B-to-b businesses represent one of the fastest-growing sectors of the marketing industry and are increasingly prominent within the economy as a whole. Of the top 20 biggest companies in the world, 10 rely substantially on their b-to-b marketing efforts. B-to-b digital ad spending has more than doubled since 2017 and is growing by 23% year-over-year, according to the most recent analysis from eMarketer.
Yet, a significant marketing investment by b-to-b businesses falls short of delivering long-term growth, according to The B2B Effectiveness Code, our new research collaboration with WARC and LIONS. The increased skew towards short-term, rational and tightly targeted campaigns is actually leading to a decline in effectiveness.
The B2B Effectiveness Code sets out to outline what b-to-b effectiveness looks like, to explain how it relates to creativity and to decipher the specific commitments required to make marketing creative a growth driver that contributes to long-term success.
Sales enablers or brand builders?
We partnered with leading marketing-effectiveness expert James Hurman to evaluate 435 b-to-b case studies from the WARC and LIONS effectiveness databases that were submitted between 2010 and 2021. As David Tiltman, VP of content at WARC and a global leader in marketing effectiveness research, puts it b-to-b marketers are often basically seen as sales enablers. They're there to just support the sales function, rather than to drive strategic growth. Marketing in the b-to-b space could be a lot more.”
For b-to-b brands to grow, they require three things: first, a better balance of short-term sales activation and long-term brand building; second, a greater focus on large audiences that aren’t necessarily "in the market" today; and third, the use of emotion to connect memorably with the buying situations where they want their brand to come to mind.
The current reality is far removed from this ideal. Our research demonstrates that over the past 10 years, organizations reduced their spend and investment in marketing creativity, spent less per campaign, ran campaigns for shorter durations and used fewer media channels than comparable b-to-c campaigns.
In addition, statistical correlations make clear that if marketers want to improve b-to-b effectiveness, the most impactful step is to maximize their "creative commitment.” The higher the creative commitment, the more effective the campaign.
It may seem logical to b-to-b marketers to over-index on short-term, rational and tightly targeted campaigns with a heavy focus on immediate results. But it’s at cross-purposes with marketing effectiveness best-practice and ultimately detrimental to long-term growth. The lure of efficiency comes at the expense of effectiveness.
Climbing the ladder of b-to-b effectiveness
At the report’s core is the B2B Effectiveness Ladder, which serves as a tangible schematic for benchmarking, strategic planning and goal-setting. The B2B Effectiveness Ladder also serves as a resource to help b-to-b marketers and their agencies deliver an essential message to executives and clients: Do not put on the back burner emotionally infused campaigns that do the heavy-lifting of building mental connections to the brand!
To quote David Tiltman again: “We wanted to create a framework that would allow people to have better conversations and help b-to-b marketers embark upon a journey of improvement. If you know that you're only really hitting levels two or three on the Ladder, what do you need to do to get to levels four, five, and six? It struck us that we needed to build from the ground up when it came to effectiveness.”
B-to-b brand advertising has benefited from new market entrants as well as the accelerated shift away from in-person sales interactions during COVID. But there are clear indicators that if marketers don’t rethink the way they are committing, investing and allocating resources, that boost may be short-lived. The B2B Effectiveness Code serves as a proactive call to action, outlining the model for success going forward.
Rational messaging and short-term response campaigns will still have their place at the bottom of the funnel, but the future of effectiveness in b-to-b marketing will be characterized by greater creativity and emotions that drive situational recall. It will be driven by storytelling, characters and memory-building creative devices. It will focus more on growing a brand’s audience instead of simply converting customers from the same narrow field.
If we get it right, this new era of b-to-b marketing can bring with it new levels of success and effectiveness. Bigger bets will yield bigger rewards, and the most imaginative minds will flourish.