Does B2B have a creativity problem?
Cannes Lions

It’s certainly not the first time this question has been asked. In fact, it feels very 2022. That was the year Cannes Lions launched the Creative B2B Lions, heralded as a major milestone at the time. This year, there are 13 awards for Creative B2B at the festival, ranging from brand building to disruption, challenger brands to effectiveness. With these accolades, there’s a willingness to believe the problem has been solved, that B2B has cracked creativity – but has it?

It is well understood that B2B marketers have traditionally concentrated on the bottom end of the funnel: sales activation. They are nearly twice as likely to depend on ‘rational’ product-centric creative compared to their B2C counterparts, while LinkedIn data reveals that B2B marketers allocate a mere 8% of their budgets to long-term brand awareness. Creativity can undoubtedly be used throughout the funnel, but it is arguably at its most effective towards the top: earning trust, becoming memorable and building brand.

For the last few years, weak economic growth, high inflation and rising interest rates have dented confidence and made it harder to found and grow profitable businesses. Now more than ever, marketers are having to think about the immediate, not the long term. Which begs the question, if we weren’t focusing on creativity and brand building when times were good, how can marketers be expected to do it now? We didn’t make brand hay when the sun was shining, and now things are considerably darker.

This brings us back to the perception of creativity within B2B, and whether time, money and effort should be funneled into long-term growth (brand) or short-term activation (product). We know the answer is both. They are not mutually exclusive. I am not telling anyone anything they don’t know. Unfortunately, we also know that the majority of B2B brands still take the short road when the going gets tough. The path of least resistance, sure, but the wrong one.

All too often, the mindset that brand is more useful for B2C than B2B prevails. All the things that good creativity and brand growth bring – long-term loyalty, trust, emotional attachment – are useful in one world, but not another. Surely we have to move beyond this, not just when we celebrate great creativity and brand growth at events like Cannes Lions, but back in the real world, in the day-to-day. 

Most of us are aware of the 95-5 rule, as outlined by Professor John Dawes. “Only 5% of potential B2B customers are in-market at any given time, meaning marketers need to deploy broad upper-funnel campaigns for the other 95%.” Combine this with ever-increasing targeting opportunities – it’s no coincidence that the one new B2B award up for grabs this year at Cannes is for influencer marketing – and it’s obvious that creativity needs to be at the heart of everything we do in B2B marketing. We need to build brand loyalty, and we need to be creative in how we do it. 

We’ve seen great examples in recent years of brands really getting it right in B2B, being useful and memorable without being product-led. The Audiencers and Hubspot spring to mind, and closer to home we’ve seen great initiatives on Raconteur from Salesforce and Mailchimp

While product-centric marketing definitely has its place, it’s not the ‘rational’ choice by default. That would suggest creative, brand-led marketing is ‘irrational’, when everything we know about effectiveness and loyalty suggests otherwise. B2B products change and evolve over time, as do brands, but while it’s easy to forget features, demos and price tiers, it’s a lot harder to forget true creativity when you come across it. 

Remote working can damage women’s career prospects – but it shouldn’t

The shift to remote working has granted millions of us a better work/life balance, yet proximity bias is blocking the advancement of highly talented people, affecting female workers disproportionately

“What worries me is a world where women become less visible.” 

So said entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow at the inaugural Women in Work Summit in London this week.

She was talking in a session questioning whether the post-pandemic shift towards remote working in the UK has been good for women. I’d assumed beforehand that the consensus would be yes, but Wosskow offered a strong argument to the contrary. 

Her reasoning was as follows: there are more men in the workforce than women, who are more likely to be working remotely. And studies show that people who visit the office less often than their managers are less likely to secure a promotion than colleagues who attend HQ frequently.

Wosskow urged the audience to “be very careful about where the consequences of the pandemic and the desire for flexibility can take us”.

The reality of who works from home

Her arguments are supported by government research. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 79.4% of men aged 16 to 64 are employed in the UK as of Q2 2023, compared with 72.1% of women.

Women are also slightly more likely than men to be working remotely. The ONS surveys the population regularly on where and how they work. Its most recent findings indicate that 17% of women work purely from home, compared with 16% of men, while 29% of women are hybrid workers, compared with 27% of men. Nearly half of working men (48%) cannot do so from home, compared with 44% of working women. 

There is plenty of research evidence indicating that proximity bias exists in many workplaces. For instance, a survey of C-suite executives in the US last year found that 41% believed that remote workers were less likely to be considered for promotion in their firms. This phenomenon predates the pandemic: a study conducted in China in 2015 found that remote workers were half as likely as their office-attending colleagues to be promoted, even though they were more productive. 

So, as Wosskow highlighted, there could be an issue to address here. Yet it doesn’t mean that the uptake of remote working, especially by women, is intrinsically a mistake.

How to prevent WFH from becoming another equality issue

Nonetheless, employers should be aware of the potential challenges this trend presents. When designed well and applied effectively, flexible working policies can give employees agency, reduce their stress and improve their productivity. But if this harms people’s promotion prospects and earning power – particularly those in groups who are already disadvantaged in this respect – it will simply reinforce the status quo.

The solution, then, is to be mindful of how flexible working policies operate in reality and to mitigate any impact this could have on remote workers’ careers. 

Women remain overwhelmingly responsible for childcare and household chores, which may be part of the reason why they‘re more likely to take up flexible working where it’s offered. New data from the National Centre for Social Research shows that, while attitudes to women’s participation in work have shifted hugely over the past 40 years, behaviour has yet to catch up. For instance, 65% of the British public say that washing and ironing is done mainly by the women in their households, versus 27% who say it is shared and 7% who say it is done mainly by the men.

Be very careful about where the consequences of the pandemic and the desire for flexibility can take us

To build fairness into the system, an employer must track who is making use of flexible working policies and why, and then ensure that everyone feels equally able to access them. If women are using them more than men, it needs to consider why that’s the case. 

Elliott Rae, who founded MusicFootballFatherhood, a parenting platform for men, highlighted this issue at the summit from an alternative viewpoint. He spoke of a male friend who’d been offered four weeks of paternity leave by his employer but had taken only one because he knew that the other men in the firm who’d secured promotions after becoming fathers had taken only a week off. 

Rae asked delegates: “What are you doing in your organisations to encourage and support dads to take up flexible work policies?”

Managers also need to be trained in how to counter proximity bias and be mindful of treating everyone equally, no matter where they work. Likewise, they need fairer systems of gauging someone’s productivity and value to the business if they can’t see that person working next to them in the office.

Ultimately, as writer and futurist Christine Armstrong noted at the summit, the pandemic gave us “the most incredible opportunity to reset work”. But that reset needs to benefit everyone. It’s up to business leaders to ensure that it does.

The Twitter rebrand is a disaster – here’s why

Far from signalling a bright new future, Elon Musk’s decision to rebrand Twitter to X suggests the company is in more trouble than many thought

X Logo On Size Of Hq Building

Things have been looking bad at Twitter for some time. Since Elon Musk bought the platform for $44bn (£34bn) last year, it has shed users and advertising revenues, as well as its place in the social media ecosystem. 

Time then, according to Musk, for a rebrand. Announcing the news, he detailed plans to “bid adieu to the Twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds” (a reference to the blue bird logo that has been synonymous with Twitter since it was founded). This morning, the logo visible on the website and the badges assigned to employee profiles had changed to an ‘X’ symbol, while the new logo was emblazoned on the outside of the company’s headquarters.

Twitter is not the first to attempt a rebrand to paper over strategic cracks. Branding history is littered with companies wanting to put the past behind them or signal a new direction with a name change. Most of these happen at the corporate level, with the aim of showing investors that things are changing.

RBS Group rebranding as NatWest Group is a recent example, but Philip Morris, Facebook, Google, Royal Mail and WeightWatchers have all tried it. Usually, however, they only serve to highlight what customers and investors already know: there are problems in the business that its leaders would rather move on from.

The issues at Twitter

At Twitter those problems are obvious. Musk himself has said revenues are down by 50% since he bought it in October. Staffing levels have dropped precipitously. More than 7,000 people worked for the company before the takeover, but that number is now down to 2,300, according to Musk. Documents seen by CNBC claim the figure is closer to 1,300.

There are no official numbers on monthly users, but Matthew Prince, CEO of DNS service Cloudflare, claims that Twitter’s traffic is “tanking”, while Insider Intelligence predicts user numbers will fall from a high of 368.4 million in 2022 to 335.7 million in 2024. More than that, there’s a feeling among Twitter users that the changes Musk has made, from introducing a subscription service to limiting the number of tweets people can see, have worsened the experience.

All of this means rivals are circling. Bluesky, created by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has hit more than 1 million downloads (it operates a waiting list for new users). Facebook-owner Meta is also getting in on the action with the launch of Threads, which was the fastest app ever to hit 150 million downloads (although there are signs it is struggling to maintain interest with reports that traffic is down 70% from its peak). 

Musk wants the rebrand to signal a new direction for Twitter. CEO Linda Yaccarino has called the changes a “second chance to make another big impression”, claiming that in the same way Twitter changed the way we communicate, X will “transform the global town square”. 

Musk envisions X as an ‘everything app’ that will enable messaging, payments and banking. Yaccarino says it will be a “global marketplace for ideas, goods, services and opportunities, powered by AI that will connect us all in ways we’re just beginning to imagine”. 

The idea, then, is to put Twitter’s past as a social media platform behind it, in favour of building a ‘marketplace’ that offers so much more. The best way to get users, customers and advertisers behind that new ethos, Musk believes, is through a rebrand.

The difficulties of rebranding

Yet wanting to build a new company out of an old one and actually doing it are not the same thing. Google’s rebrand to Alphabet meant to signal that it was more than a search company, yet the business and the majority of its revenue remains synonymous with this. Facebook’s rebrand to Meta aimed to do the same, but the metaverse made up just 1% of the company’s revenues last year.

Rebranding Twitter to X does not make Musk’s vision any more likely to become a reality. The company needs to tempt users back with new features, while convincing advertisers it is a safe space for their brands to appear. Only when it has the trust of both audiences once again could X even think about becoming a bigger platform. 

The amateurish way it has launched the rebrand is hardly likely to put minds at rest. Currently, the X name is only used on desktop, not on the apps. The Twitter name and the blue birds are still visible across its properties, from apps to its twitter.com URL. Musk said the x.com url would redirect to Twitter.com; currently it does not.

The decision to drop Twitter blue for black appears to be the result of a Musk poll, rather than any deep strategic insight. The logo is not an original piece of work, but simply the ‘x’ glyph from Special Alphabets 4 font (making it impossible to trademark). 

If anything, the rebrand is a distraction that will cost the company time and money when it cannot afford to waste either. The loss of equity from dumping one of the world’s most valuable brand names, according to Brand Finance, is hard to measure but likely to be sizeable.

What is clear is that Twitter is in trouble. The rebrand suggests it is in more trouble than many realised. 

The new landscape of collaborative purchasing decision-making

The process when it comes to businesses making purchasing decisions is becoming increasingly complex. Will Brookes, CEO of Raconteur, explains why, and how to reach the new stakeholders for B2B sales

It’s never been easy to get the attention of B2B decision-makers.

But with digital transformation, the economic climate and growing pressures on businesses, navigating the path to purchase is more complicated than ever. The solo C-suite decision-maker has been replaced by a buying committee and that committee is expanding and becoming more complex.

In 2014, research by CEB found that on average five people were involved in a B2B purchase decision.

In 2022, a survey by Raconteur of 1,100 UK senior business leaders found that, in 94% of cases, more than six people are involved in the decision-making process, with one in five (21%) business leaders reporting that more than 16 people are involved in business investment decisions. Interdepartmental influence is also increasing, with departments such as finance, HR, IT, operations, marketing and sales influencing areas outside their assumed expertise.

There are more people with a say in each buying decision and this has ramifications on all aspects of the B2B environment. Since it is no longer purely the C-suite who make every purchase decision, the strategy of targeting this one department of the business has been superseded. The decision-making process now needs to be viewed through a wide lens to consider a new complicated buying matrix of multiple departments and cross-sectional executives at varying levels of seniority. The landscape for B2B purchasing decision-making has changed.

For marketers, the familiar strategy of targeting a senior executive role no longer works because it doesn’t reflect how decisions are made in business today.

According to Raconteur’s research, 76% of business leaders agree that they rarely make decisions without consulting stakeholders and departments in their organisation. And 86% of business leaders agree that they value regular communication, insights and/or updates from different functions for decision-making.

But why?

Because businesses are becoming interconnected. Technology has transformed how we work and communicate. Companies prefer to run the same software company-wide, which means that decisions about that software also run company-wide. Disciplines that 15 years ago weren’t viewed as instrumental are now integrated parts of the business. Data, for instance, is a key strategic business asset and that means data strategists have become part of the decision-making process. With the need for cybersecurity ramped up, that department also has a strong influence on the decision-making process. Increased regulation has heightened the need for legal teams, so their voices are heard too in decision-making discussions. And this is mirrored across myriad departments.

Added to this is the fact that purchase-making decisions can be career-changing and the cost of getting them wrong could be career-ending. Sharing the load among multiple decision-makers lessens the chance of a major career blow.

So, what does this mean for marketers?

Since decision-makers now range in expertise and seniority, marketing campaigns need to be relevant for experts and novices. Also, marketers need to target campaigns to many functions, not just the most obvious ones. And ultimately, the B2B marketing technique of distributing a white paper is now a waste of time.

True B2B marketing excellence is not just about how to reach this new cross-sectional audience. It’s also about what to use to reach them.

Instead of taking the time to get to know their audience and find out what will attract them, marketers often move too quickly to develop campaigns to achieve commercial goals and meet the bottom line. Understandable, considering the economic climate and scrutiny on budgets. But to work in this way often produces content that doesn’t pique the audience’s interest or keep them reading. All it does is harm the success of the campaign and relationships with potential buyers in the long run.

Content must be interesting, engaging, clear and relevant for each stakeholder, across different disciplines and levels of seniority. And the nature of B2B purchase behaviour means that marketers often have a narrow window of opportunity to get their content in front of the right person, at the right time. Don’t fall into the trap of wasting that opportunity by pushing generic research which doesn’t have real insights. It takes time, energy and money to craft a campaign that will land with this new era of decision-makers – but an authentic, challenging piece of content is worth a thousand white papers.

There is an art to decision-making. And there is a skill to targeting the decision-maker. Only when we understand the complexity of the audience can we get to the crux of what they are looking for.

This article was originally published on WARC.

How marketers can help brands find their voice

What, how and why brands choose to advertise is under increasing scrutiny as consumers move towards more thoughtful purchasing.

When Greenpeace scaled the Cannes Lions’ Palais and stormed the beaches of the Croisette to unveil its ‘No Awards on a Dead Planet’ campaign, the advertising industry received a poignant reminder of its role in the global environmental crisis.

Because what brands choose to advertise, how they choose to advertise and why is under greater scrutiny than ever before, and missteps and unsubstantiated claims can become damaging Twitter storms and global headlines in seconds.

So, why are so many brands getting it wrong? And what role do media agencies have in helping brands find their authentic voice and drive a more trustworthy purpose-led conversation?

Authenticity is key

In recent years there has been a steady rise in brands publicly committing to more purpose-driven efforts. So much so that the market has become oversaturated, making it challenging for competitors to set themselves apart. In addition, audiences are becoming increasingly savvy and socially conscious, placing added pressure on brands to not just have a purpose but also be transparent about their efforts and results. 

This is because while it’s easy for brands to talk about their purpose pledges, it’s a completely different task to get them to share evidence of meaningful and positive impact without the smoke and mirrors of ill-constructed definitions and goals. With more brands coming under scrutiny for claims of greenwashing, pinkwashing and wokewashing, this reinforces the need for authentic communication. Customers today need to be convinced that a message is true and not just a marketing communication gimmick, and they need brands to demonstrate their role in society beyond just transactions. 

Rob McFaul, Co-Founder of Purpose Disruptors, a climate action group set up to help drive the advertising industry towards net zero by 2030, believes the advertising industry has a role to play in driving change. “The shift we’re starting to see is an understanding that, through campaigns, we can do more than just raise awareness of environmental issues or promote our clients’ sustainability credentials,” McFaul says. “We can normalise sustainable lifestyles, encourage sustainable behaviours and play an important role in helping our clients transform their business models so they can thrive in a net zero world.” 

Information is power, and by being authentic and transparent about where you are in your brand journey and the areas you wish to improve, consumers will feel empowered and more willing to engage. It’s a simple yet powerful tactic to not only help convert the sceptics, but also build loyal brand ambassadors over the long term. McFaul adds: “We’ve found changing habits from a sustainability standpoint are down to people’s concern for their future and the future of their children, nieces and nephews. People care and are reflecting their concerns with their buying decisions.”

What can advertising agencies do to drive purpose?

So, what role do agencies have in helping brands find their genuine voice? It can start with seemingly small steps, as long as there is a genuine call to action and change. The #changethebrief alliance, started in response to growing scrutiny of the industry’s need to harness its own influence, is picking up pace. The alliance, now boasting 5,000 signatories, provides agencies and client-side marketers with the skills and confidence to promote sustainable behaviours through their campaigns.  

This has included initiatives such as encouraging people to take shorter showers by creating four-minute, ad-free Spotify playlists of ‘songs to sing in the shower’, as well as creating packaging that urges consumers to freeze leftover food in order to reduce food waste. The goal is to normalise these eco-desirable behaviours in society through advertising, and use media and marketing investment to achieve this. 

Marketers and agencies are more than just consultants. With a constant finger on the pulse, they are advisors to clients on culture, audiences and trends, and it is vital for brands to recognise this and understand the crucial role their media partners play in how they should respond to social issues. So, where does purpose-driven marketing go from here?

Be clear in your communication 

Having clear communication about your brand’s goals and values can help maintain your reputation, draw in new clients and make your current clientele feel connected to what you do. In addition, studies show that 63% of consumers favour making purchases from brands with a purpose. Therefore, even though purpose-driven marketing is excellent for building brand reputation, doing so is also in your best commercial interests. 

Looking ahead, adland needs to come together and collectively work on what is, in effect, its toughest brief yet. It’s more important than ever for advertising agencies to play this key role in the development, planning and activation of legitimate purpose campaigns. Consumers will become increasingly sophisticated at sorting the wheat from the chaff and, therefore, brands and agencies must work together to create a purpose-led narrative that is authentic and clear.

This article was originally published on shots.net

Listen: Why marketers need to understand the complexity of modern decision-making

Had fun speaking with my old pal Benedict Buckland from alan. agency about the increasingly complex world of business decision-making, and what it means for business leaders and the B2B brands/marketers trying to reach them.

In this episode of B2B Marketing: The Provocative Truth, Will joins Benedict Buckland of alan. agency to discuss what marketers need to know about how their potential clients make decisions.

Marketers often focus on singular audiences: the very people who would benefit from what they’re selling. However, it seems as though they are quite naive in their understanding of how their prospective clients’ decisions are made. In B2B especially, it’s not as simple as targeting a specific individual; the buying process involves stakeholders, other business leaders, and so on. With the buyer journey being so much more complex, marketers need to really consider how other businesses make their decisions in order to market to them more effectively.