Marketing for growth – Lessons from ANA Masters of B2B 2022

Marketing for growth – Lessons from ANA Masters of B2B 2022

At the end of May ANA hosted their Masters of B2B event in Scottsdale, Arizona. Events like this give us an opportunity to learn from leaders in the industry, hear the challenges our clients are facing and step outside our day to day to think about the direction of B2B marketing.

The overarching sentiment of the conference was that of growth, and marketing’s role in achieving that. The first day of talks kicked off with a stat from the ANA. ‘Between 2010 and 2019 the average annual growth rate across Fortune 500 companies was 3.1%’. 

‘This sucks!’. Bob Liodice, CEO from the ANA announced. For all the resources being put in and opportunities out there we should be doing better. 

Marketing has long had an identity crisis, and at times has struggled to prove its value and role as a revenue driver. But in an effort to address this I feel as though we’ve changed our language (growth, performance), our tactics (tech stacks galore) and got deeper into what the broader business sees as revenue building rather than actually showing how our existing discipline is a growth driver. 

Marketing is a core business function, and it’s more than just promotion. 

To get back to driving growth perhaps we need to get back to what marketing actually is. 

Over the next 5 articles we’ll delve into our 5 themes from the conference. But all of these themes should be read in the context of them being strategies to achieve business growth. 

  1. Your existing customers are an untapped opportunity
  2. Customer experience should be central to your business strategy 
  3. Viva la Brand 
  4. Engage through cultural relevance
  5. Multi-disciplinary collaboration is table stakes

When we think about what we can do, it’s worth reminding ourselves what we should be doing as marketers. Milton Hwang VP Marketing Operations from HSA Bank presented his ‘MOPS Framework’ which outlines the core roles for the modern marketer; 

  1. Modernizer 
  2. Orchestrator
  3. Psychologist
  4. Scientist 

And I’d like to close on one addition. I spoke to a lot of people throughout the conference and we discussed why we were there, and what we were learning. The first thing everyone said was ‘I’m here to be inspired’. 

But what if you could be the inspiring one? What does your instinct tell you is the path forward for your brand?  

Theme 1: Your existing customers are an untapped opportunity  

Consistently throughout the conference, we heard that we should be turning to existing customers for growth, rather than solely relying on acquiring net new prospects. This opportunity was the closing thought from Milton Hwang, VP of Marketing Operations at HSA Bank’s talk. 

One reason for this is the operational opportunity they provide. 

We have both existing and owned channels of communication to customers, and a higher volume of data than any other segment – the perfect combination for campaigning. 

During her ABM workshop Jessica Fewless from Inverta cited this as the reason that existing customers should be the place to start when thinking about an ABM strategy. 

Giving a tactical example, she suggested cross referencing customer renewal dates with competition intent data. By looking for correlated spikes you can identify the right accounts and right time in order to run an efficient retention campaign. 

Hwang felt this wealth of data and proximity was something we could be doing much more with. He quoted Seth Godin, ‘The internet is not a mass medium  – it’s a million to one’, a sentiment that’s relevant in our communication with prospects also. 

Rob Markey from Bain and Company was blunt in his view that we need to be talking more about how we engage with existing customers and retain them. Bringing in more value to the business and increasing share of wallet. 

For Markey the way to do this is by putting the customer experience at the very centre of the business and not just the marketing strategy. 

Which leads us to theme number two.

Theme 2: Make customer experience central to your business

In a study conducted by the ANA, one of the challenges to growth cited by marketers was ‘delivering an exceptional customer experience’. 

We know it’s important, but making it a reality is a different task. 

Rob Markey from Bain and Company kicked off his talk by sharing a personal experience he had with a delivery company. 

Whilst his box arrived on time, it was damaged, due to it being placed next to heavier packages. When he called customer service there were a series of hoops he was going to need to jump through in order to get any kind of compensation. So many that it made it too much of an effort to pursue, and therefore the complaint was not recorded. 

We likely all have an experience like this. And the reason this is so common, Markey explained, is that these businesses are set up to operate in this way. Metrics across the business are centred around operational efficiency not customer satisfaction. He discusses this in more detail within this HBR article. 

So in the delivery example, KPIs such as number of boxes in vans are more important than safety of boxes in vans. Many businesses are sacrificing customer relationships due to the wrong business incentives. 

Merkle provided guidance to this when they presented the findings from their second study on B2B buyers’ experience expectations. They outlined ‘ingredients’ that fell into 4 needs; 

Business value adds

  1. Reliability: “A brand that we can trust to deliver” 

Ingredient examples: Products and services just work, consistently deliver on time and as specified

  1. Understanding: “Gets my company’s needs”  

Ingredient examples: Quick to respond and can adapt to changing needs, provides the expertise and experience that we need

Personal value Adds 

  1. Enrichment: “Makes my work life better” 

Ingredient examples: Working with them teaches me new knowledge and skills, I feel safe signing a contract with them

  1. Pre-eminence: “A brand people are proud to work with”

Ingredient examples: Active thought leaders in their category/ sector, Have a progressive approach to all stakeholders

Brands that delivered fully across these new ingredients were found to be 80% more likely to see increased spend from their customers in the future. 

Further more NPL leaders outperform for shareholders 2-3x more than the total stock market. 

So customer experience can impact the bottom line and generate long term financial performance. Something else that can do this is the strength of your brand, which we discuss in theme three. 

Theme 3: Viva la Brand

‘I know brand is a bit of a taboo word right now’ Milton Hwang, VP of Marketing Operations at HSA Bank said as an aside during his talk. 

Over the last few years many marketers have started to use the term ‘demand generation’ in place of brand to appeal to their non-marketing senior stakeholders. And it seems that little by little we’ve misinterpreted that for lead generation.  

At Earnest we regularly meet with B2B brands who are looking for agency support, and for the last few years those discussions were dominated by CMO’s who were prioritizing performance marketing and needing fast MQL and revenues. However, in the last 6 months we’ve seen an increasing number of brand campaign RFPs as organisations are starting to discover that their pipeline has dried up after neglecting top of funnel initiatives. 

Derek Yueh from The B2B Institute at Linkedin explained why this was an obvious result of prioritizing lead gen activity. We know on average that only 5% of your audience are in market at any given time, which means 95% of your audience are not even aware they need a solution like yours. That 95% will not be responsive to lower funnel activity such as lead generation and performance metric measured campaigns. And so by only implementing tactical lead generation activity you are spending 100% of your marketing budget on just 5% of your addressable market. 

Furthermore, that 95% is the source of your future pipeline.

‘Most buyers are future buyers, and future buyers are the source of future cash flow’ 

Just relying on this audience eventually increasing their intent and moving into your lead gen funnel isn’t a logical strategy either. Doug Novak from Google told us that 78% of B2B buyers have a brand in mind when they look for a purchase. If you have no communications to this audience you are leaving them wide open to your competitors. 

The goal according to Yueh is to achieve share of mind at various buyer journey stages, considering that it’s not what your audience thinks of you but when they think of you. You need to increase awareness and salience of your brand so that when they are looking to purchase, you are the brand they think of first. 

A brand led approach has been proven to work.The most highly branded companies have seen a higher growth rate since 2015 than the average S&P 500. 

And it’s a long term strategy. 

Yueh started his talk with an anecdote about a new owner of a classic Aston Martin, who cited an advertisement as a reason for his purchase. When questioned about the advertisement – because there hadn’t been an Aston Martin ad in nearly 50 years – the new owner replied ‘yes, that was the ad!’. 

‘So it takes 50 years for advertising sales to work’, Yueh joked. 

But we must still proceed with intention, and Mike Rucker from the NBC News Brand Studio advised marketers to be very clear about what they want to achieve from their branding campaigns. An answer that has to come from within the organization and aligned to the business strategy. 

So if we now understand the commercial importance of brand activity, how do we actually create something that engages with that 95%? Theme 4 has some thoughts.  

Theme 4: Engage through cultural relevance 

We saw a number of brands present their successful campaigns, and a common thread was the importance of timely and cultural relevance.  

For Heather Malenshek, CMO at Land O’Lakes it was the starting point for her and her team who looked to find the intersection between commercially viable opportunities and big societal and cultural change. 

Lainey Johnson, Americas Brand and Media Leader at EY shared how this was central to the content strategy they developed for their ‘building a better word campaign’. Working with NBC they created a content program to underpin their brand advertising, starting with a weekly series during covid,  and continuing into a long term strategy. She advised working closely with PR to ‘pin yourself to the news cycle’ and create content that is valuable to your customers by addressing their timely pain points. This could be anything from regulation changes, to market movement to trends within their own customer base. 

Lenovo took a similar tact with their ‘Late night IT series’, a panel show discussing hot topics in IT in the format of a talk show. We heard earlier on in the conference that 90% of IT decision makers struggle to find IT content that’s interesting, so this approach – mixing a mainstream successful format with targeted relevant content – was a great way to address that need. 

Cultural relevance isn’t just about linking to news stories. J Archie Lyons from CAT showed us how they incorporated popular culture to their strategy to ensure engagement with their CAT trials series. This led to a PACMAN game using CAT diggers and a Hot Wheels race to name just a few examples. 

He told us that he follows ‘Mindful Marketing’ to stress test that his strategy is going to achieve peak engagement. This means thinking about three areas; 

  • The Head – Is it intellectually stimulating and does it align to the business strategy? 
  • The Heart – Does it connect emotionally? This isn’t just about tugging at heartstrings, is it fun?!
  • Your Gut – Does your instinct say it feels right? Does it appeal to your intuition as a marketer? 

And he didn’t underestimate the difficulty of getting ideas like this approved through the business; ‘Safety and legal hate me!’. 

But he did emphasise the importance of bringing people onboard early and explaining your theory. Which we delve into in theme 5. 

5. Multi-disciplinary collaboration is table stakes 

We heard consistently throughout the talks that the key to achieving goals and getting good marketing done was to collaborate with non marketing functions throughout the process. 

Jessica Fewless from Inverta cited having sales onboard as a checklist requirement for ‘ABM readiness’. This includes aligned revenue goals, visibility and understanding of their structure and strategy. 

Engaging sales is often about proving the value, and she suggested identifying a ‘marketing friendly’ within sales to help you develop a use case. 

Jeff Lowe and Jenna Pipchuck from Smart Tech told us how they took this alignment one step further by reorganising their entire sales and marketing departments into ‘pod’ teams aligned to the buyer journey. Thus eradicating sales and marketing as we know it. 

They took each point of the journey, identified the customer needs (learn, buy, order, adopt, support) and then identified which parts of the business they needed at each stage, regardless of the team they were in. By design this created multi-disciplined teams. 

A great example of how they then made sure this new structure was actually implemented and ‘lived’ was by holding a joint budgeting workshop session to cover all traditional marketing and sales tactics. In one exercise they asked each person ‘If you could only spend on one tactic next year – what would it be?’. This led to passionate debates and new understanding from across the teams.  

Sales & Marketing is an obvious discussion point, but we also heard in a number of talks that there are increasing siloes within marketing teams as brand and performance have been operationally separated. This is impacting our ability to run holistic strategies. 

And then there are the teams outside of our typical proximity that are all part of us delivering authentic work. Land O’Lakes CMO, Heather Malenshek explained the importance of bringing all internal teams onboard when she embarked on developing a new brand proposition. 

‘You can’t have an empty tagline – and it’s not just a marketing exercise, you have to get everyone involved’. 

Specifically with the tagline expression she engaged with HR to ensure she was speaking the language of the business, and best representing the culture of the organisation. 

This concludes our 5 themes from the ANA Masters of B2B Event 2022. If you’d like to discuss any of these further, drop us an email at [email protected]

And if you still have an appetite for trends, check out our recent B2B trends report; ‘Riding the Wave’ 

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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Sarah Przybylak

Head of Business Development (US)