At Metadata 2022 last week, Ty Heath, Director of Market Engagement at The B2B Institute at LinkedIn, ran a session that talked about creativity in B2B marketing. I don’t think anyone questions that marketing needs to be creative, but more often lately, marketers are told they need to be data-driven first. Neither is wrong, but there is something to be said for creativity - because you’re doing things other brands aren’t (at least, that’s the idea). So I was curious to learn what Heath’s idea of creativity was.
Heath said marketers are always asking, ‘what is everyone else doing?’ And it’s true marketers pay attention to what’s happening in their industry and how the competition is marketing. And then they go out and do the same thing. Maybe it’s a little different, but if it works for one brand, it surely works for their brand, right? Why try to reinvent the marketing campaign?
But marketers are asking the wrong question, Heath said. What they should be asking is, “What is nobody doing?” She said the most valuable ideas are contrarian ideas. The key is that the contrarian view has to be right. If it’s wrong, then you’re just headed for a mess.
How do you know if a contrarian view is the right approach to take in your marketing? The B2B Institute studies trends in B2B marketing, and of the 30 trends it has identified, Heath shared five contrarian trends you should consider.
Trend 1: The 95-5 rule
Heath said that consumers are either in-market (actively looking to buy) or out-of-market (not looking to buy). In any given situation, ninety-five percent of category buyers are out-of-market. They aren’t thinking about your brand or your product.
Most marketers focus their energy on the 5% driving cash flow. But what they should be doing is focusing their time and energy on future buyers. Heath explained that this is all about investing in the long-term instead of short-term demand. You have to do both, of course, but most time today is spent on that small amount of in-market consumers, and that, Heath said, puts a ceiling on how much a brand can make.
Trend 2: Situational awareness
Heath talked about the lead funnel marketers all refer to when developing campaigns. The top of the funnel is about awareness, and marketing performs activities that drive awareness and push people down the funnel to the bottom, where they become customers. But it doesn’t work that way when most of your ICPs aren’t in-market, so efforts to push them down the funnel do not make sense (they aren’t looking to buy).
Heath offered a new way to look at the funnel as three stages of awareness, and we start at the bottom. The bottom of the funnel is awareness of the brand as part of a category, the middle is top-of-mind awareness, where a person names that brand first when given a category, and the top of the funnel is situational awareness, where the person names the brand when given a specific situation.
Our memories are situational, so marketers need to identify the triggers that make people think about their brand when they get in-market. To find the right situations, you can take the 5Ws approach (shown below). Once you identify them, you link your brand messages to those buying situations.
Trend 3: Product delusion
Every brand thinks its product is the best, and it markets based on the features and capabilities of the product. But if you lined up most products in a category, you would find they all tend to work the same way; have the same features, integrations, etc.
I work with a CMO who says this about the products in the market he is in - they are basically all the same because they need to provide a specific set of features and capabilities to meet customer needs. As a result, he works hard to find ways to market that don’t focus on the product.
The reality is, for a customer, the best product is the one they know, said Heath (she called it satisficing). No one has time to do deep research on all the options, and most understand there is no perfect product. A good enough product is the mid-point between value and effort; that’s where most consumers land. So, how do you make your product the one customers think of when they need it?
Trend 4: Reach maximalism
What’s more important - reach or frequency? Heath shared studies that showed it’s better to reach more people than reach fewer people more often. Frequency, she said, has diminishing marginal returns.
Reach is the lowest hurdle you need to drive more sales. Of course, it isn’t the only one, Heath said. There’s also attention, memory, and purchase, but you don’t have much of a chance without achieving reach. So it’s also the first hurdle, she said.
Trend 5: Performance branding
This last trend is all about getting a budget for brand awareness. Brand awareness isn’t as easy to measure as lead generation, but it is equally important. The way to get support for brand awareness is to do something called “performance branding.”
With performance branding, the goal, Heath explained, is to generate a memory, not a lead. It’s about broad targeting and generating memories, and it’s a long-term strategy. And that makes the metrics different (see below for examples).
Heath proposed some interesting ideas that are worth discussing with the marketing team. Many brands minimize the value of brand awareness because it’s hard to measure. But we forget that many people we want to reach are not ready to buy, so we need to develop marketing strategies that keep the brand top of mind.
If we think this way, our lead generation and demand gen strategies might perform better because we would understand we aren’t trying to drive revenue with consumers who aren’t ready to buy.
The primary goal of content marketing is sharing valuable content, making people think, and evoking emotion (enough to create a memory). We can do that with our advertising, too; it just takes a bit more effort than ads for downloading ebooks or requesting product demos.
It’s not enough to hide behind measurable strategies. We also need to do the hard work of creating a memorable brand. It will be worth the effort in the long run.