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Lessons from ANA/BMA 16: Masters of B2B Marketing

Kate Nettenstrom

In early June, account executive, Jennifer Mulligan, and I had the awesome opportunity to attend the ANA/BMA 16: Masters of B2B Marketing conference just down the street from our Chicago Loop office at the Hilton Chicago.


The conference itself was interesting because we benefitted as B2B marketers for Walker Sands while also gaining insight into what’s driving some operational and strategic changes on our clients’ teams, as well as the marketing tech industry as a whole.

Here are three key takeaways from our two days living inside a B2B marketing bubble complete with all too much free coffee:

1. Just because you're well-known doesn't mean you don't need to revamp your story-telling from time-to-time

As we often work with smaller companies building their brands, it was refreshing to hear from General Electric (GE) CMO Linda Boff that bigger brands face the same obstacles our clients do on a regular basis.

Though GE is arguably one of the best-known brands period, Boff was tasked with re-creating GE to become a digital industrial brand and move away from the financial services power player of yesteryear. This meant redefining itself as a “124-year-old startup” with a passion for science and innovation, evident in recent campaigns like “What’s the matter with Owen?” and “Childlike Imagination.”

2. Behind every bad piece of content is an executive that asked for it

While slightly negative, this idea probably is not foreign to anyone in the marketing world. Content marketing has been buzzworthy in the industry for a few years now, and it’s time that the conversation switches from We need content because people like it to asking What content do people like, what is its impact, and how can we measure it?

We’ve accepted as an industry that content works. Now, let’s take this one step further to truly personalize those assets the customer. According to Marketing Insider Group CEO Michael Brenner, no longer can content be promotional. Rather, the best content is crafted from a purely editorial perspective.

Take, for example, SAP's Digitalist Magazine. Digitalist is just barely branded but hosts a ton of useful content. As a result, this central hub gets more engagement than Fortune or TechCrunch and their newsletter subscribers are nine times more likely to convert than non-subscribers. Not to mention, Digitalist has data on all of these folks and has begun to make money on the site via outside advertising.

3. Being bold doesn't mean being different for the sake of being different

As CMO at business insurer, Hiscox, Russell Findlay knew that launching a campaign in the U.S. would be a challenge. The brand needed a new persona that moved away from its strong, stuffy reputation in the U.K. However, deviating from its British branding required new thinking and taking risks. From his experiences, Findlay stressed that being different for the sake of being different isn’t going to achieve good ROI and it certainly didn’t fit into Hiscox’s narrative.

When designing a new campaign, Findlay advised to keep your values and maxims in mind. That way, you will get across what is absolutely necessary and you can build a creative campaign around that central idea. For Hiscox, creating an annual Courage Index made sense for their U.S. brand as an insurance company with a strong small business insurance practice.

Bringing this back to our world, Walker Sands’ annual Future of Retail and State of Martech reports make sense for our practice areas. As much as our team loves coffee, a report on the psychological benefits of coffee, wouldn’t make that much sense to the Walker Sands brand.

These are just our three biggest takeaways from the conference. If you’re interested in learning more, we’re happy to answer any questions (preferably over a caffeinated beverage)!