Why do we make B2B marketing so boring?

For decades B2B marketing efforts have been unfavourably compared to B2C work, labelled as boring and unimaginative.  In our industry it’s a reputation that is, largely, earned. 

The challenge of producing creative B2B marketing was a recurring topic at the Ignite 2019 conference that I attended in July.   But, while all 1400 attendees across a range of business sectors seemed to share this struggle, in my experience it’s an area where our industry, in particular, has a lot to learn. 

Why is B2B marketing so boring?

Doug Kessler, the creative director of Velocity Partners said in his keynote presentation, “Most marketers are talented, committed people with great ideas, but 90% of marketing is shite.”   Our industry is part of the creative sector, so why doesn’t that creativity extend to our marketing activities?   I think the biggest problem is with our underlying belief that business is serious and therefore, the way we market business should be serious.  Which means boring.  We forget that we’re marketing to the same guy that buys his insurance from a Russian meerkat and think all our business communication should have a corporate tone.  We’re terrified of being vilified for daring to do something different and, for some incomprehensible reason, we believe that by saying all the same things that our competitors are saying and doing all the same things that everyone else is doing, we’re going to make an impression. 

“Most marketers are talented, committed people with great ideas, but 90% of marketing is shite.”
— Doug Kessler

Paul Cash, one of the Top 20 most influential B2B marketers, spoke about how customers want to buy into companies, not just buy products and said that an avalanche of product-driven content has created an engagement crisis. This is certainly true for the broadcasting and AV industries.  We’re so busy demonstrating how our products work and talking about the technology behind them that we don’t mention how they’ll benefit the people that use them and miss out on making emotional connections.  The CTO isn’t going to buy your product because of how many connectors it has or its storage capacity, he’s buying something that’s going to give him more time with his family because it will improve efficiency.  The John Lewis Christmas ad doesn’t advertise products, it just associates the brand with the season of giving. 

B2B marketing at Ignite conference

Rory Sutherland, the vice chairman at Ogilvy UK, opened Ignite 2019 by asking whether our need to be quantifiable is preventing us from taking risks.  He said, “If you don’t do anything random, it may not be catastrophic, but you’re never going to get lucky.”  In our industry this can be seen in the increasing pressure for everything to tie directly back to lead generation and, ultimately, sales numbers.  Activities that can’t be measured and tracked aren’t seen as valuable.  We also seem to have forgotten the value of brand building over time even though our industry has an infamously long sales process. 

“If you don’t do anything random, it may not be catastrophic, but you’re never going to get lucky.”
— Rory Sutherland

But Kessler also said that it’s the marketer’s responsibility to convince their clients that the slightly crazy, probably a bit risky, but amazing-if-we-can-pull-it-off ideas are worth pursuing, and that getting great marketing work approved by our stakeholders requires as much effort as the work itself.  I guess that means we should stop blaming the industry for boring B2B marketing and start doing something to change it.