Clear Defendable Territory
A different kind of value

“Creativity needs to be converted into something that a business values. You can come up with lots of blue-sky ideas but unless they create value for that client at that moment, it’s totally irrelevant”

B2B brands increasingly value creativity but have varied interpretations of it. We discussed this and the wider topic of creativity within the sector with Fiona Czerniawska, Founder and CEO, and Ella-Sian Jolley, Marketing and Sales Director, from Source Global Research, a consultancy for the world’s leading professional services. We recently collaborated with Source to create a brand reflecting their global boardroom reputation, providing full brand positioning, identity, and website development.

-This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity –

TC:
When we think of creativity in the brand and business context, it’s usually the B2C brands that come to mind. What do you see as the role and importance of creativity for B2B companies?

Ella:
It depends on how you define the word creativity. Unlike B2C brands that can rely on visually striking campaigns – think Maybelline's recent campaign with the big 3D eyelashes – B2B brands need to focus on making their products and services relatable and more tangible. They need to interpret creativity differently.

Take the IBM advert – “you won’t get fired for buying IBM.” It might not have been as visually creative as Maybelline’s, but it connected in a meaningful way. Despite selling to businesses, you're still marketing to individuals and emotional connections are crucial. By defining creativity in terms of relatability and personal connections, B2B companies can create campaigns that resonate on a deeper level. This approach not only differentiates them, but fosters loyalty and trust, making creativity a crucial element in their overall strategy.

Fiona:
We've worked with firms who believe their whole USP is intelligence and insights. What we've found from their clients’ feedback, is that they have an emotional attachment to the business. This is completely unrecognised by the business itself; they're honestly surprised to hear it.

The wonderful brand promise that you created for us - “knowing what really matters”- is something that clients hold us to now. What they expect is our advice about what they should do and some kind of reassurance for the future. This reassurance is a very significant emotional connection that we're only just starting to scratch the surface of. It’s destined to play an increasingly important role in how we build relationships.

TC:
In today’s competitive market, do you think expertise is becoming commoditised and creativity can help B2B firms stand-out and create a niche for themselves?

Fiona:
Expertise isn’t commoditised. Post-pandemic, it has become significantly more important, however, it still isn’t easy for clients to tell firms apart. Expertise would be a fantastic basis for differentiation, but it's extremely hard to discern and therefore clients must find other ways of supplementing that.

There's a lot of discussion, at the moment, about what it feels like to experience working with a consulting firm. That is at the heart of what Ella said about what emotional engagement really feels like. Experience and creativity go hand in hand. People can't experience creativity through a piece of thought leadership; they might see some interesting ideas that might prompt them to think differently, but that's not the same as having some kind of real experience.

TC:
What are some of the opportunities for B2B firms to be creative in terms of what they do and how they work, beyond marketing and communications?

Fiona:
Clients think you're being creative if you can be flexible, which sounds such a low bar to jump but so many professional service firms have quite rigid methodologies and processes, so it is creativity from a client point of view. It’s an attitude. B2B firms don’t really think about the small things they can do to seem more creative to their clients.

At the other end of the scale, we've done research about experience / innovation centres, dedicated spaces that can be reconfigured. The idea is to take the client executive team away from their daily work and bring them into a physical environment that's different, enabling them to focus on the issues that they can't resolve and think in a different way.

Our study shows that 85% of clients think multi-disciplinary work is critical to the effectiveness of a consulting project. However, about the same proportion of them think that no firm is different in the way that it does this. Going to an experience centre and watching a firm be multidisciplinary in practice is four times (60% v 15%) more effective than issuing a piece of thought leadership about it.

Ella:
It's about establishing genuine touchpoints. What you've done for us with our brand promise is not just for our marketing department, it applies to every single thing that we do. When we go the extra mile and tell the firms what really matters, this helps us to stand out and form a stronger connection. If firms can find a way to embed who they are company-wide, they'll stand out and be seen as more creative.

TC:
What are some of the ways in which Source tries to be creative in its approach and proposals? Do you think there is a growing appetite for innovation and creativity amongst your clients, or is there still a degree of scepticism?

Fiona:
There's certainly no scepticism about it. In B2B sometimes things can be over-engineered so simplicity ought to count as creativity. That’s why we write short proposals. We try to be clear and simple by outlining this is your problem, this is how we can help with your problem. We try to keep it to the point.

Ella:
For us it’s also about being authentic. At an event that we recently hosted, one of the speakers said that they scrap any proposals that don't mention the word AI. Momentarily we wondered whether we needed to do that too, but our answer was clear that we shouldn’t just throw in buzzwords, we remain true to who we are and how we work.

Fiona:
This is where you helped us enormously to be absolutely clear about what we bring and the value we add. A lot of firms, especially big ones, find it so much harder to express that precisely.

TC:
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges and roadblocks B2B organisations face when trying to incorporate creativity in their strategies and operations? And what are some of the top tips and practices they can follow to encourage and nurture creativity across their teams and working culture?

Ella:
People tend to be busy and are so used to just churning things out that they don't take a moment to stop and question how one customer is different to another.

Fiona:
Almost every B2B company has lots of people working very hard to serve clients in one form or another. This circles back to Ella's point about being busy, but firms structurally, especially partnerships, are not very good at putting money aside to allow people the space to do that.

Ella:
Culturally, there seems to be a tendency to overcomplicate. We've spoken about simplicity, authenticity, and speed, but most people see creativity as a big and expensive marketing idea or snazzy software and veer away from it.
Creativity requires having the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Many businesses are afraid to do that. A lot of creative ideas come from the more junior talent because they’re fresh, they can think differently, and are accustomed to using different technologies, but they don’t have enough of a voice in the firms to do things differently.

You need commitment for things to come to life. It’s taken us two years to really understand where and how we need to change and be bolder for our clients.

Fiona:
Essentially, it's about bringing diverse teams together with different ideas and different perspectives to create a better solution. Creativity needs to be converted into something that a business values. You can come up with lots of blue-sky ideas but unless they create value for that client at that moment, it's totally irrelevant.

The smartest, most creative people not only do what we've been discussing, which is simplify and come up with a thought that really sticks with you, but they're also there with you all the way to ensure a meaningful impact on the organisation.

It’s clear, embracing creativity is essential for B2B brands to forge meaningful connections and differentiate themselves in a competitive market. By focusing on simplicity, authenticity, and emotional engagement, B2B firms can overcome the challenges of their intangible offerings. Creativity should permeate every aspect of their operations, from marketing to client interactions as it can significantly enhance a brand's reputation and effectiveness. Ultimately leading to sustained growth and success.