B2B marketing returns to the big idea

‘How was that for you…?”

“Hmmm… Could have been better. But it’s nice to know that I’m not missing anything.”

That was the response from pretty much everyone I chatted to at the B2B Marketing Ignite conference drinks reception. Most agreed the whole thing was short on insight and detail, familiar in terms of theme and structure, and mercifully peppered with a few engaging speakers.

Having had a few days to reflect, however, and I’ve come away with three marketing trends for you to be aware of — all of which fold into one overarching ‘megatheme.’

  • Everyone’s struggling with the same thing: becoming customer-centric

It was encouraging to see others struggle with turning this much-uttered buzz-phrase into marketing reality. ‘Customers should be at the heart of everything we do.’ Great, but what does that look like in practice?

In her mid-morning session, Thompson Reuters CMO Antonia Wade guided us through the customer content journey on their site. Think your website refresh was complex? Theirs was mind-boggling. Wade explained how her team moved from product silos to a persona-led approach, so that the business now structures content around its audience — traders, business leaders and analysts — as opposed to news topics.

A photo of a slide showing how to build customer centric sites

The session served as therapy for many of us in the audience dealing with the same problem on a smaller scale. Key message? Customer-centricity is hard, takes way longer than expected and meets significant resistance from colleagues… But it’s totally worth it.

  • Hard data, meet squishy human

After years of hawking performance marketing/data-driven/agile working, the speakers I saw (who mostly represented the Martech products that enable and have long-promoted such an approach) are now promoting a need to put the squishy, intangible human at the centre of marketing plans.

customer centric slide

Marketo’s Chief Growth Officer, Jill Riley, took a whole 30 minutes to remind us of what we already knew — ‘buyers’ are people, and want to be treated as such. This sentiment was repeated time and again, and there is seemingly a recognition that there may be space (shock!) for qualitative research. Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole truth, either.

  • The Big Idea is back

Data will take you a long way. A little too far, if you’ll let it. Focus too heavily on the numbers, and they can funnel you and your team toward smaller and smaller areas of interest, cutting off new and divergent ideas. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In easily the best talk of the day, Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland reminded us that we’re all idiots who pretend to know what we’re doing. We assume rationality in our ‘buyers,’ ignoring the fact that our evolution, not economic motive, guides us; we pursue the blandest of ideas, reduce our creative scope, and end up fighting directly with our competitors in exactly the same way. Doing so simply isn’t strategic.

Salvation comes from the very things that led us here — social media ad platforms and marketing automation — as they allow us to test wild, counterintuitive ideas on the cheap. So long as we can summon the courage and creativity to come up with something different, the opportunity exists to be bold and gain the tremendous upside of standing out from the crowd.

Will I go back? Dunno. We’ll see how well the Future Content VR circus ballet works out. :)

Originally published at Future Content.