Let’s talk about creativity and B2B marketing and, more specifically, creativity and Account-Based Marketing (ABM). Is there room for it? Critics say “maybe,” but that B2B marketers lack the creative license their B2C peers enjoy. Others, like Tom Stein, founder of the global B2B marketing agency Stein IAS, are adamant that your ABM approach won’t be nearly as effective without a strong dose of creativity added into the mix.
In today’s conversation, Tom explains why creativity is essential in B2B and ABM, shares an exciting ABM success story, and encourages you to enter this year’s Global ACE Awards to showcase just how far B2B creativity has evolved.
Q: Hi Tom, can you tell us about yourself and Stein IAS?
A: We’re a B2B specialist agency that’s been operating continuously for 46 years. About six years ago, Stein + Partners in the U.S. merged with IAS B2B Marketing, a pioneering B2B agency in the UK and continental Europe, to form Stein IAS. Our intent was to deliver strategy, creative, martech and measurable results on a global scale. And that’s just what we’ve done.
We’re known for our work with clients like HSBC, ABB, WW (formerly Weight Watchers), Merck, Ingredion and Oracle among other Tier I brands. We have an amazing client list that touches every sector.
Our stated purpose at Stein IAS is to further the theory and practice of B2B marketing. Our focus is on fusing technology with creativity to create connected customer experiences from brand to demand. This fusion of martech and creativity marks what we call the “Post-Modern” era of B2B marketing.
Going back around 13 or 14 years, marketers’ interest tipped toward digital measurability, but in doing so somewhat lost touch with the emotional factors that underpin purchasing behaviors. Today, we are first-hand witnesses to and advocates for the pendulum swing that’s in motion to balance digital measurability and scalability with bolder, more aspirational creativity. The Post-Modern Marketing era brings the industry back to the MadMen era of iconic creativity but powers it with technology. Think MadMen meets MarTech.
What draws clients to Stein IAS?
Lots of B2B marketers think B2C companies have a greater opportunity to be creative, but that’s a total misperception. Creativity in B2B has come a long way over the 30 years I’ve been in the game, and it’s now a crucial advantage.
Just look at the ACE Awards—B2B’s foremost awards and the only competition to be judged almost entirely on the basis of creativity. As president of ANA Business Marketing NYC which hosts them, I can tell you that creativity has come a very long way and evidences a massive impact on results. Buyers are people before they’re decision makers. There are powerful emotional forces at play in their decisions. B2B purchase decisions can be career-defining, and to an extent, career-destroying too. These forces run the gamut from security to insecurity, uncertainty to confidence, exuberance to excitement. If marketers and their agencies don’t give credence to these emotions, they’ll massively underdeliver. This only becomes more true with the rise of digital technology and ABM.
I can say with 100% certainty from our work and all the work that I see that when you take risks, when you are bold, when you generate a sense of “wow,” you will deliver far better results along the brand-demand continuum. Companies that don’t get it are mired in conservatism and as a result underperform.
Right now, “wow” is entirely available to B2B brands. Just look at the Fearless Girl campaign by State Street Global Advisors—one of the greatest Cannes winners of all time. It combined a great idea with technology and social disruption. The company made a bold statement in a conservative, traditional vertical. It paid off in a big way. Every company has the opportunity to do it and you’d be foolish not to try.
Stein IAS is a member of Demandbase’s partner program and shares mutual clients. How did your team develop its ABM expertise and what’s the practice like today?
I’ve known Demandbase and Chris Golec, its CEO, from the earliest days and I’ve been thrilled to see it continue to grow and evolve. Demandbase has a platform that has really resonated with B2B marketers because its impact is so obvious. We all have finite total addressable markets (TAMs) and we need the powerful segmentation and orchestration at the account level that Demandbase delivers.
At Stein IAS, we’ve always known purchases were made by teams and buying units, not by individuals. What’s different now is we have Demandbase to segment TAMs, target lookalikes, and measure opportunity value on a multi-channel basis. We can do what we’ve always wanted to do: go from a manual ABM process to automated, scalable outreach to the right groups within each account on a structured basis.
Can you share a recent client success story?
We’re working with Brookfield Properties, a fully-integrated global real estate services company. It’s a top developer of mixed-use community destinations, and is leading category evolution.
Brookfield seeks to identify the retailers, restaurants and other service providers that will create an optimal experience for consumers, and to do that on a property-by-property basis. With Demandbase, we’re able to go into a named account list and develop a framework where we communicate with sets of accounts using discrete value propositions and content. That’s the beauty of Demandbase—it’s a marketing platform, a media platform, and a data platform. It’s part of the infrastructure that powers Stein IAS’s go-to-market approach.
We won Brookfield’s business in part because they know we’re a strategic partner with Demandbase. That was a big factor for them.
So how does creativity come in?
Demandbase lets us conduct data-driven, account-based marketing. But unless we can communicate a brand’s differentiation with impact and excitement, even the best ABM platform won’t enable us to achieve our objectives.
That’s why we approach ABM like we do any campaign: by defining a big, long creative idea to drive it. ABM lives and dies by the power of creative ideas and experiences. Add in Demandbase’s platform capabilities and it’s a prescription for success.
How can readers tap into their creative side?
This brings me back to the ACE Awards and creativity. If you think about the trends in B2B, about connections between humans and businesses, about technological empowerment, and about the importance of brand purpose, higher-order creativity is essential—all the more so in ABM. You need a connected customer experience from the first touch all the way through purchase and account expansion.
This year, we added ABM as its own category in the ACE Awards because it’s become so much a part of what marketers do. We want to elevate iconic creativity in ABM into the pantheon of B2B activity. It’s what I’m most excited about this year for the ACEs. I hope that every account-based marketer submits campaigns before the March 15th deadline, and helps us give this category the attention it deserves!