ANA’s Masters of B2B Marketing took place recently. I’ve always found that a review of all the presentation topics is a great way to gauge what’s on the minds of top B2B marketers and brands.

My read of this year’s sessions is that the role of emotion and creativity, and the willingness of B2B brands to take risks, is a subject that’s absolutely of the moment. As it should be.

Some say that B2B creativity needs to be bolder and braver – and that risk-takers stand a far-better chance of breaking through. Adobe’s Chris Duffey and Enterprise Community Partner’s Allison Womack surely are in this camp given their session, “Go Bold or Go Home: The Risks and Rewards of Breakthrough Work.” (I’m proud to say that Allison and Chris are fellow Board members at ANA Business Marketing NYC.)

Some say we’re not marketing to businesses but rather to humans who are significantly governed by emotion. Jamie Cleghorn, Partner at Bain & Company, addressed this at his session, “What B2B Buyers Really Care About” (which in his view includes the emotionally rich realms of personal value and inspirational value).

Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing and PR Officer at Ally Financial, covered this ground as well in her session, “Balancing the Head with the Heart, Why Marketing Needs Disruption.” One of the most impressive sessions in my view was Victoria Morrisey’s “Digging in Brand Purpose and Growth.” Global Marketing and Brand Director at B2B bellwether Caterpillar. Victoria spoke about the need particularly in B2B to market with purpose, vision and voice – driven by the power of emotion.

Big, Long Ideas with Value

One of the cleverest creatives I’ve ever met, Stein IAS’ Chief Creative Officer Reuben Webb, expressed a view on creativity in our digitally transformed world that pulls these threads together. In Reuben’s words from the ANA stage, we should “stop struggling with creativity and start having big, long ideas with value.” Reuben teamed up with UL CMO Kathy Seegebrecht to share this view.

Reuben expressed that “Creativity is a term you hear a lot in marketing. But it's very subjective. A CEO sees it differently to a CMO who sees it differently to an agency account lead who sees it differently to a creative director who sees it differently to a designer who sees it differently to a developer. “

“So, what tends to happen to creative projects is they get judged differently according to each person's point of view. Unfortunately, this rarely results in improvement, it usually ends up as a camel (horse designed by committee). Or worse still, the lowest common denominator, a cliché.”

He further advised the nearly 700 B2B marketers assembled to start off by defining what value your idea ideally needs to deliver. Should the idea’s value be increasing sales or, slightly short of that, driving brand metrics or MQLs? (Of course, it should - but how will it do that?)

Importantly, he added, dig even deeper into the value your idea should unlock. Should it make people internally feel good? In what way? Should it turn perceptions of you brand upside down (or right-side up?) Should it make people understand your differentiation by experiencing it? Should it be broadly useful to your industry and audiences? Should it help sales people sell better? Should it extend your earned media reach and engagement?

“The beauty of thinking about ideas in this way is that the more you do, the better your brief will be, the greater the value ultimately delivered will be, and the clearer the success can be judged,” Reuben noted.

Kathy Seegebrecht went on to provide a powerful example of a big, long idea with value developed by Stein IAs and UL – a new global go-to-market campaign called “The World Runs on Trust.” You can watch the launch video here to get a sense of just how big, long and valuable an idea can be in B2B.

The power of emotion. The opportunity that comes with taking risks in a risk-adverse world. The need to develop ideas with value as a means of taking subjectivity our of creative decision making.

All these sessions at Masters of B2B Marketing put me in a positive frame of mind. After years of a strong pendulum swing to Modern Marketing measurability, the pendulum is swinging back to the realm of ideas. Which in and of itself is an idea with value.

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