In a previous article, we talked to Jon Lonsdale, MD and founder of full-service advertising agency Octopus, about his views on some of the challenges facing tech marketers today. In this article, we talk more about the nuts and bolts of B2B marketing in a digital world, and the importance of creativity and innovation.

What are your views on creativity in B2B marketing?

This is a massively under-discussed topic. We’ve won awards for creativity in recent years, and judges often comment on the lack of differentiation in B2B tech marketing. There’s a tendency to assume that buyers are all the same.  However, tech markets commoditise over time, so consumer marketing tactics work. We research B2B tech buying habits annually and the stereotype of the 50-something man in a pinstripe suit just doesn’t work today! B2B marketers need to be creative to attract the attention of buyers. 

What do you think agencies bring to innovation in B2B? 

B2B clients can be conservative. Young companies are more inclined to innovate, take risks and have fun as they build their brand. We have found that early stage US companies are often the most adventurous, and prepared to treat B2B buyers like consumers. Some of the best examples of this approach are Slack, Mailchimp and HubSpot. We encourage clients to budget for test and experimentation, but larger organisations in particular often worry about failing. Staff often have great ideas but as they percolate through organisations, they can be diluted. B2B needs more experimentation and part of our job is to encourage that experimentation and innovation.

How can you encourage creativity in B2B?

We use creative, entertaining and interesting content to encourage clients to avoid the ‘same old’, easy, B2B marketing option, and start to stand out. We applied this thinking recently with one of our clients in the agritech space, called Sellmylivestock. The company offering is a livestock trading platform, a bit like eBay for farmers. To help build awareness amongst farmers, we created an app called Tudder,  or Tinder for cows.  So we were using humour around a consumer concept like Tinder to explain how farmers could use the app to buy and sell livestock. This led to thousands of pieces of coverage. It has put Sellmylivestock on a world stage. In the UK, over 50% of farmers now use the platform. 

What role do personas play when you plan for a B2B campaign?

Detailed personas are central to effective B2B tech marketing. It’s where we always begin, and I’m always amazed by how few marketers profile and speak to customers in a systematic way. We encourage them to talk to customers and prospects in focus groups, and really get to know their customers. Our research shows buying decisions typically involve at least 3.7 people. So that’s four different personas, probably from four business disciplines. We identify a main persona and rank the other decision-makers by importance, then align the campaign to these personas.

How does that work in practice?  

You have to try to make the main persona real. For example, one of our clients, Earth-I, is in the satellite and geolocation industry, selling to niche markets with a global universe of around 1,300 prospects. The main persona we developed is Geo Jeremy (or Jezza for short). In the client offices, they have a poster of him on the wall and before marketing decisions they ask, “What would Jezza do?”. He is built into everything they do, and it helps the company leadership to appreciate that what they think customers need isn’t necessarily what customers want.

We saw this with a security client too. We did some research and found that customers weren’t really interested in the detail of the products. Instead, they wanted to know about the support offered when something went wrong. This helped the company to develop new messages focused on real customer needs, not tech features.

What is your approach to messaging in B2B?

We aim to develop clear, crisp messages for use ‘on the street’, across channels, in long and short form. Company messages also need supporting backstories, to avoid messages being developed, distributed and promptly forgotten. We also try to evolve positioning and messaging across product/service families. These strategic projects often involve working at board level, where the agency acts as a third party challenger on messaging and thinking. B2B tech companies are often operating in complex market landscapes, and sophisticated ecosystems, with commoditising technologies. Value propositions and messaging must differentiate the company in ways other than price. We have to be able to show collective brand benefits for partners.

The long view

Regardless of how technology is deployed in support of marketing the fundamental principles of marketing must underpin it. The rigour of planning, segmentation, messaging and other disciplines make up a good agency’s core skills as well as inspirational creative. In the fast-paced world of Tech B2B finding the right agency partner can help avoid high-risk investments and poor ROI. 

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

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