B2B companies finally understand the importance of brand

The moment is approaching when B2B brands realise they need to invest more in brand than performance. Just look at these examples for inspiration.

Idea realisation
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Exactly two years ago, we published a prophecy that we called ‘the Flippening’.

The Flippening is the magical moment when B2B businesses realise that brand marketing creates much more financial value than so-called ‘performance marketing’, and B2B CMOs start allocating at least 51% of their budget to top-of-funnel activities.

When we quit our jobs at LinkedIn a few months ago, some marketers interpreted our departure as a sign that our B2B brand dream had died. Did the performance marketing empire strike back? Did the bottom-funnel-feeders destroy us with their Mickey Mouse metrics?

No. Au contraire, we are more bullish on brand than ever. The Flippening is at hand!

First, look to the data. By the time we left LinkedIn, brand advertising was one of the fastest-growing parts of the business. In May of 2023, our alma mater published a B2B Benchmark Report showing that B2B marketers plan to invest 30% of their budget in brand building.

The trend is your friend. But forget the data for a second.

We spent 10 years fighting against the War on Brand, and if there’s one thing we learned, it’s that data will only get you so far. What you really need are examples. ‘Anecdata’, if you will. Yes, you can (and should) show your finance department all 900 charts from Les Binet and Peter Field’s seminal work, The Long and the Short of It. But when the curtain falls on your slide show, there’s another magic spell you can whisper in the ears of the CFO…

“Salesforce is doing it.”

Most companies focus more on their competitors than their customers. It’s a sad truth, but a truth that you can put to work. To sell in a brand campaign, you don’t just need proof that it works. You need proof that other B2B brands think it works too.

When we first started out, Salesforce was our go-to example of effective B2B brand building. As far as we’re concerned, IBM invented B2B brand building, GE refined it and Salesforce perfected it. Consider the team’s latest work: ‘The Candy Shop’.

This ticks all the best brand boxes. It grabs your attention with fast-paced whimsy. It delivers a single compelling message – that AI will turn every worker into a genius. In the new AI era, ‘Everyone is an Einstein’ has got to be the tagline to beat. The ad is distinctive AF, with the Salesforce logo flashing in the first second, co-presented with one of its many charming and iconic characters. It shows the product without getting bogged down by details. And it will be marketed across every key medium in every key market.

Five years ago, we were hard-pressed to find other examples of Ehrenberg-Bass-esque marketing in B2B. Now we have so many examples that we can’t fit them into a column.

But, by God, we will try!

Brands flying the B2B flag

To loosen the purse strings of your CFO, try pairing the data with this anecdata.

Let’s start with ServiceNow. You’ve probably never heard of ServiceNow, but it has a bigger market capitalisation than Ford and Ferrari combined. And you will have heard of ServiceNow soon enough, thanks to its savvy investments in brand. Check out the latest work from its talented team (below), and you’ll see all the right principles at work.

The ad covers all the key category entry points for the brand, from enterprise application development to HR management software. But it never loses sight of the feelings behind the purchases. Unresponsive colleagues are annoying, network outages are overwhelming, reading case histories is mind-numbing, and so on.

Or behold the killer creative below from CS Disco. It’s one of three vignettes, all of which are laugh-out-loud funny, anchored around key buying situations and narrated by a character (‘Lady J’) who does double duty – linking the ad to the brand (Disco) while also linking the brand to the category (law). And it pulls off that rare feat in 15 seconds flat.

If you need more proof that brand characters are alive and kicking in B2B, take a gander at Asana’s excellent example (below), whose little work-monsters fight off the ‘Sunday scaries’. And characters needn’t be fluffy creatures or gold-dusted actresses. Intel, the owner of the most distinctive audio asset in all of B2B, won a Cannes Lions last year for this mind-bending creative, which casts its own employees in the leading role.

We could go on and on and on.

Mastercard’s B2B solutions are ‘Priceless’. Toast tames restaurant chaos with its phantasmagorical brand advertising. SAS transforms a billion points of data into a point of view. Mailchimp turns ‘clustomers’ into customers.

Once upon a time, B2B brand building existed mostly in books and white papers. Now it’s on the air and in the feed, converting future buyers into future cash flows for brands of all shapes and sizes. B2B isn’t all boring anymore. It’s clever, distinctive, and memorable.

We’re coming out of the direct-response dark ages and entering the brand renaissance.

This isn’t the Empire Strikes Back. It’s the Return of The Jedi.

Welcome to the Flippening.

Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo were the heads of research and development at LinkedIn’s B2B Institute. Their new venture will come out of stealth and launch to the public on 1 May.