation?

To answer this question, we must look at the people we create B2B marketing for: the customers. 

We know all too well that the sales cycle in B2B is way longer and more complex than in B2C. B2B decision-making involves multiple stakeholders, including executives, managers, and specialised teams, and those in charge of pitching a particular company to provide a product or service need tangible, rational reasons to support their thinking. B2B marketing must give these reasons. The emotions that ever-so-incessantly all B2B agencies bang on about will not be sufficient on their own. In fact, sometimes, they might be altogether irrelevant. In short, it's unlikely that a CFO will persuade the CEO to purchase services from a company because "their ad was really cool".

If B2C companies can get away without giving any information about the product they sell because the values they built their brand around are attractive enough to get customers to buy them, B2B brands are not so lucky. 

It's unlikely that a CFO will persuade the CEO to purchase services from a company because "their ad was really cool".

B2B brands have to sweat it a bit more. And rightly so.

If a homemaker chooses a dishwasher that doesn't remove all food stains in one go, it's not ideal, but that decision will not (or should not, at least) jeopardise their family's future. But if a CTO chooses a cloud system that puts the company's security at risk, that decision could jeopardise their future. And that of their family too. 

To think that B2B and B2C audiences are the same is naive, if not altogether ignorant. It ignores that B2B customers have much more at stake when it comes to their purchase decisions. Hence, what they look for in advertising will be very much different from what B2C customers seek in a campaign. 

To be successful, B2B brands need to look competent.

A cool, funny or even heartwarming ad just won't cut it. First and foremost, it has to be true. It has to be founded on an insight relevant to the audience that makes the brand look competent and expert in their industry. Then, creatives can add a layer of humour, warmth, surprise, shock, magic, whatever we like. As long as it doesn't undermine that foundation of competency and truth.

I see no way for a B2B brand to succeed with a campaign that dismisses the necessity for such a foundation. It might work for B2B brands whose audience resembles a B2C one (e.g. MailChimp or Squarespace) - although I’d still argue it doesn’t. However, how can a hedge fund manager trust a prime brokerage that looks overly silly or melodramatic in its brand campaign?

Copying B2C creativity in the B2B space can be counterproductive and risk alienating the intended audience. B2C creativity can be overly silly and melodramatic. B2B can't. And that's fine! We should stop forcing on the B2B audience a creative imperative that doesn't fit their needs. We are working for them, not vice-versa.

B2B must forge its own path to creative excellence.

My hypothesis is that the secret to excellent and effective creativity in B2B is... (plot twist) strategy. Insight is king! Showing that we truly understand our target audience and the complexities of their business world by acknowledging their challenges and providing a competent solution for those is what will win gold where it matters the most: our customers' hearts. 

Showing that we truly understand our target audience and the complexities of their business world (...) will win gold.

If, in B2C, creativity is the protagonist, the diva of the marketing stage, often improvising off the spur of sheer inspiration, in B2B, it should learn to step aside and share the spotlight with strategy. Strategy is the scriptwriter giving us the truth to build customer trust. Creativity is the actor bringing such truth to life in a way that resonates and sticks with the audience. 

Take this campaign from Indeed India. Creatively, not your usual bombastic Cannes Lions sweeper, perhaps. But did it need to be? The insight around most Indian SMB recruiters resorting to peers and families to fill their vacancies because of the lack of time, resources, and reluctance to deny support to their community is undeniably rock solid.

And for it to be awarded the Grand-Prix at WARC’s effectiveness awards at the Palais it must mean that, to a B2B audience, its performance was way more compelling than any rockstar.

Daniele Pulega

Creative Director, alan. agency

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