B2B Marketers: How to Make Ads That Win Audiences & Awards

By Paul Hirsch

When Strahl, a drinkware maker, wanted to demonstrate the sturdiness of its polycarbonate bar glasses to the restaurant and food service industry in Norway last year, it sent potential customers drinking glasses by mail — with their address on the shatter-resistant product, which was all the packaging that was needed.

Its agency's tagline for this clever direct marketing effort? "Handle with I don't care."

The campaign earned Strahl's agency, Apriil, a Silver Lion at Cannes this year because the idea was brilliant, simple, effective — and I wish I could say I'd done it. But the "don't care" tagline is stuck in my head for another reason entirely: It sums up the approach to creativity by many B2B marketers.

Having served as Jury President for the first-ever B2B Creative Lions, I'm thrilled that B2B marketing is having its overdue "moment." But after the excitement of handing out 14 trophies last June, I worry that B2B companies and their agencies aren't making the most of this occasion. There is little question: They need to raise the bar for the work they are producing.

Consider this: There are companies that make products and services, ranging from big machines and their components to software services, that can be real game changers for other companies and lead industries into the future.

But a lack of creativity in the B2B marketing world means that potential buyers aren't aware of products and services they ought to be buying. That's why it's essential for B2B companies to communicate the value of these products in clear and compelling ways. Unfortunately, based on what I've seen working in the industry and hanging out at awards shows, there's little emphasis on craft (writing, design, art) and scant interest in creative risk-taking. Moreover, when talk in meetings turns to long-term brand building, marketers sometimes look like they're worried an agency is trying to put something over on them.

What will it take for B2B marketers to meet this moment? They can start with:

Targeted Brand Experiences

B2B marketers have niche audiences that car and chip makers have never had to consider — and they also have a lot of information to share with them. Spotify is reaching and engaging its advertising partners through music — makes sense! — creating "A Song for Every CMO."

The effort, created with FCB New York, began by asking 14 CMOs, including Intuit's Lara Balazs and Indeed's Jessica Jensen, to name their favorite music genre. Then it created a custom song for each one to demonstrate Spotify as a storytelling medium. (The song written to engage Zena Arnold, the CMO of Kimberly-Clark, has lyrics that call attention to a company "in our bathrooms and in our hearts.") And due to the success of the campaign, they just released round two with four new marketers.

Creative Endurance

A great idea and a terrific execution aren't always enough. The best and most effective work gets made when marketers commit to investing in creativity over the long term (or for as long as possible). Sherwin-Williams won the Grand Prix in the Creative B2B category in Cannes for a language-powered web app, "Speaking in Colors," that helps architects find difficult-to-describe colors. But it's just the latest effort by a company that has done a good job across media channels of hitching its brand to color in recent years.

Commitment to a Cause

Endurance can also mean a commitment to a branding idea—or to an important cause, a popular approach for many B2B companies these days. And it's hard to think of one more worthy than the "Reduce the Ride" effort aimed at helping kids with special needs get to school by D'Ieteren, a transportation company in Belgium.

Investing in Success

A call for more creativity, which never comes cheap, may sound too "spendy," especially as we look ahead at a challenging year. But creativity can be an economic multiplier — something B2B companies should keep in mind. It also results in pricing power: people pay more for products they know about.

We talk a lot about the customer journey in our business but ignore the fact that marketing is a journey as well. The payoff for being diligent and consistent is no different for B-to-B marketers than it is for any investors: a return on investment. And delivering the best possible return is something every marketer should care about.


The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


Paul Hirsch is the Doremus+Co president and chief creative officer.