Raconteur Meets

Pushing creative boundaries and managing stakeholders in B2B

We spoke with Matthew Ashley, Head of Demand Generation, Marketing Europe at Thomson Reuters, about getting buy-in for creative ideas and how to build confidence in marketing with your internal stakeholders.

Q. Working within financial market compliance and regulation, you deal with quite sensitive issues. Do you think it’s possible to use emotion in the marketing of these products, or is there a fine line you have to tread?

A. There is definitely an emotional play that can be leveraged. An example that comes to mind is the senior manager and certification regime in the UK — managers are becoming increasingly personally liable for ensuring their teams are following regulation. Before, that responsibility was often seen to sit with the organisation.

It’s important to avoid scaremongering, but there is definitely an emotional element you can put in your marketing messages when it comes to a topic like this. “Are you ready to be personally accountable?”. It’s a powerful, emotional angle that will make the prospect think about themselves more. Personal emotion and responsibility are always a strong trigger if you can get it right in your messaging.

Q. B2C marketing is traditionally seen as more emotional than B2B. Do you think there’s evidence that the two are growing more similar?

A. There is definitely a growing convergence between the two marketing approaches. However, there will always be nuances in B2B because, ultimately, people are buying on behalf of organizations rather than for themselves – though personal accountability also has a role to play.

When I did my masters in marketing, I based my dissertation around the brand values of B2B marketing. Where does the brand value really exist — is it in the organizational brands or is it in individual product brands? The research led me to clearly identify that people are buying from organizational rather than product brands in the B2B space. They’re buying into the values that an organization offers: the trust, the value, the solutions, the quality, the service rather than a product. The product brand or name simply acted as a label to differentiate one offering from another.

The difference in B2C marketing is that people are usually buying into product brands, not the organization behind them. People aren’t buying products because they’re coming from say Unilever, they care about the values in the individual product brands in their portfolio.

Q. It can be challenging to get creative ideas over the line in larger organisations. How can you push the boundaries but keep everyone happy?

A. The key is getting buy-in from senior management — both in the marketing structure, as well as the broader organisation. It’s built around the confidence in marketing, but building that confidence takes time.

In the past, I think a lot of senior management saw marketing as the team that just put the events together and knocked out brochures. But if you can show the real value that marketing can deliver, it builds confidence internally and that’s when you can start really pushing the boundaries creatively.

A good example of this is the recent development of a new creative identity for our Regulatory Intelligence proposition. The creative uses headshots of key members of the team who produce the content within the product. It was a bold move and not an approach I had seen before in Thomson Reuters, where stock photography or product imagery – rather than humanising our thinkers and leaders – has often been the norm in the past. We were keen to build the perception amongst clients and prospects that our experts were actually an extension of their own of compliance function, so we felt it was important to highlight the real people and expertise behind our content.

Combined with a new tagline of “our intelligence working for you”, this brought more of a human element to the creative which was something we hadn’t done in the past. With confidence already instilled in the management team and clear alignment between our messaging and this new creative, the feedback to this new approach was only positive at all levels.

Q. How do you build that confidence internally?

A. The number one factor is to demonstrate how marketing impacts and enhances the bottom line. At Thomson Reuters we have been building out an attribution model that not only tracks the leads we hand over to sales, whether that’s someone who filled out a form on our website or someone we’ve identified as an engaged prospect through our scoring and grading system. But going further than that, it’s being designed to track how a prospect interacts with marketing throughout the entire buyer journey, even if that lead isn’t directly passed over from a marketing campaign.

For example, someone might engage with us at an event, then see a social media post from us or join a webinar. They then receive an email we’ve sent, but end-up picking up the phone to the sales team instead of replying. That lead will be captured in our CRM system as coming from sales — but actually, marketing was involved in the whole buyer journey. An effective attribution model needs to have that level of visibility on all activity as that is what will build the confidence within the business and allow you to push the boundaries even further.

Q. There is often tension between marketing and sales teams, especially when it comes to lead generation. What’s your experience of this?

A. You quite often hear that the first thing sales do when performance isn’t as high as they’d like it to be, is to declare that “marketing isn’t giving us enough leads.” Then the next scenario is marketing are giving us too many leads, but the quality is poor. So, it’s a real balancing act between lead volume and lead quality. It means there’s often a lot of pressure to deliver quality leads within a short time frame, but any short-term activation has to integrate with your long-term strategic planning.

Ideally, you need campaigns to harvest the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in the short-term and nurture the rest over a longer period of time. This is where segmentation, targeting and messaging is so important. Not everybody will be at the same stage of the buyer journey, so being able to identify who is ready to buy versus who still needs nurturing and then delivering the right content, messaging and call to action is key to optimising conversation rates.

Having that level of visibility will inform your split between short-term lead activation versus your longer-term nurturing campaigns. Easier said than done I know, so it is also important to continually manage expectations, both within marketing and sales, so that both teams are working towards the same goal.

Q. There is obviously a tech stack that sits behind this lead generation and attribution process. What do you think the role of martech in modern B2B marketing is?

A. In marketing, there is always a long list of exciting things you’d like to do but limited resources to put them into effect. What tech is allowing marketing to do is be far more effective using the limited resources that they currently have. Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to track marketing’s impact on revenue like we do now. Tech has made it possible for marketing to become a revenue centre, rather than a cost centre.

Tech has also created new marketing channels such as digital and social as well as introduced new tools and capabilities such as chatbots and virtual reality – all of which can be leveraged to help guide a prospect through the buyer journey. And with new and emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning starting to permutate into the marketing mix, it is clear technology has a huge role to play in B2B marketing now and in the future.

Q. As you mentioned, tech is certainly a huge part of B2B nowadays, but there is still an important human element especially when it comes to sales, as it’s one person selling to another person. How does this translate to marketing?

A. Tech is, of course, a huge part of what we do in B2B marketing nowadays. But you shouldn’t ignore the people behind it — the people that drive the technology are just as important. However, that means the skills required to be a successful B2B marketer have changed. You need to have a real spread of knowledge and it’s not always easy to find people in that ilk.

When I was studying marketing, years ago, it was all about traditional theories like the Four or Seven Ps, Porter’s Five Forces — but all of that has changed. I’m not sure what the curriculum is now and I’m sure the fundamentals of marketing are still grounded in some traditional and still very relevant foundations, but it’s got to be substantially different when you look at how marketing is continually evolving and becoming more and more dynamic. But with that being said, it’s an exciting time to be a B2B marketer. There are so many new opportunities because of technology and that just makes it so much more interesting.

This is the second interview in our Raconteur Meets series, where we sit down with senior marketers from some of the world’s biggest and most innovative B2B brands. Sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest instalments in the series. 

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