THURSDAY 28 APR 2022 10:55 AM


Becky Ball, director of creative strategy and innovation at Edelman, shares three lessons to leading a brave business and why it is essential to build a brand with personality.

B2B marketing is drowning people in content, but the quality has never been lower. In the latest Edelman and LinkedIn Thought Leadership Impact Study, 71% of decision makers stated less than half of the thought leadership they consume provides any valuable insights.

Thought leadership, the notion of leading your industry with the quality, scope, and foresight of your thinking, has been swapped out for buzzword-stuffed soups: starters barely warmed up before being used to ram a product or service down your throat.  

But, strangely, I’m optimistic about the future. Events, formerly the largest B2B marketing investment, appear slow to regain their previous traction, creating an opening for different tactics. With more voices noting the importance of B2B brand and a new B2B Cannes Lion category, I’m hopeful that a rebalancing of the marketing mix is coming. Provided we can iron out a few issues… 

The path of least resistance 

In a study for the B2B Institute Professor John Dawes showed companies change their providers of services such as banking, legal advice, software, or telecoms around every five years2. This means that only 20% are in the market for those services in any given year and just 5% a quarter.  

So, if a buyer is indeed only a buyer 5% of the time – what are they the rest of the time?  

The answer is a human being.  

A human with a wide range of interests – many of which correlate with others in their field. A human that does not wake every morning and think “hmm, can’t wait to sup upon some delicious, branded content today”.  

Work is only a portion of their lives and even then, it is tied up with emotions about legacy, reputation, achievement, and every day petty frustrations. Afterall, many B2B markets - from technology to manufacturing - are ones of low differentiation. Similar product features have bled into similar messaging. Add that to incredibly long sales, implementation, and contract periods - and any purchase eventually becomes an exercise in recognition, likeability, and trust.   

Do I know you? Do I like you? Do I trust you? Questions of brand, of personality. 

Creative brand building, due to its rarity, is disproportionately rewarded in B2B. Whether it’s Jean Claude Van Damme in Volvo’s Epic Split, or Sinch’s Text for Humanity. Each had outsize business impact and helped brand recognition grow far beyond immediate in-market prospects. In being brave with how they demonstrated their product, they showcased huge brand personality.  

So here are the three most important lessons I’ve observed in how to be brave:  

1) Think outside the box product market fit 

As Jon Bean, CMO of Sinch commented in Edelman’s discussion on Creative Bravery “everyone’s doing whitepapers, webinars… we should all be doing that… but creative is how you differentiate your brand”. In fields where “everyone is broadly flogging the same stuff… creative allows you to explore the context your company and product operates in”.  

For Sinch, a cloud-based messaging service provider, that context was the mobile phone, and the negativity that permeated our online experience. And so, Text for Humanity was born. Exploring the context your company sits in, and the human experiences that typify that context, can provide a launch pad into meaningful, fame building creative. 

 2) Find a trojan horse 

As my colleague Phillip Trippenbach reminds us, content is only as good as its distribution. And whilst you can pay for distribution, you can’t buy attention. You have to earn it.  

Time poor B2B audiences curate their attention carefully, whether through executive assistants filtering their inbox, ad blockers, or carefully selecting commute worthy podcasts. But in the content and topics they wilfully consume, you can find a trojan horse. A cultural topic that can act as a vehicle for your message. From the software developers who gobble up space news, the c-suite executives who dream of cycling the Tour de France, or the 83% of millennial IT decision makers who own pets – human interest is the path of least resistance. 

3) Tap true uncertainty 

No matter the field you work in, it is among the true areas of uncertainty where you’ll find people searching for answers. But too often this search is met with a host of bloated materials – be it whitepapers or articles – that share largely the same comfortable views. 

Finding the crossover of areas that are high stress, but currently underserved is gold dust for content marketers. As it stands though, 47% of buyers say that most thought leadership does not seem to be created with their specific needs in mind3. It’s time to wake up to the fact that most buyers (81%) want insights that challenge their assumptions, rather than validate their current thinking4 

To put it another way, they want you to be braver