B2B marketing – the movie – part 5: The Life of B2Brian

In this latest instalment of a blog post series that likens topical B2B marketing issues to classic movies (see previous takes on Bridget Jones and The Matrix, for example), I explore the phenomena known as ‘shiny new toy syndrome’. Below I share some perspectives on marketing’s fascination with the latest new thing, but first – and with tongue planted firmly in cheek – I bring you The Life of B2Brian…

Movie Synopsis

B2Brian is a B2B marketer. Like other marketers, B2Brian likes to keep abreast of the latest trends and best practice thinking in marketing. In particular, he likes to go to at least one marketing conference each year. There’s nothing quite like seeing an expert or marketing visionary in the flesh, atop their soapbox, preaching to the masses about the latest growth-hack. B2Brian is particularly fond of The Institute of Clever Marketers (ICM) events – not The Clever Marketer’s Institute events – the splitters.

As B2Brian mills around this year’s ICM marketing conference, he does his best to avoid the array of over-exuberant, polo-shirted centurions from the vendors that have sponsored the event. He wonders what miracle cure their respective CEOs will be spouting in their keynote speeches this year.

While sipping his vendor-sponsored latte macchiato from his vendor-branded travel mug, B2Brian reminisces over the proclaimed saviours of conferences past…

“Second Life is our saviour…”
“All hail MySpace, come to save us…”
“QR codes are the future, the anointed one…”
“Long live Google+, the holy grail of B2B marketing…”
“Embrace Pokémon Go or perish…”
“No, it’s not about Pokémon Go, it’s about gamification generally. Gamification is the chosen one…”
“Woe betide the B2B marketing man (or woman) that doesn’t have a Vine strategy…”
“Behold, 3D printing is the future…”
“Join the conversation, the future is hashtaggable…”

As B2Brian considers those past vogues and bandwagons, he reminisces further about webcasts, lovemarks, Google Glass, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Periscope, Snapchat, Blab, parallax scrolling, the Internet of Things, iBeacons, NFC, RFID, apps, native advertising, the 7Ps, the 5Cs, viral videos, real-time moment marketing, Facebook Live, inbound marketing, hyper-personalisation, hyper-localisation, hyper-contextualisation, big data, small data, marketing automation, lead nurturing, programmatic advertising, retargeting, storytelling and the long list of other hot, growth-hacking holy grails.

B2Brian is interrupted from his daze by a fellow conference delegate, who spots B2Brian’s name tag on the end of his vendor-sponsored lanyard.
Hello B2Brian, what do you think the biggest thing will be in B2B this year?
B2Brian stares blankly at the uber-positive marketer, who continues unabated “Artificial Intelligence is the way forward, right?
Before B2Brian can respond, another delegate joins the conversation, “Yeah buddy, it’s all about machine learning and cognitive systems now.
B2Brian continues to stare back, his mouth slightly open.
A polo-shirted vendor joins the fray, “No way, brand purpose is our saviour. You must ‘start with why’.
A fifth person joins the discussion, which is now attracting a bit of a crowd. “Blockchain or bust people. Blockchain or bust,” she heralds.
Blockchain? You heretic. It’s chatbots or bust, you loser. Chatbots are a step-change. They’re disrupting everything,” someone shouts from the back of the ever-growing throng.
No, you need a voice recognition strategy. It’s reinventing marketing,” shouts another, proudly wearing her ‘Alexa Forever t-shirt’.

B2Brian, stood at centre of the crowd, is already starting to sweat before the original man turns back to him and says “so what do you think Brian? What is the answer?
Yes B2Brian, tell us what you think,” shouts another expectantly.
Feeling the pressure, B2Brian stutters slightly. “The future… the future is…
Tell us B2Brian, what is the future,” several people respond in unison.

B2Brian, an assuming chap that doesn’t like to pass judgement, feels like he’s going to be sick. As the crowd looks at him zealously, he wants to say something ridiculous, like ‘you’re all different marketers, with different businesses and different problems – there is no single answer. There is no single, holy-grail shortcut. We all just need brilliant products that deliver brilliant value for brilliant customers, sold at the best price and told with brilliant communications‘ but, instead, claustrophobia takes over. He says nothing and, with mild panic setting in, instead just tries to force his way through the cultish crowd.

Don’t go B2Brian. What were you going to say? You were going to say something…
Yes B2Brian, what were you going to say? Tell us,” another member of the crowd implores.
Is the answer a secret, B2Brian?” another pleads.
It must be a secret, otherwise he’d tell us,” shouts yet another.
Hey everyone, there’s an expert over here that won’t tell us the new truths of B2B marketing,” a conference delegate shouts, prompting near frenzy.
Oh Influencer, oh expert, what is the holy grail growth hack? Please tell us,” the crowd shouts in unison.

‘OH. MY. GOURD’, B2Brian thinks, bolting for the nearby exhibition booth – that of a lonely print provider – no-one will follow him there, surely? As he runs, one of B2Brian’s Nikes slips off his foot and then he drops his vendor-branded travel mug. With the zealots in hot pursuit, B2Brian doesn’t stop to pick up either.

It’s a sign, it’s a sign,” a first pursuer shouts, picking up the travel mug. “He’s telling us the future is all about branded merchandise. Its time has come again.
No,” proclaims another, picking up B2Brian’s running shoe. “He’s telling us to ‘just do it’. It’s a sign about going the extra mile. Customer experience is the way forward. It’s a sign!

As the crowd goes wild with excitement, with two new proclamations to salivate over in less than 10 seconds, B2Brian sees his own personal saviour – his boss, B2Brenda. B2Brian cowers behind her as B2Brenda calmly stops the crowd in their tracks. As quiet anticipation descends, B2Brenda opens her mouth…
He’s not the B2B marketing Messiah. He’s just a very naughty boy. Now p*ss off!

The crowd put in their place, the hubbub dies down quickly. Thankfully, jargon-filled normality soon returns to the vivacious conference. Everyone has a fabulous day, with confirmation biases reassuring each and every delegate that their own preferred growth-hack is the one and only true route to B2B marketing success.

The long, fervent day ends with the effervescent crowd tucking into their vendor-sponsored beer. Everyone will be back next year, eagerly awaiting another new growth-hack.

And what about our unassuming hero, B2Brian? In our closing movie scene – set on his train journey home from the conference – he receives an email on his iPhone8. The lead nurturing message from a vendor’s marketing automation platform is entitled ‘5 brand new reasons why you can always look on the bright side of B2B life. Number 4 will really surprise you!

Director’s notes – and an underlying B2B marketing message

In homage to Monty Python, this B2B marketing tale was admittedly a little bit zany. If you haven’t seen the original ‘Monty Python’s The Life of Brian‘, you’ll probably need to watch it to make some sense of this blog post. But before you rush off to check that out, I thought I’d first explain the underlying motive behind why I wrote this…

Firstly, and for transparency, I’m also called Brian, but I just wanted to assure you that the above story is in no way based upon me. [As an aside, I had fun poked at me for years as a kid because of ‘The Life of Brian’. A chorus of ‘Welease Bwian‘ would sound out whenever I was tackled in rugby or kept in class for extra physics lessons].

Secondly, I poke a bit of fun at vendors and marketing conferences in the above post. It was all just a bit of well-intended fun. For the record, I attend marketing conferences whenever I am able to and I rely very heavily on a wide number of suppliers to succeed. (And I’m a marketer for a B2B supplier too).

All of that said, and getting to the main point of my post, this B2B movie was inspired by one Tom Fishburne’s (aka the Marketoonist’s) famous cartoons – which I hope he doesn’t mind me referencing here…

150119.shinynewobject1

(Check out more of the Marketoonist’s fabulous work here. I’m a huge fan).

Tom’s cartoon brilliantly parodies marketing’s fascination with shiny new toys. There is seemingly something about many of us marketers where we just can’t help getting a little bit carried away by ‘the latest thing’. For as far back as I can remember, there’s always been some fad or other to distract us. And there are a range of possible reasons why that all happens. For example:

  • competition is super tough and us marketers are paid to find an edge, so it’s hard not to pay attention to people, tools and techniques that promise us new ways to gain that edge;
  • there is palpable pressure on each of us to keep our CVs up to date with the latest thing. Alas, to many, a marketer expert in delivering kick-ass value propositions and knowing how to maintain price levels doesn’t sound quite as ‘hot’ as a marketer that’s running an influencer-based campaign on Instagram. Odd but true;
  • we’re also all surrounded by marketing celebrities and commentators that, in dire need of something new to say, focus predominantly on ‘the latest thing’. Faced with thousands of articles and incessant conference speeches on this, that and the other growth-hack, it’s hard not to be drawn in. (There is psychological evidence on why we get drawn in, much of which stems from herd mentality. It seems we just can’t help getting caught up in the hype – it’s the way our brains work);
  • and then, just like Fox Mulder from the X-Files, there’s the good old, more basic phenomena of people simply wanting to believe. (By the way, I want to believe in happy endings. I just wish that would happen to my football team every now and again. #SadFace).

Whatever the root cause of ‘shiny new toy’ fascination, the underlying point is that much of the stuff prescribed to us is a distraction. For example, I went to a conference last year where a keynote presentation proclaimed that all B2B marketers should have a Snapchat strategy. Of course it was utter tosh… Some B2B marketers (not many, I suspect) may benefit from using Snapchat within their promotional mix some of the time, but to say we should all focus on it as a priority is just plain wrong. I’ve heard similar stuff on 3D printing, wearables and all sorts of other things over recent years. And it’s that sort of distraction (aka ‘crap’) that can stop us focusing on the foundations of effective marketing. Things such as developing brilliant products and services that fulfil a target segment’s needs. Focusing on long-term brand growth as well as hitting short-term targets. Understanding the importance of value, pricing, positioning and the like. Focusing not just on observable data, but also on empathising on the underlying reasons why customers behaved the way they did. Producing braver, more creative communications that outperform rival efforts. Doing our utmost to differentiate. Etcetera. etcetera.

I’m a great believer in experimentation in marketing – of trying new things. And I’m a great believer in having an open-mind to new ways of working. While I suspect some of the things I mentioned in ‘The Life of B2Brian‘ will fall by the wayside, as surely as Vine did, I’m also certain others will transform our industry in a myriad, unexpected ways in years to come – AI possibly chief among them. But, I’m also a great believer in questioning it when someone promises us a miracle cure. And I’m absolutely, 100% certain that there is no single tactic that is right for every B2B product, service, marketer or business problem on the planet. Perhaps most importantly of all, I think that marketing commentators failing to educate up & coming marketers on the basic tools of the trade really is – in the immortal words of Monty Python – rather silly.

My primary motivation in writing this blog post was that I think it’s healthy to be be able to poke a bit of fun at our own profession. But, joking aside, I did want to make the point that focusing on ‘the latest thing’ can be detrimental if it gets in the way of other, solid marketing practices – and I also think up & coming B2B marketers deserve the full picture.

To end on a more jovial note, below is a reminder of a classic video on this topic from the wonderful marketers over at Adobe.  Enjoy it, but also come back here soon for another B2B marketing movie. I’ve got Harry Potter and a few others lined up 🙂

 

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