March 4, 2024

Tricia Oak

Business & Finance Excellency

Takeaways From This Year’s ANA B-to-B Marketing Conference

When Sherwin-Williams was looking to gain market share in its b-to-b category, it teamed up with agency Wunderman Thompson on a color obsession series. Creativity fueled the “Thinking in Color” campaign, which aimed to reach architects.

The rise of creativity in b-to-b marketing was one of several key topics that the industry’s top b-to-b marketers discussed at ANA’s B2B marketing virtual conference. The event ran from Dec. 7-8 and saw brands such as Google, Shell, LinkedIn and Intel converge to talk about insights and guides to a successful b-to-b marketing strategy.

Topics such as the importance of creative in b-to-b marketing, looking at businesses as humans and how to build a quality marketing team took center stage. Here is a look at five major takeaways from the conference.

B-to-b marketers must see businesses as humans

Oftentimes, marketers can get too hung up on looking at businesses as, well, businesses. In some ways, that makes sense. But it can lead to a missing human element, making the process transactional.

Dean Aragon, CEO and vice chair at Shell Brands International, said regardless of whether its a b-to-c or b-to-b brand, it’s all about b-2-h (business-to-humans) or b-4-h (brands-for-humans).

Aragon also said b-to-b businesses undervalue marketing and vice versa. They tend to see it as support roles for commercial or sales roles. 

“When I look at the biggest challenges and opportunities, a number of them are systemic, up-the-funnel matters such as software as a service, technologies, materials, infrastructures, solutions, logistics and blockchain,” Aragon said. “Someone needs to adopt and adapt these, and it requires marketing.”

Leveraging creativity is paramount

Sherwin-Williams is a brand known for its interior paint, but it had yet to establish itself in the b-to-b space. It had a significant deficit in market share within the specification category, which is geared toward architects, specifiers and designers.

Working with Wunderman Thompson as its creative agency, Sherwin-Williams has prioritized architects with the goal of using inspiration to move them from apathy to possibility and then to action.

Looking to use creative to connect with architects, Sherwin-Williams and Wunderman Thompson create a color obsession series, with three events that allowed architects to interact with colors in meaningful ways. Rather than utilizing something as simple as a brochure, it wanted to meet architects and designers with a more engaging idea.

One of the events was Speaking in Color, where architects could use words to generate colors through an AI-powered, voice-controlled tool. The event was much more conversational, fun and interactive. Speaking in Color won the inaugural Creative B2B Grand Prix at Cannes Lions.

Focusing on broader reach can drive market share growth

Jon Lombardo, global brand strategy lead at the B2B institute at LinkedIn, said b-to-b marketers are often obsessed with clicks and hyper-targeting but need to shift to having a broad reach when marketing. A broader reach generates market share growth and leads to larger outcomes.

Brands can miss out on growth opportunities if they are only focusing on buyers and not on every potential consumer. Attention is more important than clicks.

Lombardo said brands should always think about spending evenly in their marketing budgets throughout the year. That would mean spending the same at every point, such as spending 2% of the budget every week.

The strategy keeps the brand at the top of the consumer mind at any point throughout the year and increases consumer reach.

Creativity and data are joined at the hip

Though it would seem that creativity and data are two completely different factors in the marketing mix, they have a symbiotic relationship. Creativity without data lacks personalization but data without creativity lacks emotional connectivity and empathy. Bringing both together leads to effective modern marketing.

According to a McKinsey report, marketers that united data and creativity grew their revenues at twice the average rate of the S&P 500, at least 10% annually versus 5%.

Brands also need to focus on clients, and data is the entry point to figure out what they need. Data and research provide the information for being client-centric.

“Every industry including ours is facing the realization that the customer is at the center of everything that we do,” said Emily Pachuta, chief marketing and analytics officer of the Americas for Invesco. “This client obsession represents an enormous shift both in terms of company culture as well as in terms of marketing capability.”

Marketers need left- and right-brain skills

Marketing is constantly changing in terms of what skills are needed to be successful at the job. “In the past it might have been enough for marketers to be really creative, able to work with agencies, maybe some really good budgeting skills,” Portia Mount, vp of marketing commercial HVAC Americas at Trane Technologies. “But now we need marketers who have all of that, plus bringing really sharp analytical chops.”

Mount said often she’s looking for a center-brain marketer. Someone who merges the creativity of the left side of the brain and the details and implementation of the right side of the brain.

Usually the ideal individual marketer is highly collaborative and customer-obsessed, defining them and building strategies around them. Having an analytical or financial background is a plus.