This year’s Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) 2023 ANA Masters of B2B Marketing Conference, presented by LinkedIn, brought together some of the industry’s most prestigious B2B marketers across sectors to brainstorm groundbreaking strategies through vibrant discussions that are set to reshape the B2B marketing landscape.
With its pulsating energy and wealth of knowledge, the conference provided powerful insights and a renewed vigor for B2B marketers to conquer the ever-evolving craft of B2B marketing. Here are the top five highlights and takeaways.
Linda Boff, GE’s Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Chief Learning Officer, and GE Foundation’s President, has driven strong results in global brand growth and recruitment efforts through GE’s marketing campaigns, including a fresh approach to media technology and content. A deep held belief that she has is to be relentlessly creative. Boff spoke about the role brands have for businesses to drive impact by owning the moment. One of the most notable ways GE did this was in December 2022 promoting their three newly-created public companies (GE HealthCare, GE Vernova, and GE Aerospace). The brand bought out the entire New York Times (NYT) print paper to create a standalone edition, which featured more than 20+ ads from GE. This was a historical moment for NYT as in its 171-year history, this is the first time an advertiser exclusively had all of the print real estate. Additionally, GE had most of their premier digital ad units, with desktop and mobile activations, as well as an audio takeover on “The Daily” podcast. GE’s well-orchestrated campaign highlighted their theme of “focus.” The campaign wasn’t just ads, there were stories. Their effort resonated with employees, their board, and other key stakeholders. In a moment when they wanted people to understand what was going on with GE, a 130+ year old brand, they drove big impact. GE has stayed relevant by leveraging technology and focusing on three key things: what they want people to know, what they want people to do, and how they want people to feel. Boff approaches her brand marketing through the lens that they want people to fall in love with them. As a brand, ask yourself: “For every piece of content that we put out, can it be as good as it possibly can?” This is the charge for B2B marketers as we can leverage our brand to drive impact for our organization.
Takeaway: Brand value should be front and center for B2B marketers.
In terms of creativity, Boff spoke about the principle of “sweating our assets.” We often fall in love with what we create, yet we can still forget that our audience still needs to see the creative to take action. We never sweat our assets enough. When you put the creativity, time, and resources into a piece of work, are you making sure all of your audiences have seen this? Have you localized, globalized, optimized in search, and re-released this creative? Just when you’re so sick of repeating yourself, it might be the moment that someone sees this creative and hears your messaging for the first time. So, we must ask ourselves, have we been creative enough with our own creative that our audiences have seen it?
According to LinkedIn (cl) and System1 research highlighted in the “Cashing in on Creativity” white paper from The B2B Institute, a LinkedIn think tank researching new approaches to B2B growth, powerful creative can help your business generate 10-20x more sales. However, 77% of B2B creative is deemed ineffective scoring only one star from their custom analysis of six B2B categories with 1,700 ads. Powerful creative does exist, but only 0.5% of the 1,700 B2B ads scored four to five stars.
Quantifying this in a different way, a B2B ad is 154x more likely to score one star than four to five stars.
Shared at the conference during presentations and in group discussions, we do know that great B2B creative drives growth as it’s the foundation of our campaigns.
Takeaway: Ensure that you have exhausted your creative assets through all platforms before refreshing them and/or jumping to develop new creative, and that powerful creative can help your business generate 10-20x more sales.
The B2B Institute’s Partnership Lead Lisha Perez shared the concept of “All-Weather Marketing,” the idea of making good investment decisions in bad times. This is an extension of famed investor Ray Dalio’s concept of an “All-Weather Portfolio” that’s designed to perform well during both booms and busts.
While marketers in general should make good decisions, this becomes essential during bad times. Being consistent with your strategy during rough periods and economic scarcity will help your brand capitalize by being greedy when others are fearful.
Perez touched on four key areas (Strategy, Creative, Media, and Measurement) for B2B marketers to be mindful of and integrate into their marketing efforts and reminded us that “good performance” is relative – we should all be benchmarking ourselves against our competition.
Takeaway: Turning up while the competition turns down can allow you to capture market share.
The tension and role between brand and demand is a constant concern from B2B marketers in the complex B2B marketing landscape, striking a balance between a strong brand identity and focusing on customer acquisition presents a conundrum for B2B marketers. However, with executives focusing on profits and scrutinizing media budgets, B2B marketers need to be more thoughtful about balancing brand and acquisition efforts. B2B marketers that invest in comprehensive media strategies which incorporate both brand marketing and customer acquisition tactics can forge stronger customer relationships, foster trust and ultimately achieve business growth.
An important concept backing this is the 95-5 Rule from LinkedIn which states that 95% of category buyers are out of market at any given time. Your current buyers are those who are “in market” (5%) and your future buyers are those who are “out of market” (95%).
Focusing on the 95% vs. solely just the 5% brings together brand and demand as a perfect marriage for B2B marketers by putting a focus on your future buyers.
We as B2B marketers need to ensure we are appropriately seeding future buyers while cultivating everything we can do to reach the short-term buyers who are actively looking to buy. This varies by industry and category in terms of what your budget split should be between brand and demand, but the consistent POV is that there certainly should be an investment in brand to properly impact demand long term. Even in good times, 95% of buyers are future buyers and there are even fewer buyers in bad times because current buyers delay purchases; for example, if a recession or economic downturn is layered on, 95-5 shifts to 99-1.
Takeaway: We need to demand more from brand-to-demand with tighter brand-to-demand connections across media channels to drive performance.
Multiple presenters shared how the B2B buyer’s journey is no longer a linear experience, something that was backed by plenty of data. Speakers referenced obstacles such as increases in the length of time, complexity with the number of decision makers, and the breadth of touchpoints.
The length of B2B buying cycles is another aspect of a nonlinear buyer’s journey. Perez shared data from The B2B Institute stating that 11 months is the average length of a recession since World War II, whereas 16 months is the average length of the B2B buying cycle. Due to this, B2B companies should invest for the long term.
Therese Parkes, Google’s Industry Director, TechB2B, spoke about how the buyer journey today is more complex than ever before. Parkes’ presentation was chock full of data and research supporting this. Boston Consulting Group (cl) research Don’t Cut Your Brand-Marketing Budget. Rethink It. states, “It costs more to gain than to maintain mindshare.” It is far more efficient to maintain than to gain as $1.85 future investment is required for every $1.00 saved from near-term reductions in brand spending.
Closing this topic out to further prove the point of the nonlinear buying journey, Parkes shared how 85% abandon a brand at least once during their journey and 89% re-engage with a brand they have abandoned. Additionally, the percentage of prospects that would prefer to do their upfront research prior to talking to sales has increased over the years. Parkes referenced that 84% would prefer to reach out to you, rather than to have you reach out to them.
By 2030, 75% of the buying committee will be made up of Gen Z who don’t want to talk on the phone and prefer to text.
As B2B marketers, if we want to win, we need to adapt accordingly to ensure prospects are exposed to our brand as they are actively seeking as many sources based on their own needs, timelines, and desires. We need to be ready and agile to meet them at the right moments.
Takeaway: Today’s non-linear nature of the B2B buyer’s journey underscores the need for seamless collaboration between brand marketing, performance marketing, and sales teams.