Behind B2B / 01. Tyrona Heath
“When I grow up, I want to be a B2B marketer.”
Said no one. Ever.
But now we’re actually here… well, it feels like a pretty good place to be. We’re biased, but we think B2B marketing is having a bit of a moment. We’re slowly breaking free of our old, staid shackles. We’ve got all sorts of swish tools, MarTech and platforms to help us do our jobs.
And best of all? As an industry, we’re producing some really bloody good work.
All of which got us thinking. Who’re the people making great work happen? Who’s driving the charge and championing creativity across the industry? And how on earth did they get here?
We’re keen to find out. So without further ado, meet Tyrona Heath – one of B2B’s most exciting thought leaders and educators – and the first entry in our new series, Behind B2B.
As Director, Market Engagement at The B2B Institute @ LinkedIn, Ty is shaping the face and future of B2B marketing. Throughout her impressive career, she’s worked with big names like Google and IBM. As the former President of LinkedIn’s Black Inclusion Group and Co-Founder of TransformHER, she’s also an advocate for diversity and inclusion.
And once upon a time, she was even an Olympic Trials qualifier… as we discovered when we caught up with Ty at the end of 2020.
Ty, tell us – how did you end up here? What did you actually want to be when you grew up?
Serendipitous moments is probably the best way to describe the journey! I went to Georgetown University on a track and field scholarship, studying International Economics – I thought, maybe I can be an ambassador, or something politically oriented. By graduation, I was a top-ranked 800-metre runner, hoping to try out for the United States Olympic team.
That brought me over to the Bay area, where Stanford University had a Nike training camp – the Nike Farm Team. So I ended up in Silicon Valley, in 2003 – right in the heart of tech.
Which must have been a fascinating time to be there – how did you end up at Google?
I was on a Nike sponsored team, but this didn’t fully cover my living expenses, so I needed a job with a flexible attitude, where I could still get out to train. Fortunately, Google was that place – they fully supported me, so I was able to leave work every day around 3.30 and get to the track to train. I was grateful for that. I ended up spending almost seven years at Google, from an entry-level role in business development to AdSense and then AdWords.
Then, something clicked. I thought, wow, this is interesting – the ability to deliver messages at scale. That connected back to my interest in politics, which is really centered around moving people and moving things forward. And I saw the connection between the ability to deliver messages and communicate at scale.
I ended up leaving Google to get my MBA, because I wanted to understand the strategy and foundation of everything I was doing. I met a fantastic entrepreneurship professor, Charles Goetz, who helped to crystallise my belief that, as marketers, there’s so much power and responsibility in how we deliver messages… I wanted to practice it for myself and work with clients.
And that led to you striking out on your own?
Yes – long story short, I launched a marketing agency alongside studying for my MBA. I ran that agency out of a storage closet, surrounded by boxes, down below the building of my MBA programme. God, if my clients only knew where I was sitting…
Anyway, I was constantly downloading all of these resources to help my own work. Particularly assets from HubSpot – to the point where HubSpot reached out to me and were like, ‘are you an agency? What’s going on here?’
I said: no, I’m just interested! I’m just a nerd! But that led to my consultancy becoming a HubSpot partner agency, which was a fantastic springboard.
Was that what cemented your interest in B2B? How did that lead to your work with LinkedIn?
Exactly. I’ve been fascinated by B2B marketing ever since; the longer sales cycles, the importance of relationships, the absolute need to build credibility and trust… I clicked with it.
After more than three years, I realised that what I was most interested in was conveying complex information, simplifying education, helping people understand the research and the data. I moved over to LinkedIn to teach marketers how to ‘do’ B2B. And from there, we founded the B2B Institute.
I’m so glad we’re seeing more humour in B2B, more emotional messaging, more creativity. Things are definitely trending more towards the territory that B2C has traditionally owned.
We’re a think tank, focused on accelerating B2B relationships. We investigate how marketing can create more value. And we share that research with our community. To me, it’s perfect – it feels like we’ve dropped a university into a tech company, but with a focus on marketing. It satisfies my curiosity. I get to educate – I get to investigate.
We’re certainly big fans of the B2B Institute over at Octopus Group. That leads nicely onto our next question: what’s the most interesting B2B work you’ve done in your career?
It’s pretty recent, and it’s connected to this strange time we find ourselves in. When the pandemic hit, nobody was ready. Businesses had no idea how to respond. Do we keep marketing? Do we go dark? What do we say?
So the B2B Institute partnered with Edelman to create a piece called Trust in a Time of Uncertainty, considering what builds trust, how you can invest in it, and how to show up during a time when people are experiencing incredible hardships. That includes the responsibility and expectation of brands to support what’s going on during this time – and of course, the social justice conversation, helping people navigate the way forward.
We also launched a study called All Weather Marketing, which is all about the importance of continuing to invest in a downturn, and how that helps sustain your brand. We’ve made the case for that across strategy, creative and distribution. That’s work I’m really proud of.
Across the market more broadly – are there any B2B campaigns you’ve seen recently that caught your attention?
The Adobe video Click, Baby, Click. It’s ridiculous, it’s memorable – I love it! I’m so glad we’re seeing more humour in B2B, more emotional messaging, more creativity. Things are definitely trending more towards the territory that B2C has traditionally owned.
Is that where you’d encourage marketers to invest their time, in the coming years? And where else do you think B2B marketers should focus our efforts?
Definitely. The value of great creative can’t be understated. In a recent B2B Institute report, we pulled out three big trends for the coming decade, and that was number two: ‘Blockbuster Marketing’. Or, to put it briefly, for the best creative: think like Disney. Place big creative bets on familiar stories, with distinctive style, in every channel.
That familiarity point is important; when it comes to creative, people are obsessed with ‘new, fresh, fresh, new.’ But just look at Disney – look at Star Wars! There’s huge value in revisiting well-loved stories.
On which note – and for our final question – what were the other two trends we should all be aware of, as we navigate what will no doubt be a tumultuous few years?
The first was the battle between brand building and sales activation, and the need for balance between the two – especially in a world where so many marketers are measured against short-term goals and lead targets.
And the third was around moving away from hyper targeting to aiming for more broad, relevant reach within your category. Those are the three things we think will be really important to drive growth – no matters what comes down the track in the decade to come.
For more in the Behind B2B series, make sure you check out episode two featuring Brian Macreadie, Addleshaw Goddard