7 Takeaways from the ANA’s Masters of B2B Marketing Conference

June 4, 2017

“Change by Design” — that was the theme of the Association of National Advertisers Masters of B2B Marketing conference, which was held in Chicago this week. Many of the speakers at the conference offered techniques for leveraging the fast-paced change in the B2B marketing sector.

Here are seven takeaways from the conference to help you excel in this world of near constant change:

The machines are coming, and that may not be a bad thing

In his session at the ANA’s B2B conference, Jon Iwata, Senior VP-Marketing and Communications, IBM. demonstrated the power of cognitive marketing that IBM Watson can deliver. He said that Watson, which famously used its cognitive powers to defeat two champions on “Jeopardy!” in 2011, can now do so much more, with even more ability to access and process and understand ever more data. “I can’t see infrared, but Watson can; I can’t hear sonar, but Watson can,” Iwata said. But he said humankind doesn’t need to fear the machine-powered dystopias of HAL, the Terminator and SkyNet. Watson, Iwata said, promises a world of customer-focused empathy, one that marketers can leverage. For example, Iwata showed how Watson powers a customer-service avatar that can process facial expressions, voice tone, and body language clues to understand a customer’s emotions. “Watson can understand a person’s emotional state with 81 percent accuracy,” Iwata said, adding: “We’re moving from digital marketing to cognitive marketing.”

Marketers should have more confidence in their thought leadership

Phil Gomes, SVP-U.S. B2B Digital, Edelman, presented research his firm conducted with LinkedIn on the power of thought leadership. The research showed that thought leadership, which has long been believed to aid marketers in the top of the funnel, actually had an impact in the lower funnel. Jann Schwarz, Global Director-Agency and Channel Development, LinkedIn, who presented with Gomes, said, “The perceived value (of thought leadership) and actual value is a big gap.” The research, which surveyed about 1,300 LinkedIn members, showed, for instance, that 48 percent of CXOs said that thought leadership content had influenced them to buy a product or service. At the same time, just 20 percent of marketers believed the kind of thought leadership they had a hand in creating actually closed deals. “Marketers, at least according to our survey, are a shockingly self-flagellating group with a low opinion of their work,” Gomes said.  

In a world of data, marketers must still trust their gut

In her session, Jennifer Fondrevay, VP-B2B Marketing and Communications, Apollo Education Group, encouraged marketers to consider how they make decisions in an increasingly data-driven world. While not disparaging the abundance of data and its power to help marketers make decisions, Fondrevay wants marketers to rely more on their guts. She offered the example of a Russian colonel, Stanislav Petrov, who at the height of the Cold War in 1983, received satellite data indicating the United States had launched five ballistic missiles. Ignoring this evidence, Petrov concluded that the data was wrong (why would the U.S. launch just five missiles?), and he did not launch a counterattack — likely saving billions of lives. He listened to his gut — and his gut was right. “Your gut is your own personal microprocessor,” Fondrevay said. “It’s been collecting data since you were born.”

In a customer-centric world, focusing on employees can make customer focus a reality

In his session at the conference, Matt Preschern, CMO, HCL Technologies, said his company works to keep its employees happy and its internal culture strong. “We build our brand inside out,” Preschern said. HCL’s former CEO, Vineet Nayar, even wrote a book titled, “Employees First, Customers Second.” The concept is that happy employees make happy customers. “It was true 4,000 years ago; it’s true today: people want to do business with people they like,” Preschern said.  

Your approach to content marketing may be wrong

LinkedIn’s Schwarz said many marketers approach content marketing like a publisher. Marketers build newsrooms that churn out content like a daily newspaper. But that may be the wrong metaphor, Schwarz said. Instead, marketers should consider the Hollywood model of content creation and think about content franchises, he said. Disney and its reliance on sequels built around content franchises, such as "Star Wars" or "Toy Story," create bankable products with ready-made audiences. While content marketers may not create billion dollar franchises like "Finding Nemo," they can dominate their own market with content franchises like Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report, Schwarz said.

Marketers don’t have to go it alone: find your influencers

Many sessions at the conference touched on influencer marketing, the concept of aligning your message with thought leaders who have strong reputations and big social media followings. Mike O’Toole, President, PJA Advertising, gave a talk offering advice on influencer marketing. O’Toole’s presentation, “Finding Your Crazies: To Change Your Market, Enlist Your Change Agents First,” encouraged marketers to harness the energy of passionate people in their audience. These passionate people, or “crazies” as O’Toole called them, could include happy customers, but he advised looking more broadly to include others, such as channel partners. He said marketers should look to enlist those whose goals may align with theirs: People who support your bigger mission, who might be able to advance their careers, who may be able to grow their business by aligning with yours.

Commit to turning your ideas into reality

Lauren McCadney Williams, Director-Marketing Delivery, CDW, gave the conference’s final presentation. She acknowledged that attendees tend to return from conferences hyped up and full of new ideas. But coming up with ideas is the easy part; putting them into action is hard. She recommended three steps to help marketers turn their conference-born ideas into reality. First, she said, do the big things. The big ideas can stir the imagination and help you find motivated collaborators. Second, tell somebody your goals. You’re far more likely to accomplish a goal that’s been publicly stated. And finally, she said, “There will be resistance. Push anyway.” 

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