This article was originally published in the Brand Finance Global Most Valuable B2B Brands Index 2023.
B2B marketing was long seen as the poor cousin of B2C, and career moves from the latter to the former were greeted with raised eyebrows and concerns over whether you were making the right choice. There is no doubt that that is changing. Leaders in B2B organisations are increasingly realising that their brand is a clear differentiator in a crowded space; that the ability to charge a premium in price can be heavily influenced by perceptions of value; and that long-term sales growth - as well as short-term conversion - relies on having a clear promise across all parts of the organisation, amplified by marketing.
It's an exciting time to be involved in B2B marketing as the lines blur with B2C and we move towards a more human-centered marketing approach. And there are three themes that we hear most from the market and cover regularly at WARC.
The wind is in B2B's sails
While it's hard to put exact numbers on B2B ad investment, data from WARC Media suggests that it is outperforming the wider ad market. In the UK, the 'Business & Industrial' category we track has outperformed the wider market every year since 2018, with the only exception being 2020. That is true of other B2B-heavy sectors like telcos/utilities and tech/electronics.
Anecdotally, this rings true. B2B is growing in importance to the agency market as spending proves more resilient than some consumer-facing sectors. What's more, after the pandemic disrupted traditional B2B activities such as trade shows and conferences, we saw growing interest in alternative routes to market - for example, riding on the podcast boom among professionals. It is, then, a time of growth and experimentation for B2B marketers.
“Leaders in B2B organisations are increasingly realising that their brand is a clear differentiator in a crowded space; that the ability to charge a premium in price can be heavily influenced by perceptions of value; and that long-term sales growth - as well as short-term conversion - relies on having a clear promise across all parts of the organisation, amplified by marketing.”
A greater focus on brand-building
There has been a concerted effort over the past few years to make the case for brand-building in B2B. This has been led by LinkedIn's B2B Institute, and organisations such as WARC have supported that drive with new frameworks (such as the B2B Effectiveness Ladder) and fresh B2B takes on influential B2C concepts such as Category Entry Points and Mental Availability.
There's no doubt that message is getting through.
Last year we awarded Maersk a second consecutive Grand Prix in in the B2B category of the WARC Awards for Effectiveness. It is a prime example of a B2B organisation shifting not just its messaging approach but its entire communications investment profile in favour of creative messaging designed to reach a broad audience. The case study is packed with nuggets on how Maersk activated that approach over time to drive commercial impact in both the short and long term.
It's not an isolated example - we have also seen multiple entries into this year's awards, and pitches for Cannes Lions sessions, of companies making similar shifts.
Fewer but bigger ideas
The realisation that strong brands matter in B2B is leading CMOs in the space to look for new, more interesting ideas. A recent piece from WARC by an agency called alan reported that 88% of B2B CMOs would like B2B brands to take a bold, contrarian or provocative approach (up from 64% in 2017).
The goal is to be distinctive and build memories. To do that requires what a white paper released last year by WARC and Stein IAS terms 'Big Long Ideas': that is, concepts big and long enough that they can be used over the extended B2B buyer journey and in multiple types of execution. Such ideas need to be original; they need to have value to the customer as well as to the organization; and they need to combine an emotional appeal with an ability to communicate rational product or service information.