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How to inspire decision-makers to be bold

James Trowman

One of the biggest disruptions caused by the pandemic was the unprecedented upheaval of working life. Overnight, businesses had to adapt to a remote working model; days became punctuated by Zoom meetings and frequent trips to the fridge. Employee and customer behaviour changed, digital transformation became the priority and, while the audience was “captive”, the competition was definitely tougher for B2B marketers.

Many of those marketers were left scratching their heads: how could they effectively talk to a remote audience that is bombarded by online marketing messages, and that has rapidly changing business goals? 

Two years down the line, businesses have returned to the office, gone hybrid or made remote working permanent. The workplace has evolved, as has the problem for marketers. At The Frameworks we wanted to understand the challenge, so we surveyed 150 B2B marketers. We found that nearly three-quarters of them agreed that engaging B2B audiences is harder than it was 12 months ago. No surprise there.

But we discovered there’s a split in opinion by discipline and seniority. While just 30% of CMOs think this is the case, other directors and managers are far less confident in their assessment: an overwhelming 86% say capturing the attention of B2B customers is more difficult at present.   

In tricky times the default is often to rely on “safe” decision-making, especially as budget-holders – often from the boardroom – may not agree with the need to try something new. It’s viewed as a risk. But the real risk lies in doing the same thing again and again – and failing to engage your desired audience. 

Being bold isn’t a risk – if you have a plan

“Risky” and “bold” are not interchangeable terms. When we embark on bold marketing, we shouldn’t be creating work that is a stab in the dark. Or shocking for shocking’s sake. Being bold demands rigorous research as you seek to stand out to your target audience. 

What’s bold for one organisation isn’t the same for another. To work out what it means for your organisation, it’s important to be reflective and honest about what you’re aiming to achieve, who you’re talking to and what you can actually do for them.

If you continue to create traditional, “safe” content, you’ll be seen as a traditional, “safe” brand, that probably isn’t best placed to support a client who is chasing innovation in a transformed world. 

But if you invest in really good research and produce bold, forward-thinking messaging that resonates with your audience’s strategy, you’re more likely to be seen as an analytical, innovative organisation that’s partner material. 

At The Frameworks, we worked with Siemens to reframe their technical reports to engage business leaders as well as a technical audience. We needed to find a bold way to bring the power of Siemens’s 3D software to life for today, without alienating a less technically minded business audience. 

Our research showed us that most senior executives simply won’t understand – or crucially, care about – a white paper’s technical detail. That’s if they even find the time to read it. By drawing out the business benefits into punchy copy pages across a flexible, interactive web experience, we were able to structure the content to appeal to both audiences and help Siemens present itself as a bold organisation that’s as forward-thinking as the technology it offers.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Often budgets and top-level decision-makers are the greatest barriers to taking a bold approach in B2B – or even investing in marketing at all. The latest research tells us that a quarter of B2B organisations allocate just 5% of their total budget to marketing, while the average B2B CMO reports that marketing accounts for just 11.3% of their total company budget. 

Getting the boardroom to sign off on something new after a period of great change is an even tougher task. But unless you’ve got 90% of the market share you can’t afford to play it safe. To get people to sit up and listen, the creative needs to stand out. You’re persuading people to take notice, buy into your company’s vision and ultimately, partner with you. 

Before you connect with your audience, you need to apply the same tactics to the boardroom. Marketers need to get senior leaders to believe in the strategy. But if you’ve done your research and due diligence and started to think about creative approaches, the strategy should speak for itself. If you’re having to hard-sell your concept to the C-suite, frankly there’s a problem.

Of course, there will be questions: how much will it cost? What are the expected returns? What is the research really telling us about our audience’s behaviour? But if you’ve worked up a thorough audience-focused strategy and persuasive proposition, these should be easy questions to answer.

The same goes for the resulting creative. Its first job will be winning over any remaining naysayers. If you’ve applied your rigorous thinking to a brief and employed brilliant content creators, being bold soon won’t feel like a risk at all.

A version of this article previously appeared on CEO Today in May 2022.