B2B marketing without creative has no punch

The purpose of this post isn’t to argue the merits of inbound marketing with creative content. I believe that any B2B marketing professional still debating against that is probably not open to the points I want to make.
Since I speak as senior creative director, you may be surprised at how broadly I apply the word “creative” to B2B marketing. I think every part of the process, from assessment of an opportunity or problem, to the formulation of a strategy and budget, to the creative development of messaging and imagery, to the way your story is told all benefit from being more creative.

Fight for your right to be more creative.

Quite a few years ago, I was introduced to an assistant general manager of a client’s field office by one of their marketing directors. She mentioned I was a creative from the ad agency and, as we shook hands, he said,“Oh yeah, you guys are the ones that do all our fluffy stuff!”

I wanted to punch him in the nose.

But judging from his smile I decided it wasn’t an intentional insult, so I simply said, “Well, not exactly.” I’ve thought of many better responses since, and not one was the least bit fluffy.

Maybe I should’ve asked him some of the questions I’ll ask you now:

What value does creativity add to B2B marketing?

I think it makes all the difference and, if you aren’t different, your message is nothing new.

Does any one person or team really have all the ideas that it takes to help a company thrive in the marketplace?

Absolutely not. Great ideas can come from anywhere— even great questions. Ask around.

How much should an internal staff collaborate with an outside agency during the creative process?

In my opinion, collaboration with clients can be a good thing, if everyone is open-minded and engaged.

Do you dare let any creatives near your salespeople, technicians, customer service reps or customers? How about your customers’ customers?

The closer to “street level” the creatives can get, the closer they get to the Big Idea. They see and hear things from a new perspective, and might learn something from what, to the client, is routine.

With so much advocacy for content marketing, just how creative does your content need to be?

Content doesn’t have to be as wildly creative as it should be fresh, relevant, helpful and actionable. Aggregating content for use in marketing from various sources is a creative process in and of itself.

What’s the secret known by advertising and marketing creatives that most others don’t know?

It’s really no secret. Keep it simple and don’t be stupid. Refining a message, an image and a story to its core essence is part of the creative process in marketing, and in storytelling.

How do you invest more creativity into your marketing process and make sure it pays dividends?

Set realistic goals and always be testing. There’s more than one way to tell your story, and there are more ways than ever to measure who’s noticing, listening to, looking at and acting on your messages.

Your answers to these questions will be different that anyone else, because no one has the exact combination of industry position, challenges, opportunities, competition and customers as you do.

I would greatly appreciate your comments or alternative answers to any of the questions above. You have a creative side—what are your thoughts?

I also made a quick list of things I think may help anyone looking to be more creative and successful in their B2B marketing efforts.

10 ways your B2B marketing can be more creative:

  1. Don’t be lazy. You’re in a competitive sport; be professional about it. Wherever your creative efforts are the least bit amateurish, hire outside professionals.
  2. Never quit learning. This is the best time ever to be in marketing, but it’s no time to stand still.
  3. Think of great questions. Great questions lead to great answers and big ideas.
  4. What’s your first idea? Sometimes your first idea is your best. Now see if you can better it.
  5. What’s your worst idea? When you’re stuck looking for the best idea, switch gears and think of what would be the worst idea. Sometimes it lightens the mood, changes your perspective and leads to a great idea.
  6. What’s your story? Marketers are in the storytelling business. Much has been written on this, so read up.
  7. What’s the hook? Why should anyone listen to your story? Draw them in with a compelling question or provoking statement or image.
  8. Don’t limit your time on creative development to work hours. Sleep on it and wake with it. If you have an idea, write it down or it will evaporate like a good dream. Keep a pen and pad near the bed.
  9. Keep working on it. Marketing is a sport, but it isn’t all fun and games. People’s jobs depend on you.
  10. Now cut it by half. Once you have your marketing messages and creative content worked out, simplify it. What can you take out? If it’s not critical, it’s clutter.

Surely, this list isn’t complete. What points would you add? What helps you with your creative process?

Billy Mitchell

If you would like to learn more about the creative side of B2B marketing, here are some great links:

B2B Creative – Making It Work – A very insightful perspective on the creative process at work by Richard Bush, managing director of Base One Advertising in the United Kingdom.

Creative Approaches to B2B Marketing – An article by Dr. Jon Buscall, managing director of Jontus Media, based out of Stockholm, Sweden.

Best Way to Kill Creative B2B Marketing? Focus Only on B2B Marketing.
– Interesting article from the Hubspot blog.

Creativity: The Missing, Yet Critical Element For B2B Marketers – A great post by Maria Pergolino on the Marketo blog.

10 thoughts on “B2B marketing without creative has no punch

  1. “Never quit learning.” Personally, I think this is your key point. You have to be a student of your sport/career/life. If you quit learning you are dead, and if you’re dead, you can’t punch your audience in the nose with your TKO creative message. So dig deeper, and then teach what you’ve learned to someone who needs your new expertise.

    Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. Thanks for commenting John. I agree with you about which part was the key point. My personal motto used to be “Never let yourself become a prisoner of your own routine”. I still think that way but act on my new motto everyday. “Never quit learning”.

  3. Billy,

    Great post! I am a huge fan of powerful, creative ideas and campaigns. Analytics are great but there is no substitute for creativity. Reminds me of how Apple’s campaign beat the PC with a powerful creative approach that personified cool vs uncool — effectively repositioning Microsoft and creating a new customer base. Really like your points, particularly #7 & 8. Creative ideas can come at any time and perhaps when you least expect or are in a more relaxed state of mind and let the ideas flow. Great post and thanks for sharing.

    Mark Burgess

  4. Super list, Billy! You’ve got two of my favs on it: learning and storytelling.

    From the perspective of creativity, I find play is a key element of learning — and it’s probably the piece that’s most overlooked in business. (And I’m not talking about playing foosball in the breakroom, I mean playing with concepts, messages, images, formats, and even tools). I find that when I actively play, explore, and experiment (“do”) rather than just “think,” I see better results.

    And, to your point to “Keep working on it,” here’s a story: I once worked on a writing team where the boss would shoo us out of the office at various points in the writing process. We’d go for coffee, walk along the river, or listen to a musician on a street corner (this was Harvard Square after all). If one of us was having a hard time coming up with the hook or a narrative focus, we’d be given the afternoon or an entire day “off.” Smart guy, that boss. He knew that when you’re a writer, you’re never “off.” The thoughts and words are always percolating — and they need space to that.

  5. Thanks Mark,

    I know what you mean about ideas coming at anytime. With deadlines it pays to have a process for thinking through a creative block to assure they at least come in time or on time. Sometimes, if the schedule allows, moving away from the problem to work on something else or relax will help. But other times you have to just work or think through it and do your best. And that part about sleeping on it could be expanded to drive with it, shower with it etc. Don’t obsess on a challenge or idea as much as keep it as an open file in the back of your brain. Nothing beats that eureka moment when you KNOW you have the big idea.

  6. Great post, Billy. I can relate to everything here…right down to the well-summarized 10 ways to be more creative. (Although my ‘fluffy stuff’ differed slightly with ‘oh, you’re the girls who make everything look pretty,’ I still experienced the same urge to punch him in the nose!). Your post also underscores the importance of hiring the right team. This is a team sport requiring the support of other pros who can laugh, help you bring those big ideas to life, tell you when your words are full of clutter – and in the end help you create something really great. Thanks for the post – was fun to be reminded how much I love what I do (and how much I cherish the marketing team we have at INgage Networks)!

  7. What a great read, Billy! I really enjoyed the tactical advice from your list, especially the value in taking an opposite approach such as in #5 and #10 – something with which I still struggle. On a larger level though, I think you make a phenomenal (and often overlooked) argument for firms not to sequester agency creative staff away from front-line divisions in the company. “The closer to “street level” the creatives can get, the closer they get to the Big Idea.” – Love this. And who’s to say that there isn’t an element of reciprocity for the divisions to gain insight from the creatives on some level as well? I really enjoy the candid writing style and am looking forward to more, Billy!

  8. I think “Now Cut It by Half” is a very important thing we all need to remember. Yes, all the information may be applicable – but is it important enough to motivate the prospect to buy? I’ve been blogging about the issue of continual partial attention recently, and cutting the information down to what is most important is further needed when one looks at the societal shift of today and how people just don’t have the time to read every message they’re inundated with daily. We have to be smart and concise with our messaging. GREAT post, Billy!

  9. Excellent! All are great points. What’s the hook and Now cut it half are two point sometimes overlooked. B2B marketing absolutely has to be creative. Thanks!

  10. Mary,

    Thanks for commenting! I agree with totally about the potential of “playtime” as a creative environment. I need to remember that idea more often and agree that your boss was very clever!


    Funny you had the same reaction I did to having someone take your role and work as a creative too lightly.

    It can definitely be fun to be part of a creative team, especially when the collaboration pays off in great ideas and a successful marketing campaign. It may appear like the fluffy and pretty stuff to some, but they say that to you and me at their own risk!


    I know you have written on creativity and the creative proscess yourself so I really appreciate your comment and I enjoy your writing style too.


    I saw a headline today about “Adult Attention Deficit Disorder” and think we all may have it to some degree. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism against the assault of too many messages from too many directions. Simple is almost always the best way and the creative process is all about refining a message to it’s core essence. Thanks for commenting Vann!

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