2030 B2B Trends: Contrarian Ideas for The Next Decade

by Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo, The B2B Institute

The B2B Institute published a 43-page PDF on what they foresee as the three major trends in business-to-business marketing: (1) a greater emphasis on building long-term brand equity; (2) greater consistency in creative execution; and (3) a shift from hyper-targeting to broader reach within categories. Some of the ideas presented in this paper will sound familiar to anyone who has read the work of Ehrenberg-Bass Institute or the work of Les Binet and Peter Field.

Trend 1: Renaissance of brand building

“Sales activation doesn’t create demand; it just helps businesses capture the demand that already exists… Brand building is what actually generates demand.”

“Sales Activation = In-Market Customers = Current Cash Flows
Brand Building = Out-of-Market Customers = Future Cash Flows”

“According to a recent survey we conducted of over 4,000 B2B marketers, only 4% measure the impact of their campaigns beyond 6 months—even though Binet and Field show brand effects take at least 6 months to kick in.”

Short-term sales: The authors cite an example with a major credit card company. Activation by itself produced a 0.2% conversion rate. “When users were first exposed to brand marketing… and then activation marketing, the conversation rate increased to 1.2%. That is a 6X performance lift. Binet and Field have observed similar patterns. A brand campaign from British Telecom in the UK lowered acquisition costs by 17% and improved ROI 316%.”

“We believe there is an argument to be made that in B2B, your sales force is the bottom-of-the-funnel. In the future, we expect to see a cleaner division of labor, where marketing focuses on long-term growth and sales focuses on short-term growth.”

Long Term Sales: “Good CFOs understand that businesses are valued not on current cash flows but on future cash flows. By some estimates, 80% of the value of your stock is based on sales 10+ years in the future.” This statement surprised me and sparked an interesting discussion about business valuation.

Pricing Power: “Decreasing price sensitivity might be the single most important effect of marketing… And what drives pricing power? Brand marketing. Buyers are willing to pay premium prices for strong brands. This is why luxury marketers never run activation marketing. ‘Buy Now!’ advertising cheapens the brand and weakens pricing power.”

The authors also point out that stronger brands have an easier time with talent acquisition.

“Over the next few years, we expect that B2B marketers will begin following the advice of Binet and Field, allocating 50% of their budget to long-term brand building and 50% to short-term sales activation… In categories with lots of online research… growth is maximized when 74% of the budget goes to brand… Once buyers manage their own buying process, what’s the point of activation marketing? At that point, it makes sense to focus on brand, which will get you into more consideration sets.”

Trend 2: For the best creative, think like Disney

This section is based on the following Disney creative principle:
“Creative Success = (Big Bets) on (Familiar Stories) with (Distinctive Styles) in (Every Channel)”

Big Bets: The authors argue that small bets are riskier because they hardly ever break through the clutter. “If you’re not spending at least 50% of your budget on a single creative idea, you are not betting big enough.”

“‘Test and learn’ is consensus and wrong. ‘Betting big’ is contrarian and right. When you are fortunate enough to find an idea that is contrarian and right, you need to bet big on it.” Hmmm.

Familiar Stories: “Marketers are obsessed with newness. We want never-been-done-before ideas. Most CMOs begin their tenure by scrapping the old creative campaign and launching a new one. This tends to be a catastrophic mistake and an enormous waste of money. Stick with your old, familiar creative. Any change to the brand needs to be incremental… Otherwise you wind up like Tropicana, a brand that lost $100 million in a few weeks when a marketer decided to revolutionize its packaging.”

“The most successful brand campaigns, from ‘Priceless’ to ‘Just Do It’ to ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ have been running for decades, not quarters… This is how you de-risk your big bets over time—by betting on what’s worked in the past.”

“The goal of brand marketing is to build and refresh memory structures in the minds of future buyers. And repetition is the key to memory.” The authors use the phrase “surprisingly familiar” to describe new twists on old ideas.

Distinctive Styles: Put your distinctive assets in every single ad. “Repetition builds memory, but so does being weird and unexpected. You remember strange experiences and forget generic ones.”

Every Channel: “Marketers like to develop bespoke creative for different channels. Instead, we need to focus on extensibility and reuse the same creative everywhere. This will decrease your creative production costs and increase your creative effectiveness.”

Trend 3: The death of hyper-targeting

“So many questionable trends have emerged in marketing over the past 10 years: personalization, loyalty marketing, real-time content, click-through rates. But of the many, many missteps in our industry, the biggest mistake, by far, has been our maniacal focus on hyper-targeting.”

“In a recent academic study from MIT, Melbourne Business School and GroupM, researchers decided to test the accuracy of third-party data. So, how accurate is gender targeting? It’s accurate 50% of the time… How accurate is age targeting? It’s accurate 25% of the time… As a general rule, the more niche you go, the less accurate the data becomes… Don’t assume the data is good. Assume it’s bad.”

“In B2B, buying decisions are made not by individuals, but by networks (or committees)… New professionals are coming in and out of the network at random. People change jobs. People change companies. People change industries. That’s a very obvious insight with profound implications for B2B marketers… If you want to reach future buyers, you’ll need to broaden your targeting.”

“Targeting everyone on Earth makes sense for B2C brands like Colgate, which sell to anyone with teeth. But it would be extremely inefficient for B2B brands like Deloitte, which sell to a more targeted audience… The solution is what we call ‘Category Reach.’ You need to reach all potential buyers of the category.”

“Despite all the buzz around hyper-targeting and personalization, it’s worth remembering that reach is, and always has been, the single greatest predictor of advertising success. The tight causal relationship between a brand’s share of voice and its share of market has been known for 40 years… And we have replicated those findings for B2B, showing that a 10% eSOV (the difference between your market share and share of voice) gets you 1% back in market share growth.” (If you don’t understand Share of Voice and ESOV, see Effectiveness in Context.)

“We believe that most of what the marketing industry does today is wrong. But we are confident that tomorrow we will be doing what’s right. There is a Darwinian dimension to business progress. Businesses that do what works will survive, and those that stick with failing strategies will perish.”

Weinberg, Peter, and Jon Lombardo. 2030 B2B Trends: Contrarian Ideas for the Next Decade. Sunnyvale, California: The B2B Institute, 2020. Download PDF from the B2B Institute.

Books mentioned:

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