Where do I start? I guess at the beginning, which for me was over 20 years ago …
As I left for work on my first day, my father – who was/is a preeminent professor in (you guessed it) B2B – imparted to me two pieces of advice:
The first was “don’t fiddle your expenses.” The second was “don’t overstay your welcome.” He observed that in the early ‘90s, B2B was still sadly the poor relation to its more glamorous mainstream counterpart, and that whilst I “should be able to shine amongst the shit,” it wasn’t where he wanted his firstborn forging a long-term career.
I’m pleased to say that I followed only the first of these sage pieces of advice, and many years later haven’t regretted it. Why? Well, that’s a little harder to explain in just a paragraph or so, and therein lies the nub of the issue for me.
B2B isn’t easy. In fact, it’s really hard. If you read any of the boring textbooks my dad wrote (don’t), they have one common theme and that’s complexity.
Bill Shankley once opined that football was a simple game made complex by idiots, which I’ve adapted for our business. B2B is a complex subject made even more complex by idiots. Making complicated things simple is hard; it’s an art and a science. It takes skill, judgment, experience and needs great minds. That complexity is often used as a crutch, an excuse for poor communications.
B2B marketing is no different from other marketing. It’s based on the same reductionist principles that aim to match brand promises with customers’ needs to make a profit for businesses. It’s based on single-minded messages that stand out in cluttered marketplaces. Trust me, it’s much harder to do this for complex products, with high-value/risk decisions and homogenous competitive landscapes, than it is for a baked bean.
If we fast-forward 20 years from my first day, I am delighted to say that the sector has transformed and genuinely is no longer that poor relation. Its skills are becoming an even more valuable commodity as we emerge from the most sustained and savage downturn I’ve had the displeasure of working through. As marketers, our agendas are changing from delivering demonstrable, rapid and short-term returns on smaller investments to one where marketing is tasked with driving businesses forward.
The difference is now. Many firms haven’t sharpened their axes for a while and this pent-up demand means businesses and marketers are all trying to achieve the same thing – “a marketing arms race” as I heard someone describe it recently. So now marketing’s new lexicon is defined by words like “creativity,” “cut-through” and “relevance.” These are exciting times.
Danny Turnbull – Managing Director, gyro Manchester
Part of gyro’s global leadership team, Danny Turnbull runs the Manchester operation in the UK. He has spent almost 20 years in agencies both B2B and B2C, and has worked on a large number of household brands from DAF to Granda, from Smithkline Beecham to British Gas. Much of his experience is related to branding and corporate identity; however, he retains his strongest passion for the broader subject of creative work that really works.