David McGuire suggests three ways to get your team to do more creative work before his Ignite London session with Brian Macreadie.

It’s strange that B2B marketing has always been seen as the less creative half of marketing.

Consider it. We have long sales cycles, big purchases that affect people’s careers, and few ways to stand out. There is often a lot of information about buyers, and the lifetime value of a customer can be very high. What could be better for making campaigns that stand out, challenge, and connect on a deep level?

Research from LinkedIn’s B2B Institute shows that emotions play a bigger role in B2B decisions than in B2C decisions. So, when B2B marketers say that their company is becoming more open to creative risks or that creativity is essential to meeting marketing KPIs, the only thing that really surprises me is that we didn’t get there sooner.

There are many reasons to make marketing work that is interesting and effective. So, why are so many B2B campaigns so… well… not?

There is a big difference between saying you want creative marketing and delivering creative marketing. Brian Macreadie and I will talk about how to get from one to the other in our session at this year’s B2B Ignite London.

Wanting creativity is one thing; delivering it is another.

As the creative director of a writing agency, I’ve seen how a brief that seems creative at first can turn into something much less interesting over time.

There may have been other people involved. Maybe sales kept adding more and more information about the product or trying to reach more people, until the message was no longer clear. Someone may have insisted on making the language “more businesslike,” which means “fuzzier and less clear.”

Most of the time, it’s the stakeholders.

It’s easy to understand why. In many B2B markets, there is a well-defined set of factors that buyers will look at: the usual suspects. So for a B2B brand, there’s a good reason to look like your face fits. Stepping outside of the usual way of doing things is risky, which can make it hard to get approval for new ideas.

Because of this, the recycle bins of B2B marketing teams and agencies are full of creative work that has been thrown away.

How to be creative: 3 steps

Lucky for me, I also get to watch the clients who do come up with creative ways to market their products. And if you’re serious about using creativity to give your marketing an edge, I see three clear steps that will make you more likely to succeed.

1. Pay attention to small, careful tests

Creativity doesn’t have to make a big splash, and you don’t have to risk everything at once. Instead, you can try out a creative solution to one problem or area in your market. Even if the idea doesn’t work, you’ll still have learned something.

This is important because it makes it easier to sign off on your creative ideas. The stakes for each bet aren’t too high, and saying “We’re trying out a new method” is easy to explain and agree to. Then, when you need to make bigger changes, you will have more information to help you make a decision.

2. Make your goals and limits clear.

Creativity is how smart people use their minds. So you have to decide what the rules are.

You might think that people who are creative want the most blank paper, the biggest canvas, and the fewest rules. And that the work will be more creative the more freedom you give. But the right limitations can often be a source of inspiration; knowing what you can’t do is a great place to start.

“When you have to work within a strict framework, your mind is put to the test, and that’s when it comes up with its best ideas. If given free reign, the work is likely to get out of hand”

TS Eliot,

Clear boundaries don’t stop creativity; they let it happen. Because when you say where the lines are, you also say that everything in between is up for grabs. Plus, you’re less likely to get work that you can’t use at all.

“Give me the freedom of a tight brief,” said David Ogilvy.

3. Finish what you start, and do it often

In the movie Return of the Jedi, Admiral Ackbar, the leader of the rebels, says, “It’s a trap!”


And here’s a secret: when a client asks us to be creative, writers and designers can quickly start to feel the same way.

That’s because we know there’s a good chance we’ll put in extra work to come up with something really new that we really believe in, only to have it watered down or rejected outright the first time it reaches a wider stakeholder group.

Putting forward a creative idea can make you feel exposed; it requires a certain amount of trust. And it’s hard to get creative people to do their best when the “creative approach” is often just a small change from what the client already had. This is fine, but it’s a letdown.

But there’s another side to it. If you always do what you say you’re going to do, manage the expectations of stakeholders, and bring those valuable ideas to market, your creatives will notice. You can quickly become a favourite customer, and everyone will go the extra mile for you.

Make the odds work for you.

No one will judge you here. Being creative in B2B marketing isn’t easy. The topics are often hard to understand, sales and technical colleagues can get in the way, and there are many reasons to avoid taking risks.

But keep in mind that the marketers of all your competitors are facing the same things. And if you can find a way to be even a little bit different, you can really stand out, get people’s attention, and increase your share of mind.

At Ignite, Brian and I will go into a bit more depth about the problems our audience faces, and we’ll bring perspectives from both the agency and client side that you can use to bring out your creative side.

In the meantime, start with small problems, define them as clearly as you can, and show your creative people that they can trust you with their ideas. You might be surprised at how far you get.