I’ve just returned from a trip to the U.S., where I attended a conference run by the ANA on B-to-B marketing and was sponsored by GyroHSR.
I’m embarrassed to say that it’s been over two decades since I was last in the U.S. and there were some big changes that I noticed. Firstly the cars got smaller. I think ours in the UK are on average larger now. Secondly we are culturally a lot closer. The world has homogenized. We have the same brands and we consume a lot of the same media. Despite 20 years of convergence, however, I noticed straight away that ‘over there’, they approach marketing communications slightly differently. This is something that is hard to describe or quantify as it’s quite subtle—it’s down to ‘tone’ and ‘styling’. Despite sharing the same language, we are a world apart and these idiosyncrasies matter in communications, as they can be the difference between success and failure.
I’ve worked over the years with some really big, famous Anglo U.S. brands, and there was always an underlying current of tension: What works for us in the UK doesn’t ‘feel right’ in the U.S. and vice versa. Nobody could ever really vocalise why, which made operations even harder. We just knew it didn’t ‘feel right’.
What heartens me most from a corporate perspective is that now we have a combined operation in GyroHSR that integrates solid, established businesses in North America and Europe, so we no longer need to have these ‘discussions’. Anyway, enough of the cultural observations.
The conference was great. We had two days of speakers from some of the biggest B-to-B powerhouses and experts in the field—too many to mention. The first day worried me a little as we spent the entire day talking about (digital) social media. A very worthy topic, but this is the third conference in the last 10 weeks I’ve attended and the record’s in danger of getting stuck on this. There are other issues in B-to-B marketing, and an over-focus on one media (transformational as it may be) is a little dangerous.
I’m pleased to say that day two redressed the balance somewhat with the debate opening out into some wider areas.
Many of the other bigger issues are bound up in this but need addressing more explicitly. Marketing needs to move up the business food chain and away from being a lead-generation machine for the sale forces. Sure, this is an output, but marketers need to have a central role in business strategy, not just tactics.
The reason that digital media is such a popular topic of conversation is clear: We’ve just carried out a huge piece of research in the UK B-to-B space that illustrated this really well. The logic goes something like this: Marketers’s success is based on their effectiveness, which is based on their measurability. Digital media is visible/measurable. It can be seen with minimum effort, so let’s do it more. Brand building is hard to measure (it takes time and money) so we won’t do it. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy as people read the report and swim with the tide. Our current operating environment is accentuating this even further as every marketing pound needs to be seen to deliver a return.
This is the theme of a conference we will be running in the UK in October, where we will be presenting the findings of another big piece of research we are currently running, which is looking at whether recessionary pressure is causing brand owners to disinvest their brands at the expense of short-term lead generation.
Some of the presenters at the ANA conference talked about effective marketing being driven by differentiated positioning and creative communications. These have and always will be the pillars of successful business brands, and I worry that we will lose sight of these by over-focusing on tactics/media. As media channels fragment and we embrace exciting, new communication channels, the importance of this becomes even more critical and even harder to achieve. I took a lot from the two days. It was thoroughly enjoyable and the Americans remain as fantastic hosts as last time I visited, but my one biggest outtake is that as an industry we need to make sure we don’t lose sight of the basics.
General Manager – Manchester