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Marketer Agonistes: Feeling the Pain at the Marketing Leaders’ Forum

I learned a lot from the B2B Marketing Leaders’ Forum Asia 2018, held in Singapore in September, particularly about how tough life is for the typical B2B marketer. As is the custom of our times I jotted down some “key takeaways” on the day and sent them out tout de suite on LinkedIn. Having (two weeks later) found some time on my schedule, I think it’s worth revisiting and expanding on those, as they get to the heart of the issues facing anyone trying to reach and impress a rarefied B2B market.

– B2B marketers are deeper in the trenches than their B2C colleagues (“using sniper rifles, not shotguns”)

The pithy description of the B2B marketer’s arsenal given by one speaker captures the wholly different nature of many B2B campaigns from their B2C counterparts. This speaker, from a global financial services consultancy, revealed that they had fewer than 40 target enterprises across the region and created content with them exclusively in mind. What use, then, are flashy brand campaigns of the type so beloved by the Cannes crowd? B2B marketers have to show a much deeper understanding of their targets’ businesses, and the challenges their clients face, than is possible with a 30-second Superbowl ad. Credible content is a huge part of the solution.

– B2B marketers must manage stakeholders in every part of the business – and often do so facing a “trust gap”

I met a ton of talented, motivated and razor-sharp people at the event, with diverse backgrounds – from audit and accounting to programming to development economics. Yet I got the sense that the B2B marketing function often battles a lingering and unwarranted inferiority complex compared to the revenue generating side of the business (again, not something that troubles many Cannes Lions partygoers, I’d imagine).

This was aptly summed up by Thomas Barta, keynote speaker and author of “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader”, who pinpointed the problem as a matter of how the rest of the business can perceive the marketing team – illustrated on this slide (apologies for the low-quality photo).

Funny though this might be to some, battling the “trust gap” can a daily problem for B2B marketing departments, unless they can get to grips with the next two points:

– B2B marketers are held to tough standards of accountability by the business

– They need multiple skillsets, not least the ability to prove ROI by marshalling the torrents of data at their disposal

Much of the conference was given over to the problem of how to prove ROI on marketing campaigns. As Barta put it: “If anyone says you’re a cost centre, change it – or leave. Get in the revenue camp!”

Naturally this applies to B2C marketers, too, but their B2B counterparts are more likely to have to account for every bullet fired from their sniper rifles. The metrics by which campaigns are judged obviously vary depending on their aims and how far towards the top or bottom of the sales funnel they are positioned – and, as we’ve noted before, must be signed off by the business well in advance. Hit those metrics, thereby demonstrating value, and the trust gap disappears.

Partly this means speaking the right language: C-suite execs don’t really care about social shares, brand salience, or other marketing buzzwords. But educating the rest of the business is also crucial to changing perceptions. Branding campaigns might not have metrics as easily linked to revenue as those aimed at delivering qualified leads, but are nonetheless crucial for B2B firms too. As one speaker said, “Brand is the reason the sales team gets in a client’s front door. But no one on the business side wants to pay for it.”

– The tools B2B marketers need must be highly specialised and targeted, across geographies, sectors and audiences

Given the specialised nature of the audience B2B marketers are trying to reach, expertise in certain sectors (especially when it comes to content) is a sine qua non for agency partners. Picking the right channels is also crucial – because as several people pointed out, quoting Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed, “Content is King, but distribution is Queen – and she wears the pants.”

Speaking of which, among the pearls of wisdom there were inevitably some oft-repeated quotations, platitudes and buzzwords, as there are at any conference (even at those run by my former employer, which strives to set the bar pretty high for live discourse). I recommend keeping yourself amused next time you are at a comparable event by playing “Marketing Conference Bingo”. Here’s the card I put together in between moments of insight at the event. Enjoy!

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