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People-to-people: how creativity is changing the way B2B campaigns are delivered

James McLoughlin

For a long time, B2B marketing has been considered the dull, cautious, strait-laced cousin of B2C. While it doesn’t have to be the case, that’s been the perception. Now, though, there are signs that the long-observed distinction is breaking down.

Consider Santander’s recent campaign to build awareness of their corporate and commercial banking offering. Starring Succession star Brian Cox, the 1-minute spot very much has the look and feel of a consumer-focused ad, with touches of humour. Crucially, the ad focuses more on raising awareness of the brand than it does on peppering the viewer with a list of product features and benefits.

The ‘Is This Heinz?’ campaign, masterminded by Wunderman Thompson, demonstrates a keen understanding of the nuanced landscape in B2B advertising. They harnessed three pivotal insights to craft a campaign that resonates on multiple levels.

Firstly, in the realm of condiments, product differentiation is subtle at best. The taste distinction between Heinz and other ketchups may be too nuanced for the average palate, much like consumers select wines based on brand recognition rather than on a sophisticated understanding of taste notes. In such categories, the brand itself becomes the main differentiator that elevates a product above the competition.

Secondly, Wunderman Thompson acknowledged the power of Heinz as a status symbol. Much like Coca Cola, Heinz has cultivated an ‘in-group’ cachet; it’s not just a ketchup, but a marker of quality and reliability. For the middle market—neither artisanal nor generic—associating with the Heinz brand signals a commitment to quality that customers recognise and value.

Lastly, they tapped into the consumer psychology of brand shorthand. Just as ‘Hoover’ has become synonymous with any vacuum cleaner and ‘Coke’ can often refer to any cola, Heinz represents ketchup to many. This simplifies the decision-making process for consumers, who use brand names as mental shortcuts to indicate their preferences.

By refilling Heinz bottles with non-Heinz ketchup, restaurants unwittingly leverage these insights too. They suggest quality and status by association and make menu selection more intuitive for customers. Wunderman Thompson’s campaign cleverly highlights this behaviour, nudging restaurateurs towards purchasing authentic Heinz, while simultaneously reinforcing the brand’s premier positioning in the minds of consumers.

So, why is B2B becoming more like B2C?

B2B advertising is changing because there is a broader recognition of the need to connect with buyers on a more human level. Rachel Lines, Head of Marketing for Santander Corporate and Commercial Bank, spoke about the importance of what she calls a ‘people to people’ approach in a recent event, ‘The Art of B2B: Creative Campaign Secrets’.

“My belief is that people don’t stop being human during work hours, so B2B marketing can evolve so much into what we view as more traditional B2C methods – using humour, driving emotion and being wonderfully creative,” Lines said.

Tom Pepper, Marketing Solutions’ Senior Director at LinkedIn, reckons this perception is becoming more widespread because of the pandemic. When you’re on Zoom and Teams calls all the time, with the paraphernalia of your personal life in the background, the barrier between the professional and personal breaks down, which has perhaps helped B2B brands see the benefit of showing up more authentically in their marketing.

And why should more B2B brands consider the P2P approach?

Simply put, taking a people-to-people approach to B2B marketing can help boost awareness, engagement and ultimately conversion. Tom Pepper explained that LinkedIn saw a 10-20x uplift in performance for ads that used humour and levity on the platform, versus those that don’t. And Wunderman Thompson’s UK Managing Director, Lizzie Snell reported that 66% of B2B customers want more emotional connection from their ads.

It’s obvious that more fun, creative campaigns can lead to better results for B2B brands. But in fairness, it’s not always easy to make it happen. With so many stakeholders involved – including C-suite stakeholders requiring sign-off – and the intense pressure to deliver on revenue metrics, B2B marketers are often forced into the kind of short-term thinking and a caution that can come across as dull.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Hosting the session, The Drum’s Co-founder and editor-in-chief Gordon Young explained that they’d found that short-term thinking is the number one reason B2B campaigns fail.

Ok, so how can B2B marketers create more engaging campaigns?

The struggle B2B marketers often have in driving more creative, longer-term campaign is convincing senior stakeholders of the merits of such an approach. As well as surfacing insights about consumers, using data and analytics can also help when selling in ambitious creative ideas to various stakeholders – some of the stats listed in this article can be a starting point.

But B2B marketers also need to be able to speak the language of those key decision makers in their own organisation, such as the CFO or the CEO. Building a partnership of trust with your creative agency can really boost your chances of success here. Rachel Lines from Santander emphasises how much they leant on their agency when it came to convincing her senior stakeholders of the importance of investing in the type of campaign that would build brand awareness and create a connection with their target audience.

A creative agency can really help B2B marketers highlight how a more authentic, ‘people-to-people’ campaign can translate into real business impact. A creative agency that’s underpinned by smart data and analytics can also deliver that impact by crafting campaigns that speak to customers in a way that really resonates.

Want to create irresistible B2B campaigns?

Hotwire has the creative expertise and data capabilities to make your B2B campaigns really connect with your audience. Reach out to ignite your possibilities today.