North Stars, Magnum Classics, and the art of nailing your B2B marketing objectives

A table full of Magnum ice creams

Ever been disappointed in the outputs or outcomes from a piece of B2B campaign work? Fear not, dear reader. Help is at hand and it’s armed with a metaphor straight from the freezer.

My daughter is nearly four and sometimes we go to get ice cream. If I assume she wants a Twister (elite ice lolly), she wants a Magnum (classic). If, god forbid, I assume she wants a Magnum, well she wants a Twister. Clearly I am an awful father.

In my experience, people will either be very good at telling you what they want or they will not be very good at telling you what they want, or actually they’ll sort of be somewhere in the middle of being good and not very good at telling you what they want.

Basically, don’t ever assume you know what people want.

I always thought that one of the first things agencies and clients should do is physically get together (over coffee, croissants, biryani, Solero, whatever) and do a little exercise called:

‘WTF do we want out of this?’

I wrote another blog recently about BBQing and setting a campaign up for success. This blog you are literally reading right now is related to, but different from, that blog. The BBQ blog was about why the campaign holy trinity of objectives, audience and budget matter to building a shared agenda and successfully achieving it. This blog is about what the people sitting around the campaign table want. So, ‘WTF do we want out of this?’ feels like a pretty good question to ask.

However, no one wants to attend a meeting called ‘WTF do we want out of this?’ Like, me and maybe a few other people who still think swearing is funny (I’m 37, I know this is a problem, I don’t know what to do about it).

Instead, we at Earnest are increasingly big fans of an exercise called the ‘North Stars Meeting.’” Early in the relationship with a client, at the start of planning a campaign or year’s activity, we do in fact sit down with the project team with some coffee and croissants and try to work out just WTF everyone wants to get out of this.

And I think this really matters.

  • What do you want at a business level?
  • What do you want at a brand level?
  • What do you want for your team?
  • And last – but very much not least – what do you as an individual want to get out of this?

The answers to these questions are our ‘North Stars’. Why ‘North Stars’? Well (another metaphor alert!) the North Star, Polaris, was used to navigate by seafarers as it effectively doesn’t move in the night sky from its position above the North Pole. This made it a navigational constant.

This is what our North Stars are – navigational constants by which we can orient all of our activity.

Some examples:

Business level NS
• Launch in new market 2024
• IPO in 2025

Brand level NS
• Increase SOV 10%
• Stop needing to explain who we are on sales calls

Team level NS
• Generate 1000 net new leads
• Show the new CMO you mean business

Personal NS
• Win a Drum award
• Get promoted

Nailing these down is an important step in building a shared agenda. They’re also a guide for orienting all future activity and measuring success. ‘Will this activity move closer towards a successful IPO’ or ‘Is the tactic contributing to building brand SOV and salience?’

North Stars are simple, communicable framings of KPIs. Numerically articulated KPIs can be surprisingly hard to interrogate and connect to programmes of activity. The North Stars exercise helps make them more concrete, more grounded in the day-to-day and week-to-week actions we take as individuals and teams.

Framing goals and objectives like this makes it a lot easier to ask a very important question that agencies and clients, in the heat of battle, sometimes forget to ask: ‘Are we on track to get what we want?’

Almost all agencies almost always want to help clients get what they want, and Earnest is no exception. But sometimes agencies and clients drift, accidentally, from whatever shared agenda they thought they were building. And, in my experience, more often than not, a lot of this is down to not really knowing what everyone actually, really, genuinely wants.

And that’s how you end up with a Magnum in a world of Twisters.


(Header photo: Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash)