Since I became editor five years ago, I have received a steady stream of complaints that Marketing Week is oblivious to the needs, challenges and concerns of B2B marketers.
While it is true that we feature more B2C brands and marketers than B2B, my retort to these often pointed observations is something along the lines of, ‘marketing is marketing, whether you are selling crisps or cloud computing’.
As glib or even dismissive as that might sound, I did believe the job of marketing, from strategy to execution, wasn’t sufficiently different we needed to treat B2B as ‘other’ – an esoteric subset of marketing that required special treatment.
And yet this month Marketing Week is publishing a series of content on B2B. My decision to put the spotlight on B2B is not borne from acceptance that the task of lead generation is wholly under-served by the marketing press, although it clearly is.
It’s about highlighting the undoubted virtues and opportunities B2B offers. It is also about asking whether B2B brands should be a first choice for marketers at the beginning, middle and sweet-spot of their career.
B2B has historically had a bad rap. Everything seen as cool about B2C – the chance to work on creative that becomes part of pop culture, for example – was considered a failing of B2B. I suspect many of those complaining about the lack of B2B coverage in Marketing Week had a chip on their shoulder about the perception that what they do is dry in comparison to their zeitgeist-generating counterparts working on brands the whole family have heard of.
Much of this thinking is a product of another age. Just as B2C marketers rarely spend afternoons with agencies in members-only Soho clubs working out how they are going to spend millions on media, so B2B marketers don’t spend all their days leafing through promotional merchandise catalogues – if either ever did.
Not that there isn’t plenty of room for improvement in B2B. Our content is not intended to be an uncritical celebration of everything that is wonderful about B2B. As much as our feature on creativity illustrates the opportunity in B2B, it highlights the consequences of the lack of investment in storytelling.
As OpenJaw Technologies CMO and Marketing Week columnist, Colin Lewis, says: “It takes long-term investments to deliver long-term marketing goals, but it’s hard to make an 18-month-plus business case while hitting lead-generation targets.”
The challenge is not radically different in B2C. The expectation investment in marketing will produce returns that will inch a PLC towards its quarterly target is front and centre in B2C too.
Many of the perceived negatives about B2B can also be seen as advantages. As Lewis points out, the real challenge for B2B marketers is change management, not brand management. In other words, they require the ability to influence an innately sceptical CEO or sales lead to invest in marketing.
Sounds like a virtue wherever you work.
Being challenging does not make B2B a preferred choice, however. Its virtues don’t begin and end with being a real test of a marketer’s mettle. There’s plenty else that can be considered a plus.
As Linda Boff, CMO of GE and of one of the best known B2B marketers in the world recently told me, the payback can be much greater given the nature of what is being sold. There’s a much higher margin and longer term value in many of the products and services offered by B2B companies.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty of innovation in strategy. Account based marketing, for example, is an opportunity to build meaningful relationships over the long term.
So, yes, the aim might be the same – to grow brands profitably – but the means to get there are different. And these differences are worthy of analysis – and celebration.