Behind B2B #15: Jason Bradwell
For the 15th instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet marketing director and podcaster Jason Bradwell.
Like many of our Behind B2B interviewees, Jason’s trajectory (from aspiring film director to successful B2B marketing director) might sound a little unusual. But as our chat with Jason proved, a background in theatre puts you in surprisingly good stead to succeed in the world of B2B marketing.
Jason, we know nobody grows up dreaming of becoming a B2B marketer. What was your journey?
I’d been all set to study law at uni – although deep down, I really wanted to be a film director. Then right at the last minute, I thought: you know what? Sod it. I’m going to do it. I’m going to study theatre. I actually told my father when he was driving so he couldn’t catch me and wring my neck…
My theory was that if I could get to grips with the craft and learn how to act on stage, then I’d be able to direct movies as a result. And so I studied theatre for three years, although somewhere along the way I decided to drop the film thing and try to make it as a theatre director.
Unfortunately, like many struggling artists, it just didn’t work out. After a couple of years of trying, I decided to move to London with my now wife and got a job in sales for a B2B company, selling research software for companies operating in the online video space. It was a very small company, which meant I had exposure to a lot of different aspects of that particular business, one of which was our trade magazine brand.
I started writing for the magazine, which then transitioned into essentially taking on the role of editor. In turn, that led to a bunch of consultancy work… I spent some time in a PR role on the B2C side… and now, a few moves and several promotions later, I’m the Senior Director of Marketing at one of the world’s leading sports and entertainment technology providers.
It sounds like quite a switch. Have your theatre skills served you well in marketing?
I always say that the work I did in my theatre life really set me up well for a career in marketing. All that experience with improv… a critical marketing skill is the ability to roll with the punches, to pivot, to adapt your approach based on changing circumstances.
And it helps you push things, creatively. There’s that improvisation game – ‘yes, and’ – where you just keep building on whatever the person before you said. You can’t say no. B2B marketing brainstorms have a lot to gain from that sort of creative approach.
It’s also a great way of building confidence. If you can get up on stage and perform a one-man show about your relationship with your parents, you can definitely stand up in a boardroom and present a marketing strategy to a load of senior stakeholders. There are a lot of transferable skills.
During your career, what’s the work you’re proudest of?
One of the most interesting things I’ve worked on in a previous role was in response to a problem we had in demonstrating credibility. This was a space where it was really hard to get a client to agree to something as simple as a case study or press release – it was just a symptom of the sector.
While we were doing all this fantastic work behind the scenes, we could never really shout about it. And that was a big issue because in an enterprise B2B setting, being able to prove that you can build something and it stays standing under immense pressure is 70% of the battle. Customers want to feel confident you’ve already walked the road before.
We had these clients that we were extremely keen to shout about, but we couldn’t do case studies, we couldn’t do press releases, any of the conventional marketing stuff… it was a puzzle. So, we sat down as a team and we said: how can we start to have a conversation, even if it’s not about us?
So we launched a podcast about the biggest trends in our industry. In itself it wasn’t a particularly crazy idea, obviously, but it enabled us to invite our customers into a space to speak about the topics that were most interesting to them. Then, as a company, we benefitted from the halo effect of that association.
Because while our customers didn’t want to do conventional press releases, those same individuals were more than happy to come on to the podcast to talk about themselves and their work – and nine times out of 10, naturally start to give credit to their commercial relationship with us.
It was a win-win.
Speaking of podcasts, we’re big fans of yours – how did B2B Better come about? And for those who haven’t listened, what does the podcast cover?
The podcast was born out of the pandemic, when we weren’t able to go to the office or collaborate in person with other marketers. I ended up getting really into Marketing Twitter, and it just snowballed from that community. I was having so many great conversations with other marketers that I thought: let’s just put this on a Zoom call and hit record and let everyone benefit from it.
We’re at a point where B2B buying is fundamentally changing. Customers are finding and researching suppliers in completely different ways than they did five or ten years ago.
You don’t need a six-figure trade show budget to win business. As long as you have something interesting to say and have done your research, you can get in front of buyers almost instantly.
And this is having a knock-on effect with the marketing budgets of all these traditionally sales-led companies who’ve never had to think about comms seriously before.
So, at its core, the podcast is a resource for B2B founders and early-stage B2B companies, maybe with an initial marketing hire, to think about how they can use marketing to navigate the moments of change in B2B.
And there are so many to choose from! Acquisitions, funding rounds, mergers, product launches, company pivots… all of these interesting chapters in a company’s lifecycle can benefit from having a switched-on marketing function.
Speaking of which – what’s the best B2B campaign of all time, in your view?
I love this question. There’s no right or simple answer, but here’s one that sprung to mind. It’s by a company called Trainual, which sells playbook software. I came across the ad on Instagram, and it immediately caught my attention because it featured three of the actors from my all-time favourite TV series: The Office.
They were talking about this product that I’ve personally got limited use for, but because it featured my favourite characters, it caught my attention and I watched the ad to completion. I loved it so much I had to go and find out more.
And that’s where it got even more interesting: Trainual is a start-up, and they’d pulled this ad together in one afternoon using Camero, the service where you can hire celebs. And from that afternoon of work, they managed to sign up thousands of new accounts and got millions of impressions.
I just loved it, because it’s something anyone could do. It’s a great demonstration of creativity, quickly and efficiently executed for great results. It’s something you still want to engage with ‘outside of office hours’, unlike a lot of B2B content marketing (let’s face it: people probably aren’t reading eBooks at 2 pm on a Saturday). Basically, it reflects the modern B2B buyer’s interests.
And it speaks to something about how this team views marketing. It’s not simply a case of just getting new contact details into the funnel; it’s about establishing that you’re interesting and different, making yourself memorable. Nothing’s more memorable than humour and nostalgia combined. If I had to buy that sort of software in the future, Trainual would be top of my list.
Final question: what’s the B2B mistake people should stop making?
Stop trying to be all things to all people – or rather, do all things for all people. Especially when you’re a growing marketing function. People look at Salesforce, a company that spends billions on sales and marketing, and think: they’re doing a podcast, should we do a podcast? They’re doing an annual conference, do we need that?
No – what marketers and founders really need to do is focus. Doing too much is the quickest way to burn out your team and dilute your effectiveness. At the heart of it all, you just need to know exactly what you want to say and find a creative way to get your message under the right people’s noses.