The big creative questions B2B marketers should be asking at Cannes

The festival of creativity matters just as much to B2B marketers as B2C ones – here are the 6 questions we should be asking

June 17, 2016

B2C brands and their agencies used to get the Cannes International Festival of Creativity to themselves. You only have to stroll around the Palais des Festivals next week to see how things have changed. You’ll find the likes of Marketo, Salesforce and of course LinkedIn (our clubhouse is just above the Palais entrance, by the way). B2B marketers and B2B marketing platforms have been storming Cannes in the last few years – and that’s exactly as it should be.

If you know me, you’ll know that I came into marketing from the music industry and I never really got why B2B had to be less engaging, entertaining and creatively exciting than either music or other types of marketing. After all, if your role in life revolves around engaging people and making them like and trust your brand then why on earth wouldn’t you want to have some fun with that? As a B2B marketer you should have a lot more in common with Kiss or The Clash than with your sales teams – that’s where you add value. Inspire someone and it’s a heck of a lot easier to convince them to buy from you.

As B2B marketers, we shouldn’t just be at Cannes to show our face, ship a large amount of Rosé and work on our tans. We’re here because we know how valuable the next breakthrough creative idea can be. It’s a festival of creativity – and I think we should approach it looking for answers to the big creative questions in B2B. Here are six I’ll be asking around Cannes this week:

Is VR the future or just a fad?

Do you remember Avatar? It was one of the first of the new wave of 3D movies – and James Cameron made sure to crowbar in plenty of scenes where an object would float past the face of a central character in zero gravity. These added nothing to the plot or the emotional connection the movie created. They were just there to show you what the 3D camera could do.

I think we’re at a similar point with marketing and Virtual Reality: virtual supermarkets that you can fool yourself that you are actually walking around… virtual hotels that you can stroll about to see what the view of the pool’s like from your room. We’re still firmly in Avatar territory. We haven’t yet found how this technology contributes to the creative process and building different types of connections with audiences. I’m hoping we’ll start to see that happen at Cannes this year – and I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Innovation and Cyber Lions with that in mind. Google’s Adventures in Virtual Reality session on Tuesday should hopefully provide some answers too.

What will live video look like in 2017?

Transparency and authenticity are huge themes whether you’re a B2B or B2C marketer – and I think live video is a technology that sits right at the heart of them. There’s something about the behind-the-scenes, uneditable nature of it that adds a whole dimension to your content – and invites audiences to engage on a different wavelength.

I’ll be recording four episodes of our Sophisticated Marketer series of Podcasts at the LinkedIn Clubhouse next week. When we’re back at Cannes in 2017, will it feel right to do these as live video streams on Periscope or Meerkat – or another platform that’s about to emerge? I’m interested to find out how others are using live video – and what kind of engagement they’re generating from it. It could be driving great standout in B2B marketing a year from now.

Can wearables change B2B marketing?

As B2B marketers, we talk a lot about the buyer’s journey – and most of the time, we mean activity and engagement that takes place on digital media (consuming content, searching for solutions, checking reviews and case studies). Our visibility of the buyer’s journey is restricted to the moments when that buyer is looking at a screen.

Wearables are exciting because of the way they fuse the physical and connected worlds. Used right, they could provide us with a whole new way to play in areas of the buyer’s journey we’ve barely touched up to now. But will we be able to come up with creative ways to connect through smart watches, smart glasses and the like? That’s the big question…

Are we going to be replaced by robots?

From Google search results to chat app bots, the role of Artificial Intelligence in curating brand experiences is definitely on the rise. Could automation soon be putting marketers out of a job? If a machine can crunch the data for us, work out which types of content your audience wants at that moment, pull in the right keywords for a headline, what’s left for the human beings to do? It’s easy to find these questions forming when you’re at Cannes – because there are a lot of very creative applications of AI on show. Dentsu Lab’s sessions are always good for a dose of career paranoia (there’s an intriguing looking one with the musician Brian Eno on Sunday for Cannes earlybirds).

If you’re a one-dimensional marketer then it’s conceivable that somebody could train a machine to do what you do. If you ask me, the best solution is not to be a one-dimensional marketer. If AI is going to do more and more of the spadework when it comes to targeting and content generation then it’s up to us to add the creative element that makes the difference. That’s what Cannes is all about, after all.

How will the agency model work in the future?

Advertising agencies used to have a clearly defined role making creative, above-the-line advertising – but things haven’t been that way for a while. Today they are content marketers, data scientists, engineers and more. But is advertising losing its essential reason for being in amongst all of this? If it’s to compete effectively for the best creative talent going forward, advertising might need a new sense of purpose. I think this could be on the agenda of many of the sessions during the week.

Where’s B2B’s Creative Marketer of the Year award?

It’s one of the most prestigious awards handed out at Cannes, recognising marketers who “have distinguished themselves by the quality of their campaigns or who inspire innovative marketing of their products or services.” And no B2B marketer has ever won it in the two decades that it’s been running. There must have been some contenders: Adobe? Volvo Trucks? GE? Intel? It would be great to see some B2B brands forcing the festival organisers to think outside B2C on this one.

So – what’s the future of marketing?

It’s the big question that ties it all together – will it feature VR and live video? Will our clothes be telling us what to do? Will ad agencies be pulling the strings or will it be someone else? These are the types of questions I’ll be putting to Shingy, AOL’s one-of-a-kind digital prophet (with a hairstyle that the best glam rock bands of all time would be proud of) in front of a live audience at the LinkedIn Clubhouse on Tuesday, June 21st at 12pm. It’s part of our Sophisticated Marketer’s live podcast series and if you’re at the Palais and have a delegate pass on you then it would be great to see you there.