A creative approach to problem solving will be essential if B2B marketers are going to fight back from the damaging effects of the pandemic and build strong brands in 2021
Creativity needs to be clarified. It is not just about the artistic. Creativity is a strategy for solving problems. As such, it must become an essential resource for B2B marketers as they take on 2021. Whether it’s tackling the growing challenge of doing more with less or growing brand awareness in the grips of a recession, creativity holds the key.
Creativity in marketing is often misconceived as purely the end output in a campaign. Whilst the ultimate expression is an important element such a perception of creativity is limiting. Instead, I would make the case that creativity is an approach that should be ubiquitous in all aspects of marketing (and beyond).
So, what is creativity? At a fundamental level, I would argue that creativity is a process of drawing on an (often disparate) range of experiences and observations to achieve a particular purpose or to solve a problem. It is about understanding what works in one environment, reconfiguring it and applying it to a new set of circumstances.
The problems B2B marketers face
This action of thinking laterally to solve problems is going to be paramount for B2B marketers as they front up to an uncertain year ahead. According to 600 UK&I based senior B2B marketing leaders that we recently surveyed
, the overriding pressure will be to achieve more with less. Not only did 71% report this mandate from the business but 53% have suffered budget cuts and 43% experienced headcount reduction
. Compounding this squeeze is a feeling of job insecurity with 40% telling us they feel less safe in their role than versus six months ago. B2B marketers are feeling the heat.
Despite this adversity, B2B marketers are resolute that 2021 must be a year where brand is wrestled back on to the agenda. Growing brand awareness and share of voice is the #1 priority in 2021 (43%).
Doing more with less
Paradoxically, it may well be that a squeeze on resources is the catalyst for creativity that B2B marketing needs. There is a school of thought that healthy budgets stifle creativity
as they encourage complacency and adherence to the status-quo. Asking marketers to do more with less disrupts this inertia by presenting a problem that has to be solved.
Through the process of lateral thinking, B2B marketers can seize this moment to innovate.
All good in theory but what does this look like in practice? Let’s take the goal of building an audience. Over 1 in 3 B2B marketing leaders we spoke to identified this as a key priority for 2021. However, with less budget and the content team furloughed (or redundant), this aspiration may be reduced to a pipe dream. It doesn’t need to be.
For instance, in this situation marketers could observe, reconfigure and apply the decentralised ‘contributed content’ model
that many publishers like Forbes now use. To make this work, a single marketer would take on the role of commissioning editor. They would then set the overarching editorial agenda, identify subject matter experts in the business and commission the relevant colleagues. The contributors can then even be harnessed to promote the content through their networks!
In this example, lateral thinking is being used to solve an operational problem. However, I am a firm believer that it also has equal application to the more traditional ‘creative’ dimensions of marketing.
Creativity in brand building
However, as has been demonstrated, it is those brands that achieve salience that get the greatest reward
. The challenge with salience is that it requires emotional engagement, something that traditionally ‘rational-centric’ B2B brands struggle with. This is where lateral thinking comes into play.
The starting point is for B2B marketers to see their audience in a wider context.
They need to look beyond simply their job role to appreciate what energises, delights, and fascinates them as people. Through a process of deconstructing to understand why it resonates with them, it becomes possible to identify how it can be reconfigured and applied to the shared context.
Straying into such uncharted ‘B2C’ territory may be anathema to many B2B marketers. Although, with 1 in 3 we spoke to seeing the pandemic as a catalyst for taking risks and being more daring with creative and campaigns, the moment could be now.
Assembling a creative dream team
Devising creative solutions in a time where marketers are already stretched thin may seem a daunting prospect. However, creativity should be considered a team sport. The best outcomes are when there are a range of experiences and observations to draw on. To this effect, marketers must look outside the department for inspiration, actively seeking out those with different backgrounds and ways of thinking. And, with over 1 in 2 B2B marketers prizing creativity from agencies, it’s time to push agencies to start bringing ideas to the table.