B2B Marketing: Where has all the creativity gone?

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I graduated from Boston University an obscene number of years ago (18 to be exact) with a degree in Advertising. Among my coursework was a class called AdLab where we worked on group projects for advertising campaigns. The Ford Woody, Viagra, and The Boston Metro (a free local newspaper) were among the brands my group was assigned.

Of all the wise words my AdLab professors (former agency guys turned teachers) imparted on me, it was, “if you can create something that’s both memorable and interesting – your client will be happy and your audience will be engaged.”

When it comes to B2B marketing, most campaigns aren’t memorable or interesting. 

Even worse, there is little appetite to think outside the box. Humor, empathy, authenticity – three powerful elements that B2B marketing mostly ignores. 

This confounds me, because I’ve gotten to know the smartest, funniest, and most creative people throughout my career in B2B marketing. So why is it that B2B brands are so stifled when it comes to creativity?

I have some thoughts.

Most B2B marketing programs are reactive

B2B marketing has a planning problem. We’re so caught up in being agile that, when things like product launches or events come up, we don’t prioritize the bigger picture.

If you want to create a cohesive campaign theme, you need to make an effort to tie all (if not most!) activities to that narrative, or leave them off altogether.

B2B marketing programs fall victim to an unnecessarily rigid approval process

How many rounds of approval does messaging have to go through at your company? Ever started activating your program only to have the theme or message completely turned inside out by a member of the leadership team that is not in marketing?

Me too.

When this occurs, writers and creative thinkers begin producing material with the goal of “getting it approved” as opposed to having a real impact.  

B2B brands fear being tone deaf

We live in a charged-up world filled with passion, courage, and conviction. Politically, culturally, socially – we are all different. That means when you try for humor or empathy, you may alienate someone. You may also delight someone. Sometimes the trade-off is worth it. 

Disconnected B2B marketing functions prevent consistent tone and messaging

Do the writers for the demand generation team have the same tone and style as corporate communication? Can the events team ensure that event themes are aligned with the overall campaign theme? This is really tough for B2B. You can gloss over inconsistencies in tone and messaging if you’re not taking any risks – but if you are trying to elicit a specific reaction, then extra care needs to be taken in the alignment of any content-generating functions. 

So, what now?

In the past year, we started to experiment out of necessity – as we all adjusted to doing business outside of our norms. To some degree, the experimentation has breathed fresh air into the staleness of over-automation and simplification. Our virtual interactions have made us dig deeper into our creative repositories to reinforce that we are all ultimately humans. I hope the willingness to experiment in B2B marketing, specifically with humor, authenticity, and empathy, persists.