Cannes Lions, the ultimate global festival of commercial creativity, last year included a Creative B2B award for the first time. The move was a milestone for B2B marketing; a definitive declaration of something that deep down, we all understood – emotional, human storytelling is just as relevant in B2B as it is in B2C.

As winners of that first Grand Prix in 2022, we at Wunderman Thompson were already operating in the knowledge that creativity is just as important to our B2B clients as it is to our B2C brands like KitKat and Heinz Ketchup.

The 2023 Grand Prix also demonstrated a unique understanding of the way that a creative appeal to the emotions drives effectiveness in the category. For Brazil’s B3 Stock Exchange and the UN, Almap BBDO imagined an IPO for planet earth, complete with real-time simulator to show stock price fluctuations based on world events. “EART4” was praised for driving the B2B community to think bigger, think bolder and to set higher creative ambitions.

This kind of emotional appeal in B2B ads is seven times more effective than delivering rational benefits alone, according to the LinkedIn B2B Institute. It shouldn’t be a surprise: the same people that B2C targets with warm, emotional messages don’t fundamentally change when they log in to work.

But for years, B2B marketing had been approached with a rational mind, not a creative mind, with the result that many campaigns are pretty interchangeable. Now that agencies and clients have a chance to win at Cannes, the B2B community has an added incentive to make breakthrough work that can boost careers as well as brands.

We have to believe that pushing creative boundaries drives an excess share of attention, growing market share by making a brand more noticeable and memorable. Staying in the safe, logical lane is no longer an option: it’s riskier to keep doing the same old thing than it is to reach for a more creative answer.

That’s not to say it’s easy. No one in business makes a purchasing decision on their own; there might be a whole procurement department being instructed by numerous other departments before buying decisions are made. Often, emotion has to work really hard to convert.

Wunderman Thompson’s own Inspire research shows that brand perception drives 93% of market share in B2B. The influence of emotional and rational factors for B2B and B2C audiences is almost exactly the same: one third of decisions are rational, and two thirds are down to emotional connections.

We are developing a better, more nuanced understanding of what makes good work across the whole process, from brief to strategy to creative execution. At Wunderman Thompson, we have distilled this into three key approaches to every campaign: stand out, show up and speak out.

 

1. Stand out when others can’t

Distinctiveness is a primary goal. Being memorable is the first step, which means you need to present your brand or service in a memorably human way. Start with a clear view of your customer’s needs and then simplify everything else.

Last year Spotify selected 14 CMOs and commissioned individual songs based on each of them and their lives, complete with album art. This highly personalised touch deploys breakthrough thinking and a well-crafted execution that appeal to customers whether they are on the verge of a purchase or not.

 

2. Show up where others don’t

According to the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, only 5% of tech buyers are in the market at any given time. So, if 95% are not going to respond directly to a campaign, the main role of creative becomes about building memories of a brand that will inspire future purchases. (While generating sales from the 5%, of course).

We’re proud to be the first-ever winner of the Cannes B2B Lions Grand Prix for Sherwin Williams’ Speaking in Colour” campaign. It’s centrepiece is an AI tool that generates a colour scheme by speaking meaningful words into a microphone. It’s fun, personalised and meets creative people where they live, not just where they work.

 

3. Say what others won’t

Have a point of view. Stand out from the sea of sameness. White papers are key offenders here, but they’re not the only sources of boredom in B2B campaigns. Anything that lacks a POV or repeats the current consensus is better left unsaid.

B2B marketing has too long been an area where marketers have played it safe, merging into the crowd rather than standing out to inspire. It’s easy to make a logical argument for your product or service, but the chances are that your competition is doing something very similar. To get your brand noticed, talked about, and ultimately purchased, you need to build an emotional connection with your customers; something that has the longevity to keep you top of the consideration list.

Inspiring them with warmth, humour and creativity is just as valuable as making a sound business argument – and in most cases even more so. It’s important to use your head, but don’t forget to go with your heart as well.

Simon Law, Wunderman Thompson
Executive Strategy Director

As Executive Strategy Director, Simon leads a team of strategists and analysts that solve brands’ hardest problems with creative strategies for major clients like adidas, Canon, Facebook, HSBC, Ikea, Mercedes-Benz and Specsavers.

Simon’s 20+ years of experience span advertising, digital, and data, working at agencies including Goodby Silverstein, Saatchi & Saatchi, and TBWA. He’s worked with major brands across all categories,
including Heineken, Old Mout Cider, Carlsberg, Hennessy, Glenlivet, adidas, Puma, Unilever, HP, Sky and more.

Over the years, he's been the strategy lead for winning teams of multiple Cannes Lions as well as awards from Effie Worldwide, Marketing Society, Cristal Data, Clios & Campaign Creative Tech. For the past 3 years, Simon has chaired the UK Steering Committee for the Effie Awards.