Five tips for better B2B marketing campaigns

Your CEO is chewing you out because your campaign isn’t bringing in results. The CFO is drawing a lot of long, red, angry lines on the whiteboard. Sales are throwing you under the bloody bus. And all the good biscuits are gone. How did everything go so wrong?

Complex customer journeys, long sales cycles, and tight budgets mean that creating and delivering successful B2B marketing campaigns can feel like an uphill struggle. Managing various stakeholders with varying degrees of marketing maturity means you’re playing politics more than you’re converting customers. And finally, there’s a recession-shaped monster on the horizon with an appetite for marketers…

It’s tough, absolutely, but you are not alone. I hear these challenges again and again from our clients, so I’ve pulled together some of Earnest’s top tips for giving your B2B marketing campaigns the best possible edge.

Ensure the Strategy (big S) is robust

Forgive me for this one, but I see it all too frequently: campaign briefs that lack foundational strategies, such as market and audience research, segmentation, targeting, positioning, and SMART objectives. Campaigns without these elements in place are at real risk of being misinformed and therefore misdirected – you need to tell your agency where the opportunity is, based on your own research. Not the other way around.

In particular, briefs that don’t have actual SMART objectives are hard to measure and even harder to prove successful, meaning more heat from the C-suite (and potentially a weaker perception of marketing). So, rather than just “Increase brand awareness” instead consider better “Increase brand awareness within US SMB audiences by 15% by end of December 2023”.

Now, the truth is, many marketers who have ended up in their role (rather than schooled) find they don’t really know where to start with the strategy, particularly while other departments are demanding progress and results.

There are two good options here.

The first is Mark Ritson’s mini MBA in Marketing, which is a great way to learn these fundamentals quickly in a programme specifically designed to help you apply them to your own business objectives – and also have the confidence to tell others to fuck off so you can do it properly (note: I’ve taken it myself and highly recommend it).

The second is to bring in a freelance marketing consultant to help educate and deliver on a sound strategy for the business; although potentially a high cost upfront, they pay for themselves in ensuring budget further down the line is focused on where the greatest opportunities lie.

Nail the brief (and stick to it)

Great briefs lead to great campaigns. Crap briefs lead to crappier campaigns. And briefs that end up changing during the process lead to breakdowns, break-ups and bad times. And it’s a common issue: the Better Briefs survey found some 80% of marketers think they write good briefs, while only 10% of creative agencies agree.

Any time spent on perfecting the brief is always well-spent. It is your agency’s bible for answering your specific needs, and it provides them with a laser focus on your objectives. Any gaps, errors, or inconsistencies in it will have a disproportionately negative impact as development progresses.

Invite interrogation of your brief from both stakeholders and your agency and see it as the first (and arguably most important) deliverable of the campaign. Then, crucially, continue to refer to it regularly and explicitly with all parties to ensure momentum in the right direction; ask of any output “Does this answer the brief?”

Stay customer-centric and objective

Once development is underway, the greatest risk to effective strategy and creativity is subjectivity. “I don’t like” and “I’d prefer” are the enemy of customer-centricity and all too often where great ideas go wrong. Remember, you are not your customer; by providing your own personal tastes to campaign outputs, you’re likely directing it further away from your customers’ needs.

So, as a marketer, you have three hats to wear here (I know, I know, wearing ‘hats’ is so fucking B2B):

  • The customer:
    Together with your sales teams, you are closest to your customers and will have the best feel for who they are, what they care about, and where to find them. Put yourself in their worlds first and see the work through their eyes. Review work from their perspective.
  • The brand guardian:
    A good agency will push your brand as far as it will go to ensure distinctiveness and differentiation – your job is to make sure it’s still true to your positioning, values and identity. Be careful not to strangle good ideas with strict brand rules though – what feels scary to internal teams might not even register to customers. Be bold.
  • Shepherd:
    Stakeholders can make or break a campaign, so your role in managing them is critical: selecting the right ones (inputters, influencers, and decision-makers), controlling their engagement, managing expectations and feedback, reminding them of objectives, and guarding against subjectivity. You also have a critical role in bridging your agency and stakeholders too – make sure both are as prepared as possible.

For those stakeholders (and marketers) who are very creative themselves, it can be difficult to leave the copy and design decisions to the agency without getting involved. Feedback such as “I think it would be nicer with blue” and “Umm, you can’t start a sentence with ‘and” aren’t helpful, especially as the creative will likely have ten years’ experience and a cutting-room floor of a hundred developmental iterations they went through before presenting this one. But remember, this is what you’re paying them for; you need an agency to create marketing that works, not necessarily marketing you like.

(But if you or your stakeholders are super keen to be a part of the creative process, then involvement at the beginning during ideation is much more valuable than design or copy tweaks once you’ve seen the outputs; have your agency add WIP/tissue sessions early on to capture their thoughts and ambitions).

Test and learn (and innovate)

It’s hard to get anything right the first time, and campaigns are no different. So don’t set and forget, instead ensure that you have a clear test-and-learn approach to messaging, creative, formats, and channels. Create a calendar of measurement, reporting, optimising and iterating. This will ensure the campaign improves in both effectiveness and efficiency over time.

Invest 10% of your budget into innovation too; a slice of investment dedicated to unusual, unorthodox and unique formats or channels. The ones that are a little risky to invest a lot into, but could be the secret to better engagement or the competitive advantage over the competition. Those ones you see wins with, invest in further and see your campaign develop successfully into uncharted waters.

And bloody well stick with it

Brands get bored of their campaigns way before their customers do. Convince your stakeholders of the importance of delivering consistent messages over time, and use time and testing to focus and sharpen it.

And think carefully about short and long-term objectives. Recent updates to Binet and Field’s original research on brand building vs. lead-gen demonstrates that the brands that went for quick-win campaigns may have seen short-term sales success, but lost out over time to competitors that balanced short-term tactics with long-term brand building too.

With stakeholders pressuring marketing for leads and sales, marketers need to be strong in maintaining a steady hold on brand building, rather than just a string of short-term lead-gen bursts. This was true even sixty years ago when Peter Drucker said in The Practice of Management: “You have to produce results in the short term, but you also have to produce results in the long term. And the long term is not simply the adding up of short terms.”



(Header photo: Emily Bernal on Unsplash)

Focusing on the fundamentals and getting the strategy and the brief right will do half of what’s required for successful B2B marketing campaigning. And the rest is mostly made up of discipline, diligence and managing those tricky stakeholders.

Stay true to these tips and you’ll unseat your C-Suite with results that truly deliver, and if you’re looking for expert help — give me a shout and let’s chat:


(Header photo: Emily Bernal on Unsplash)