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December 2023

Redefining creativity in the changing world of B2B

Right now, the world of B2B marketing is characterised by creeping uncertainty. Creativity brings joy and it’s also an inventive problem-solver. So how can creativity help tackle the needs of B2B brands? What are new developments in technology delivering? What is creativity anyway and to what does it apply?

1. Embrace creativity

Creativity is often seen as vague and unattainable. This is not the case and in terms of B2B it’s something that should be embraced. It’s useful to think of creativity as a mindset. This means looking at every opportunity through a creative lens, whether writing a brief or responding to it.

Whilst consumer brands are often seen as more creative than B2B, a recent LinkedIn article suggests that mindset is changing. And a new B2B category in the Cannes Lions Awards shows that creative ideas really resonate with a B2B audience. The Grand Prix winner from 2023 turned the earth into a company and launched its IPO on the stock exchange. It’s a big, bold idea and beautifully executed. But creative ideas don’t need to be big and bold, they can be small too. It could be thinking about how you create an infographic, a social post or a brochure headline.

Creativity is also a skill that can be learned, and to do so helps to build your knowledge base. It’s important to look everywhere, at everything, not just at what other organisations are doing. A good place to look is ‘inside’ your organisation. The identity for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre evolved through research into the theatre itself. But it’s also about looking ‘outside’, with some ideas coming from unexpected places. The movement of a murmuration of starlings was aligned to a law firm’s brand strategy and built into an unexpected visual identity. As well as embracing creativity and treating it as a skill that can be learned, it’s also about practising small acts of creativity on a daily basis, because that’s easier to achieve.

2. Keep watch

AI imagery is clearly here to stay

Technology-driven changes are affecting the basic elements we use in in visual branding and it’s important to keep watch on them. AI imagery is clearly here to stay, and whilst much of it is whimsical in style, for B2B it will be about creating exactly the image you need. Photo libraries, like Getty, are getting in on the act, also ensuring images are protected by copyright.

Typography is going through a tech-driven revolution. Experimentation is taking place everywhere and it’ll have an impact on B2B brands too. Helvetica has been re-worked as a variable font, Helvetica Now, allowing type to automatically adjust to different formats. That will become more typical; an interesting time for brand recognition if letterforms keep changing.

And technology is influencing colour choices too. Google’s Material You is a design system that allows colours to be customised on their interface. It challenges the way we think about colours, again in terms of brand recognition.

Technology is moving at such a fast pace and it’s important to be aware of what’s going on out there. How things have always been done may now be less relevant.

 

AI imagery is clearly here to stay

3. Create cut-through

Keeping things simple is a great way of achieving cut through and consistency in this increasingly busy and digital world. Keeping it simple can be about being attention-grabbing and memorable, either with a visual, a message, or both. And if it’s brave and unexpected too it’ll have even more memorability, especially for a B2B audience.

Simple ideas can reveal layers of depth. This campaign for the Royal Society of Chemistry has at its heart a strong, simple idea: ‘Chemistry is…’. It grabs attention at an ad level but goes into further layers of detail on the website, with a snapshot of the stories.

But keeping it simple doesn’t mean being boring. There’s been an ongoing trend for simplification of logos across all sectors. There are some practical, especially digital, reasons why this is happening. B2B brands can learn a lot from consumer brands and in this case it’s actually about not becoming bland.

Use simplicity and bravery to create cut through for your brand but don’t simplify things so much that they become bland and boring.

4. Move with purpose

Video and animation content is more popular than ever, but it can be costly and difficult to get right. So, it’s helpful to consider when and where motion works best and its purpose.

In recent years, social media, particularly Instagram, shifted toward video content, reacting to the growth of platforms like TikTok. Motion has also reached other widely used platforms like Canva, and even PowerPoint offering built in animation functions. However just because you can easily apply animation, doesn’t mean you should.

Instagram received some backlash after their announcement, resulting in a campaign to ‘Make Instagram Instagram again’. Although the campaign wasn’t hugely successful at the time, we are now seeing potential for a reversal. Recently, single static ads and posts are performing better on LinkedIn, and static carousels were added as a feature on TikTok. Sprout Social similarly found that their highest engagement-generating posts were static, perhaps because it allows people to digest content at their leisure. But Sprout also reported that social media professionals and users alike are experiencing video post fatigue and burnout.

While a case can be made for a simpler static approach, motion still holds significant benefits when used appropriately. Categorically, motion can be divided into functional and expressive forms. Functional motion subtly grabs attention and directs focus, applicable in films, animations, or user experiences. Expressive motion adds personality and emotion, bringing life to communications, achieving what static outputs cannot.

Expressive motion is key within animated logos, portraying a brand, its purpose or personality in seconds, such as Google’s fluid, adaptable and reactive logo and LG’s playful personality filled logo. At FB&A the demand for animated logos is increasing, with a recent logo for Power On, expressing the point of power switching on and growing stronger, through animation.

Use of motion can be also functional and subtle, as seen in Adobe’s social media posts. Their subtle approach aims to grab and guide attention, with a hint of motion in textures and backgrounds. Simultaneously, their expressive pieces evoke emotions, inspiring creativity and connecting with the audience consistently.

Benchmark brands like IBM have created comprehensive brand in motion guidelines to ensure appropriate and consistent use of motion. They prioritise harmony between function and expression, using storytelling to engage, with a clear focal point and journey throughout, forming a recognisable and flexible visual language.

Motion requires thoughtful consideration of purpose. Popularity and ease of use don’t equal need. Personality can be quickly portrayed through emotion and engagement through storytelling, but make sure it’s consistent and on brand.­­

5. Just do it quickly

the element of storytelling and building of relationships makes them successful

Video makes up a majority of social media trending content, and due to algorithms, it’s mostly people and influencer focused. While not always appropriate, it is still necessary. The popularity of reality TV has likely fed into social trends. It offers escape but also gives insights into people’s thoughts and lives, and accommodates multitudes of different interests.

Social media’s reflection of this means moving away from picture-perfect Instagram grids toward following people in their daily lives, behind the scenes, using video to tell stories, and building relationships with the people on screen.

Some of this content is labelled ridiculous, such as Chicken Shop Date YouTuber Amelia Dimoldenberg’s dancing videos, the chronicles of Nala the station cat in Stevenage, and Zoe Bread’s documentation of silly scenarios, yet they gain millions of views and 500,000 likes. On the surface, they’re easy to watch, a distraction and entertaining, but beneath this, it’s the element of storytelling and building of relationships making them successful, which translates to be more relevant for a B2B audience.

The trend of spotlighting people within businesses, asking opinions informally, and spending a day in the life, similarly relies on building relationships, sharing insights and personality. This is also moving beyond social media into other streams of communication, such as IBM’s employee focused series.

Although online trends may not always be appropriate for B2B, when they are, take advantage and tap into the algorithm. Tell behind-the-scenes stories in an authentic way. Don’t overthink it, just go for it – it’s low cost and low risk, and remember, social media is supposed to be informal, fun and show personality.

the element of storytelling and building of relationships makes them successful

6. Rethink, rather than reinvent

We’re constantly being asked about the latest new trends and technology, but sometimes the biggest opportunity to be creative is making use of what already exists.

Charity, O.N.E. created clothing range Hope Couture, which reuses the familiar QR code within a series of camouflage patterns, highlighting stories of homeless veterans and encouraging donations, repurposing it in a really creative way. Vodafone New Zealand also used pre-existing communications methods to announce their rebrand to One NZ. Using the network signifier on their customers’ mobile phones, they deleted one character each day until ‘Vodafone’ become ‘One’, also creating lots of conversation and speculation online.

Spotify also heroes their existing technology with recent B2B campaign “a song for every CMO,” highlighting the accuracy and effectiveness of Spotify advertising to reach a very specific target audience. They created personalised songs for the world’s top CMOs based on their listening habit data and played them back to those CMOs. It was a brilliantly successful way of using the data and personalised targeting technology that Spotify already had for another purpose, and a very deserving winner of the first ever gold Creative B2B Lion at the Cannes Lions Awards.

Conclusion

In summary, sometimes the need to work within constraints and utilising what already exists, can actually lead to the most creative solutions.

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