4 Tips for B2B Marketers to Get the Most from Cannes Lions 2017

June 18, 2017

Cannes Lions

A version of this post originally appeared on The Drum.

Highlighting the best and brightest in creativity and innovation, the Cannes Lions Festival presents an opportunity for marketers to gauge the direction of the industry each year.

In the past, the B2B sector has largely been overshadowed on this stage, and it’s no secret that B2C marketing has more of a reputation for disruptive creativity and emotional impact. We should view this not as a slight, but as an opportunity to prove those outdated perceptions wrong, just as the likes of GE, Norton and Lockheed Martin did last year.

But there are also going to be plenty of lessons that we can absorb and apply from this year’s festivities.

As a veteran of the festival, I’ve done my homework on the schedule and here are four things every B2B marketer should keep an eye on, whether they are travelling to France or staying at home:

Stellar speaker stable

Plenty heavy B2B hitters appear on the speakers list for this year’s festival, from McKinsey’s Jason Heller to EY's John Rudaizky and JPMorgan Chase’s Kristin Lemkau.

But my advice is don’t restrict yourselves to the sector or area you know, get out there and hear from those brands and agencies who have a completely different target audience and objective. There may even be others who offer more subtly useful insights, even if they don’t catch your eye at first glance.

What might neuroscientist Beau Lotto have to tell us about the ways human perception should shape our tactics? How does pioneering businesswoman Charlotte Beers, who has been dubbed Queen of the Mad Men, view the current state of females in creative industries? Where does data scientist Dr. Michal Kosinski believe the future of segmenting and targeting lies?

Take a cue from the king

Not to spoil the surprise, but we already know which company is taking home the marketer of the year award: Burger King. Obviously its slant is very much B2C (burger-2-customer), but the B2B world can certainly take a page from the brand’s approach.

Counting the world’s largest fast food chain as its number one competitor, Burger King understands more than most the importance of standing out and generating buzz. It has accomplished this with innovative campaigns like the LGBT-friendly Proud Whopper as well as direct yet playful incursions against the industry-leading goliath, such as the McWhopper proposal and billboard clap back.

The lesson for B2B’ers: don’t be afraid to be different, even funny or cheeky. There can be a place for it, and the likes of Adobe and GE know only too well what success if can have.

Driving diversity

The need for increased diversity in our sector has never been more under the microscope, no matter if you are an agency, brand, B2B or B2C. Recently, Airbnb – a company that has faced its own difficulties in this regard – announced that it will use the Lions festival as a tool for open recruiting of underrepresented demographics.

“I am going to go to the place where the top talent congregates and have women and people of color come in and share their books with our leadership team,” said chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall.

For other agencies and businesses seeking to become more diverse in their workforces, this experiment will be interesting to track. I’ll also be keeping a close eye out to see if anyone else turns words into action on this topic along the Croisette this year.

New award categories

Cannes Lions is introducing several categories this year, many of which signal a growing emphasis on the modern marketing landscape.

The new Creative Effectiveness Lions place a clear spotlight on measurable impact and results, reflecting the expanding integration of analytics. Along those same lines, three data-specific sections – Data Strategy, Data-Driven Targeting, and Use of Real-time Data – have popped up as additions to the Direct Lions. A cross-device campaign subcategory now appears in the digital-facing Cyber Lions division.

While measurability is one area where B2B definitely has a hold over our B2C cousins, how this is applied to creativity could throw up some interesting questions and case studies.

Last year we saw a whole host of B2B brands picking up the gongs at Cannes. The question is: will we see this creative trend continue in 2017? There are lots of reasons to expect it will, and not just because of the growing presence of the big four consultants, but because I think there is more confidence and innovation happening in B2B marketing than ever before.

Who knows, we might even see the need for a B2B category in the Lions next year? Or have I had too much rosé already?

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Photo: Stefan Jurca

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