ANA Conference Recap: B2B Marketing Embraces Humanism

By Michael Ruby

The song remains the same at too many B2B marketing conferences. We hear the steady drumbeat of marketing technology and all-to-familiar account-based marketing (ABM) melodies. This is why it was refreshing and revitalizing to hear a change of tune at this year’s ANA Masters of B2B Marketing Conference. B2B is getting back to the business of people.

It’s nice to know I’m not totally nuts

In my most recent post, I posited that we are entering a new golden age of B2B creativity, in which bold thinking, craft and people-centric ideas that create value for brands and businesses will be the keys to success. After attending the annual B2B event hosted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), I’m pleased to learn I’m not crazy to feel a shift in the tide.

From the opening address by ANA chief executive Bob Liodice, it was apparent that the conversation was going to be different this time around. The alphabet soup of three-letter acronyms transformed from ABM and KPI to ESG and DEI. The classic “How do we make marketing matter?” script was flipped to the confident “marketing is the difference maker.”

Said Liodice, “Brands are facing a new reality in which we need to adapt and change. We, as marketers, need to reflect a spirit of optimism and humanity. We need to plant the seeds of optimism and an optimistic future.”

Be a force for good while being a force for growth

When Europe emerged from the plague and pestilence of the medieval dark ages, the Renaissance ushered in a return to the belief in the power of humankind. Literally meaning “rebirth,” the Renaissance brought about a new age of humanism. Now, as we come through the pandemic and continue to live in an uncertain world, the ANA’s Liodice and others stressed marketing’s role in driving positive change and sharpening our focus on humanity and the value our organizations deliver to individuals and communities.

“As marketers, we have a unique ability to navigate in difficult environments. Whether Covid, social strife following the murder of George Floyd, economic and supply chain disruptions, or the horrendous tragedy in Ukraine, this is not a kind environment for us. As marketers, we need to be a force for good while being a force for growth. This is not a time to be timid – be bold!”

With this renewed focus on environmental responsibility and social impact, Liodice continued to discuss the urgent need for diversity, equity and inclusion in marketing. This sentiment was echoed throughout the conference, notably for me when Bloomberg’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Anne Kawalerski shared that her company’s research strongly reinforced that their audience wanted their brand to not represent itself as “pale, male and stale.” “It’s imperative to take a stand,” Kawalerski told attendees.

It takes guts and discipline

Another call for intestinal fortitude centered on marketing’s need to move beyond its addiction to metrics-driven, short-term thinking. In fact, the word “guts” was used in nearly all of the opening presentations. When sharing the rebranding of her company Insight, a leading IT services and consulting company, SVP of Marketing Amy Protexter stressed, “Listen to your gut, as well as read the data in the right way. [Marketing] is not just about the science, but the art.”

That said, Protexter reinforced the need to remain disciplined, no matter the circumstances. Echoing our belief at Park & Battery that you can’t skip critical stages of strategy, Protexter declared, “One should never sacrifice process, despite tight timelines and budgets.”

Emily Ketchen, CMO at Lenovo, similarly spoke about the need for bold action and constructive candor. “Be brave and celebrate the red,” she said. “Lean into uncomfortable. Get the issues on the table and solve them. Create an environment where people will tell you the truth about what they see in an organization.”

“We need to stop just talking about attribution, CTR, CPC. We need to talk about the real value we create – how we deliver value to customers to earn more value from customers.”

Rob Markey

It’s time to talk about real value

One of the most powerful sessions I attended was Rob Markey’s. Founder of Bain & Company’s Customer Strategy & Marketing practice and one of the fathers of the Net Promoter Score (NPS), Markey spoke into the microphone at a decibel level just above a whisper, but with the volume of his intention turned up to eleven.

Markey cut through the excuses we all use for why marketing isn’t successful – blaming everything about the process and the politics. “It works just as we designed it to,” Markey indicted. “We need to stop just talking about attribution, CTR, CPC. We need to talk about the real value we create – how we deliver value to customers to earn more value from customers.”

Recalling a terrible customer experience he had with a parcel shipping company, Markey made it crystal clear that, in the end, everything comes back to people. Human beings. How we treat each other and what we do for each other. The single most important question Markey contends that we need to ask to measure marketing’s impact is: “Did marketing contribute more value to our customers over the course of the year?”

Isn’t that the question we should all be asking ourselves in our lives? What have we contributed? How have we made our world and the lives of those around us better?

Big questions. Bigger implications. The biggest reasons I’m excited and driven for what lies ahead.

Michael Ruby President & Chief Creative Officer

Named the 2021 Best in Biz Creative Executive of the Year and part of the 2018 DMN 40under40, Michael is the President and Chief Creative Officer of Park & Battery. In his role, he is the company’s head of global brand strategy, creative and content. Michael’s work has been recognized by The One Show, Webby Awards, Global ACE Awards, B2 Awards, Content Marketing Awards, numerous awards from The Drum, and his favorite: “Best use of the word ‘boo-yah’ in a b-to-b ad ever,” according to Ad Age.

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