Seeking out chances to recognise B2B

When we talk about marketing, we tend to see it mostly from the perspective of business to consumer (B2C). Global grocery brand giants Procter & Gamble and Unilever come to mind. Iconic memories of Guinness TV ads such as ‘Surfer’ (above). These multinationals and their marketing teams dominate prestigious award shows, Steven Roberts writes.

Acres of press coverage and commentary are set aside to dissect the annual Super Bowl TV ads; again very much B2C territory. It is natural as it is high profile and it is the element that helps attract many young marketers considering their career options. FMCGs are one of the best training grounds for marketers, taking a rigorous approach to education.

We tend to talk somewhat less about business to business (B2B) marketing. It seems smaller in scale, more prosaic. Perhaps less glamorous, with fewer opportunities to run global TV campaigns or work with celebrities. No matter how valuable, when your target market is a 3,000 doctors, accountants or heads of information technology (IT), it is clearly going to require a different strategy to the mass media approach used by large consumer brands.


In this context, it was good to see the arrival of publications from the B2B Institute and Squaredot, specifically on B2B marketing. Working with researchers Peter Field and Les Binet, the B2B Institute’s report focused on The Five Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing. It is set against the background of institute surveys in tandem with LinkedIn.

These contained some stark observations regarding the current state of the sector. For example, only four per cent of survey respondents measured campaign impact beyond six months, 30 per cent believed advertising has an impact on pricing power, while just over half – 52 per cent to be exact – agreed reach is a strong predictor of advertising success.

Many of the concepts that have been challenged successfully over the past decade in B2C environment, by luminaries such as Mark Ritson (pictured), appear to still be widely accepted in B2B. The authors point out that big picture thinking is in short supply. They could find little evidence of coherent brand building activity. They argue that B2B marketers have not taken part in the industry discussion about balancing short and long-term activity.

It has been a ‘relatively neglected field’.

In their view, this has left many practitioners with a lack of coherent understanding as to how brands create growth. It is a sector where digital and performance marketing has been focused on to the detriment of long-term strategy. To redress the balance, they identify five principles within the IPA set of case studies that are key to B2B growth.

These principles have already proven to be successful for B2B firms.

They include a focus on share of voice (SOV), balancing brand and activation, expanding the customer base, maximising mental availability and harnessing the power of emotion. Binet and Field aficionados will no doubt be heartened to note they propose a budget split of 46 per cent brand and 54 per cent tactical activation as the ideal mix for B2B.


The Irish B2B Digital Marketing Survey 2020, from Squaredot and the Marketing Institute, saw 129 B2B marketers take part in the study, entitled ‘Getting to the Heart of the Matter’. Its findings mirror much of what Binet and Field report, in particular an obsession with digital tactics, a tendency to go by instinct and a lack of real focus on brand building.

While 34 per cent of respondents undertook regular brand tracking surveys, 31 per cent admitted to relying on a general hunch. Only 53 per cent of those surveyed documented their brand strategy. It is perhaps not surprising then to find that 36 per cent planned to spend less than 10 per cent of their marketing budget on brand activity in 2020.

These reports should be welcomed.

They suggest that for B2B marketing teams who are applying best practice, there is potential to carve out a significant marketing advantage over less focused competitors. It is likely to remain the case for many years. It also shows firms that decide to adopt more of Binet and Field’s findings can unlock considerable value and growth opportunities for their businesses.

In the rush to identify the differences between B2B and B2C, we may inadvertently have missed the many similarities that exist. Above all, it suggests that marketers, whether focused on business clients or consumers, should recognise the potential for greater sharing of ideas and best practice. It is certainly something to embrace as we enter a new decade.

At a broader level, for our marketing associations, conferences, awards ceremonies and publications, we need to actively seek out opportunities to recognise great B2B marketing.


Steven Roberts is head of marketing at Griffith College and a certified data protection officer. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and author of the forthcoming book, Data Protection for Marketers: A Practical Guide, published by Orpen Press; his email is




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