Go Home B2C, You’re Drunk: The Best Bits

Highlights from a great panel show at Advertising Week Europe yesterday

March 22, 2017

advertising week europe 2017

Being the sober one at the party isn’t meant to be this much fun. I’m writing this just after we wrapped up our Advertising Week Europe panel show, Go Home B2C, You’re Drunk – and it was a blast. We had some of my favourite B2B marketing thinkers on stage, shaking up the issues that have been dominating the Advertising Week Europe agenda. Which buzzy ideas did we decide were really worth the hype? And which were just a case of B2C marketers getting seriously over-excited? Here’s our panel’s take on things:

“Marketers are as guilty of fake news as anyone”

Suki Fuller

The analytical storyteller on our panel put it perfectly: marketers have a very bad habit of swallowing any stat they’re given without pausing to think critically about it. We kicked off our session with a discussion of the great goldfish attention span myth – and the damage it’s done to content marketing by persuading people that they must dumb all content down to fit an attention span of only eight seconds. The claim that the human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish made headlines around the world two years ago and has been endlessly repeated since – the only problem is, there’s never been a research study showing this to be true (there’s never been a research study into the attention spans of goldfish either, come to that). So why are so many people so keen to believe it? Doug Kessler put it down to lazy marketing – if we can convince ourselves that nobody will pay attention then there’s no need to invest in genuine quality content. As he put it:

I was going to attack that myth myself – but then I got distracted!

“Take the fact that the majority of people can’t do video well, and then throw in the fact that it’s live and uneditable”

Scott Stratten

Scott Stratten wasn’t on our panel but I just had to borrow this quote from him. It was part of our discussion of whether B2B marketers should be investing in Live Video, Virtual Reality and other platforms. To me, it sums up the problem with marketers rushing to embrace some new, shiny object before they’ve got a grip on the technologies already available to them. If you’re struggling to make compelling video content, jumping into Live Video is certainly not a solution. Why should your content be more interesting just because you’ve taken away your ability to edit and improve it? A similar reality check needs to be applied to B2B marketers rushing to invest in VR – especially when LinkedIn research shows that only 11% of professionals worldwide are planning to buy a VR headset in the next 12 months.

What should B2B marketers be doing instead? By all means challenge yourself to be more creative and innovative in developing content that cuts through. Just don’t kid yourself that adopting the latest new platform is a shortcut to achieving that. Doug Kessler told a great story about a B2B brand creating an exhibition space on the virtual reality Second Life platform (remember that one?).

On that platform, they could have done anything – they could have built it out of feathers or bamboo, but instead they built a standard trade show stand that looked as boring as possible.” New platforms are only creative when you have the appetite to use them creatively.

“Why does marketing treat millennials like they are magical, mythical creatures?”

Alex Cheeseman

Alex told the story of a Fortune 500 CMO excitedly introducing expensive research on millennials that he was confident would open up fantastic new opportunities for his business. Millennials, it turned out, liked to hang out with their friends, aspired to fulfill their dreams – and were motivated by the opportunity to ‘hook up’ with other millennials. No kidding, eh?

Alex used this as an example of how marketers are often their own worst enemies – convincing themselves that they inhabit a confusing and rapidly changing world that they can’t possibly understand and need others to tell them about. Consequently, even the most obvious statement about that world starts to sound like a blinding insight from on high. Marketers need the confidence to use the data, knowledge and intuition that they already have. That confidence itself breeds more creative and effective thinking. 

Fake news solidifies fast – and that goes for marketing myths too

Truth is up for grabs – and this has implications for marketers both when they’re trying to stay in control of their message, and when they’re trying to plan a strategy.

In a session that promised A Brand Survival Kit in a World of Fake News, panelists from the BBC, Buzzfeed and Weber Shandwick were very much focused on the first issue – the danger of fake news about your brand breaking out and becoming accepted as fact before you have time to address it. They outlined some smart strategies that could work in this world: focusing on transparency and trust, empowering employees as advocates for your brand and content, and identifying the subjects that your audience cares about enough to discern between what’s real and what isn’t.

Listening to the session though, it struck me that marketers can be just as guilty of embracing fake news within their own industry – accepting something as fact because it ‘sounds right’ and forgetting to think critically about it. This is true of the pernicious goldfish attention span myth that’s persuaded many marketers mistakenly to dumb down their content strategies – and it’s true of several claims made about buyer’s journey stats as well. Like all other audiences, we need to pay more attention to where our information comes from.

“We used to say that it’s marketers who ruin everything – actually, it’s B2C!”

Doug Kessler

Doug was talking about the challenges for content marketing at the moment – and in particular, the fact that several studies show such a low percentage of content driving any engagement at all. His point was that B2B had been doing a pretty good job of content marketing as a strategy for years – taking time to develop relevant content and deliver it to the right people. Then B2C brands adopted the idea, and started flooding the internet with content people have little interest in. In fact, research that a friend of mine at Buzzsumo showed me suggests that 70% of content gets no shares at all – it’s not even shared by the person who created it.

Does this mean that B2C has ruined content marketing? Not at all. For starters there’s a lot that B2B marketers can learn from their B2C peers about engaging on an emotional level through content. We do the “convincing” and they do the “manipulating”, as Doug put it. And of course, content marketing is only broken if you don’t bother to develop a content strategy that can cut through. B2B marketers still have the lead when it comes to investing in specialist content skills, developing relevant and high-quality content for particular audiences, coming up with the right balance of paid and earned media to promote it effectively, and building owned media empires that generate continued ROI

“We are smarter than the pontificators in the room”

Maureen Blandford

Maureen was on great form on our panel. Her central message was that B2B marketers need to have far more confidence when it comes to interpreting their own data, analysing their own buyer’s journey and knowing their audience. She’s fed up of B2B marketers listening to self-appointed thought-leaders who offer a prescriptive view of how things work – and she gave particularly short shrift to people who generalise about the buyer’s journey:

We’ve all heard that buyers are 90% of the way through the buying journey before they want to talk to sales – but at best that’s just a meaningless average! If you are buying photocopiers that’s a very different journey to if you are buying a data warehouse. With copiers, you’ll probably never talk to sales – with a data warehouse, you’ll be communicating with them throughout.

Like Alex, Maureen wants marketers to have confidence in what they already know, and the data that they already have in front of them, rather than waiting for some expert to tell them how things work. She may have pulled no punches when it came to busting myths – but like the rest of our panel, her main demand was that B2B marketers have more belief in themselves. It was a very empowering thought – and just one of the reasons I enjoyed our panel show so much.