20 April 2015 by Richard Parsons

Love, Hate and Cocktail Parties

love_hate_cocktail_partiesThere’s no getting away from it: business to business marketing is boring. It’s the Cinderella at the Marcoms Ball. But whereas Cinderella turns into a beautiful princess and finally bags her prince, B2B is destined to remain sweeping the fireplace unless we up our game.

And this blog is a clarion call to all you chief marketing officers out there. We can and must do better.

There’s no reason why B2B should be any less exciting, creative and emotive than B2C marketing. The perceived division between B2B and B2C is arbitrary, debilitating and a millstone around our necks. It’s time we ditched such restrictive thinking and set ourselves free.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up of going to parties and telling people I work in advertising, because it immediately conjures up images featuring glamorous lingerie models, high-performance sports cars and expensive perfumes. You can see them picturing global brands, exotic photo shoots and oodles of cash.

Then comes the inevitable follow-up question: “Ooh, which brands do you work for?” With a crushing sense of self-loathing and dread, I prepare to disabuse them of their glamorous fantasies.

“I work with…um…[insert almost any B2B client’s name]”, I say, scanning their visages for signs of confusion and disappointment. “They sell [insert almost any product category].”

Yup, there it is, the change of expression, like a storm cloud crossing the sun. “What is this guy talking about?” they’re thinking. “This isn’t advertising!”

I swallow hard and persevere: “They sell to [insert almost any government function, commercial sector or job title].”

By now it’s too late. They’re thinking “boring tosser” and I’m beginning to agree with them.

But I’m not a boring guy. I wouldn’t mind sitting next to me at dinner. I’ve travelled the world, seen interesting places; I’m creative and engaging. Honest, promise.

My work isn’t boring either. It’s not so much about the technology or feature underlying a particular product, but the challenge of how to influence people and change behaviour. And I love trying to systematise that process, as an engineer would, bringing together scientific disciplines such as psychology, sociology and anthropology, then blending that with creativity and liberal arts thinking.

Marketing, particularly B2B marketing, is richly complex and fascinating. So why do I dread those cocktail party conversations? Is it because we communicate what we do poorly, or is it because a lot of what we do is sub-optimal on the interesting scale, as former prime minister John Major might have put it?

Probably, it’s a bit of both.

So, how can we change this? Over the next few posts I’ll continue to share my thoughts about what’s wrong and how we might go about fixing it. 

You can also read my previous post as part of this 12 blog series.