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Humans, B2B, and Creativity: A New Era of Collaboration

Unfashionably, this article isn’t about AI and how people will remain relevant, important, and keep their jobs.

This is about B2B (business-to-business), creativity, and the human touch. How creativity is helping businesses cut through, deepen relationships – and ultimately build stronger brands.

Historically, creativity and B2B brands have not been considered particularly complementary. B2B organisations prioritised practicality, reliability, and functional value, while creatives were more attracted to the allure of trendy, glamorous B2C (business-to-consumer) brands. To illustrate this point, I like to envision B2B and creativity as two wary professionals reminiscing about working together in the 90s:

“SUCH an attention seeker, frivolous, unnecessary. Frankly, too emotional for the boardroom, or any adult conversation for that matter. In all honesty, can’t say they’ve hit one of their performance measures.” - B2B on Creativity

“Aside from their love of blue and very basic visual metaphors, I don’t feel I know the real B2B…where’s their personality? All they do is brag about being a global leader! In my opinion, they lack bravery, are extremely dull and WAY too quick to shut down ideas.” - Creativity on B2B

Fortunately, we’ve all grown up since then. It’s 2024.

Here's why I believe creativity now brings the magic to B2B brands, and how you can tap into it to enhance your own business.

Creativity is a vital force shaping the future of B2B brands

In the past, B2B marketers often treated their customers and potential recruits as purely rational and analytical beings. But of course buyers and employees have emotions just like everyone else. Buyers care deeply about the impact their buying decisions have on the hundreds of relationships they touch. Often, lying awake at night, worrying about the implications of their decisions. Similarly, job seekers – and particularly graduates – are emotionally drawn to the glittering fame and creative cultures of companies like Google and Meta, where ideas flow freely, and creativity is at the heart of the company’s purpose.

Today, B2B brands have truly grasped that they no longer exist in an emotional wasteland. They're winning new customers and talent by harnessing the emotional pull that creativity enables. A recent LinkedIn study reveals that 69% of B2B marketing leaders agree that purchasing decisions are as emotionally driven as B2C, and 39% are increasingly using storytelling to make campaigns memorable.

Winning more deals begins with deeply understanding the people you’re trying to engage (whether that’s an internal or external audience). Recognising that they have different needs, behaviours and motivations. Creativity can then be used to engage them on a personal level; moving beyond rational claims and proof points and motivating them to act using empathy, charm, passion, humour and so on. Drawing on the full spectrum of emotions to demonstrate that you understand them, and their world. A great way to do this can be to share real customer and colleague successes stories - making your world tangible and relatable to them.

It takes a creative leap to stand out

People generally hate change. Organisational inertia, a lack of vision, resource constraints, market pressure, and concerns about customer expectations have often held B2B organisations back. Despite their cutting-edge solutions and ability to solve the world's biggest problems, B2B brands have often played it safe and shown restraint. Guilty of waiting for market leaders to set the marketing agenda, only to follow suit with absolutely nothing that’s exciting or brave.

But today, we’re starting to see that B2B organisations understand that to stand out from competitors, the most powerful tool in their armoury is creativity. This is why "creative strategy and execution" has become one of the most important skills for B2B CMOs, with 46% more creative skills added to marketers' profiles in the past year (LinkedIn B2B Marketing).

To truly stand out, it’s important to embrace the power of creativity at pace. Trailblazers are the ones set to benefit the most. We help organisations, who struggle to do it themselves, take "creative leaps" - breaking category conventions and internal biases. We do this by taking everyone who matters, inside and outside the business, on a journey – from being aware of the upcoming change to fully buying into what it means for the business and their role within it. Providing sound logic and evidence for every decision we make about the brand and ensuring everything has a clear role and reason. This removes subjectivity and ambiguity in the decision-making process and minimises that fear of leaping into the unknown.

Creativity brings pride to the B2B sector

Traditionally, B2B companies operated under the radar, focusing on providing products and services to other businesses without much public fanfare or acknowledgement. The most prestigious awards were reserved for the B2C sector, where brands were more visible to the general public and media.

Today, the B2B creative awards scene has erupted, reflecting a growing recognition of excellence and innovation in the B2B sector. Recent recognitions, such as the Cannes Lions award to JC Decaux, underscore the rising creativity in the sector. This accolade highlights innovative strategies and groundbreaking campaigns that set new industry standards. The B2B jury president Andisa Ntsubane (Vodacom Group) praised the work as “the ultimate celebration of humanity, a simple breakthrough idea that captures the hearts and imagination of 14 countries around the world.”

So what does this mean for you? To build pride in your brand, regularly recognise and reward creative efforts within your organisation. Enter awards or programmes that celebrate the most creative initiatives from your employees. Host events, exhibitions, or internal showcases where employees can present their creative projects and ideas. Make these events celebratory and inclusive, allowing everyone to appreciate the creative talent within the organisation and respect the important role they play. This in turn will help to nurture a culture of creativity. And don’t be afraid to look outside of your business for creative collaborations - bring in creative professionals, such as artists, designers, and innovators who can contribute fresh perspectives and ideas.

My advice - harnessing creativity within B2B brands isn’t just an opportunity, it’s a necessity. Get ready for a bold, creative future!