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B2B engagement doesn’t need to be dull: it should and can be more creative

This post was written by Toby Conlon who leads Lexis’ Corporate and B2B practice.

I think it was in 2014 when the phrase ‘human2human’ became really popular. H2H was going to bust B2C and B2B out of our lexicons. It was the notion that when a company is trying to sell something to another business or to a person it is, either way, just one human being having a conversation with another. The point for B2B vendors was that they had to humanise and to sell to the person, not to the business.

Initially, I was slightly dismissive of the phrase because we have enough jargon, and also because it’s only telling us what we already knew. But if you think about it, it is actually engenders exactly the right mind-set for more imaginative and effective engagement in B2B marketing. Because seeing your target audience as a person rather than an institution is a great starting point.

Corporate communicators have known this for a while. They try to bring personality and warmth to the organisation by choosing the right spokespeople, topics that the audience cares about, and messages which are accessible. All aimed at building trust, which is a human and not an institutional feature. Consumer marketers know that effective B2C campaigns will appeal to both the rational and the emotional sides of, say, a household shopper, and that the more relevant personality the brand can portray, the more likely it will be to catch attention.

B2B is still catching up. It seems to me there are four main reasons why it got behind. One: often B2B sales is very relationship-based and this is seen as the primary driver of the deal, so marketing plays the supporting role. Two: that the right creative skills and techniques are not in place in a way that they are in B2C organisations. Three: a nagging worry among some B2B marketers that creativity is positively correlated with irresponsibility and silliness. Four: that selling a B2B product or service means appealing to a wide set of purchase considerations, so messaging gets complex and campaigns lose the spear tip you would normally wrap creative elements around.

To be clear, the solution is not just to copy the techniques used in B2C. But applying the same principles might be. And you could argue that creative engagement in B2B should be way more effective, because the audience group is smaller and you know who the people are, often by name, so targeting becomes precise. If you want to get to supply chain purchase influencers at supermarkets with 300+ outlets, there are probably only about 100 or so of them. That means that the creative process can be very focused indeed.

Every business will be in a different place when it comes to creativity and there some outstanding examples, particularly in enterprise tech, of what it can achieve if you get it right. For some of the more traditional industries there’s more to do, but let’s keep pushing them into the human2human mind-set and using that as a springboard to more imaginative, more effective engagement.