Why is No-One Talking About B2B Creative?

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the B2B Marketing Exchange (B2BMX) conference on the topic of B2B email creative.  At a conference of more than sixty sessions (by my count), as best I could determine there was exactly one (1) session on anything to do with creative: mine.

That fact is both odd, and a little sad.  It speaks volumes about where creative fits (or doesn’t fit) into today’s version of B2B marketing.  Creative, and good creative in particular, is still vitally important to the success of any B2B initiative, and yet no-one talks about it.  Scan the blogosphere, social media, B2B publishing, and conferences like B2BMX, and you’ll read and hear plenty about data, intent, alignment, ABM, personalization and other technology-driven trends, but precious little about copy or design.

Technology has radically changed the way we market, and enabled us marketers to reach our audience with a precision, and at a scale, that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.  And yet, without good creative (I would argue), all the data, content, personalization, programmatic, AI and [insert buzzword here] is for nought.  Bad creative has the potential to render any technological advantage moot.

How did we get here?  Firstly, we now have a generation of young B2B marketers who believe that successful marketing revolves around the tech stack.  B2B has become so technology-driven that creative is a mere afterthought.

Second, a byproduct of the efficiency with which marketing campaigns can now be spun up, launched and managed means anyone can do it.  This is especially true of B2B email, the subject of my conference session, where truly awful creative reigns supreme. 

What you learn in talking first-hand to so many marketing practitioners at a conference like B2BMX (our agency was a sponsor and exhibitor) is that creative is no longer the province of creative professionals.  The attitude of marketing management seems to be: It’s an email – how difficult can it be?  (I’ve had more than one client tell me that one of the primary reasons they invested in marketing automation technology is so anyone on the team could create and launch email campaigns.)

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As an agency owner, it sounds undeniably self-serving to say it, but genuinely good, effective creative – be it an email, a landing page, or a simple Facebook ad – is not easy.  Good demand gen creative in particular, where success is always measurable, requires adherence to a set of core principles that revolve around message, offer, visual hierarchy, etc.  Can your average product manager or junior marketing associate write an email?  Almost certainly, yes.  Can he or she write an effective demand gen email?  The evidence suggests: no.

At B2BMX, I presented my session to a standing room only crowd of more than 150.  People emailed me after the session asking for a copy of the slide deck because they couldn’t get in the room.  That’s no star power on my part, believe me.  Instead, I believe it says that marketers are hungry for information on how to make their creative as much a competitive advantage as their tech stack.

Changing the current state of affairs not only requires increasing the dialogue about good and bad creative, but also that B2B marketers elevate the role that creative plays in the planning, design and execution of campaigns.  It requires that marketing decision-makers demand that campaign creative receive the same investment as say, data – and that it not be simply handed off to the nearest colleague who can string 100 words together.

Creative is important.  It’s time more people talked about it.

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Why is No-One Talking About B2B Creative?

  1. Anne H Janzer

    Excellent point, Howard. It’s easy for B2B marketers to imagine that creativity belongs only in the consumer space. All good marketing is creative – but creativity in B2B sometimes looks subtler – like choosing the right scenario or the perfect analogy. Thanks for championing creativity in marketing.

  2. Stacy Blackman

    Great post, Howard. I really enjoyed your presentation at B2BMX. It really stood out because of all the great examples of emails and the dos and don’ts you discussed. Another reason yours stood out was because of the clean and crisp design. As a B2B marketer who has been a full-time designer in the past, I could not agree more with your message in this post. I am fortunate to work for a company who has as much passion for good design as we do good content.

  3. Connie Coates

    Couldn’t agree more. How sad and frustrating it is to watch and work with people as they are lured into the data-tech cult.

    From my experience, I sense they equate this with growth and business savvy. The mindset that drives many to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of keeping busy, projecting forward momentum, and because they assume if others are doing it that must the wagon they should hop on. Then, too, there’s that eternal quest for shortcuts that is reverently referred to as “efficiency”.

    Who are we marketing to? Humans or AI? If it is still humans, the creative is vital.


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