As part of the A2Z of B2B Marketing from The Business Marketing Club podcast series, Billy Hamilton-Stent joined Antonia Wade from PwC, Colin Lewis from OpenJaw Technologies, and Laura Hughes from PayDashboard to talk planning.

When it comes to strategy and planning, Billy has these words of wisdom:

“Get it right and you get exponential value.
Get it wrong and you get exponential pain.”

Listen to the podcast to hear from some of the best in the business talking about how they approach planning.

Billy runs through the following all-important questions that you should ask yourself when building a plan:

  1. What is a plan? And what type of plan are we talking about?
  2. Who are the stakeholders?
  3. Where’s the money?
  4. What are the dependencies?
  5. What’s the timeframe for completion?

You can hear Billy from 12 mins 30 seconds.

For the ninth instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet global marketing expert Annabel Venner. 


Growing up, Annabel Venner had her sights set on a career in the skies – so how did she go from aspiring pilot to marketing Jammie Dodgers, revamping Schweppes’ brand image and making business insurance personal at Hiscox? We sat down with Annabel to find out. 

Annabel, tell us – what did you really want to be when you grew up? Because as we know, very few kids dream of becoming B2B marketers… 

The whole way through school and university, I actually wanted to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force. I racked up something like 100 hours of flying at Bristol University, where I studied chemistry. 

But I eventually realised that you had to commit 10 years to join the RAF. And the flying I really loved doing was the fun stuff, the low level flying, the aerobatics. At that time, women weren’t allowed to fly fast jets – I’d be stuck flying the slow transport planes instead. 

So I decided to take a year out and go travelling. I came back and joined SmithKline Beecham’s grad scheme, working at one of their factories in St Helens, Lancashire on the manufacturing and packaging floors. I ended up working with the marketing team quite often, and I found their work so interesting.

So I asked for a secondment to their head office in London – and 25 years later, I’m still doing marketing! It was very much an accidental career for me, as it seems to be for a lot of people. 

Why do you think that is? 

I think so many people just don’t consider it as an option. Fortunately, there are a lot of initiatives going on to help school age children, or those at University, learn about marketing as a career and provide them with some of the tools they need.

I actually went and studied with the Chartered Institute of Marketing after I decided this world was for me. I thought: if this is going to be my career choice, I better get a more academic understanding of it. That grounding has been very helpful over the years. 

Where did your career take you next – and how did you eventually move from B2C to B2B? 

Once I got into marketing, I always tried to be quite deliberate in my choices – taking opportunities I knew I could learn from. Early on, I spent a few years at Burton’s Biscuits, where I got a lot of exposure to some beloved brands. I did my first TV ad for Jammie Dodgers! But I also worked on their own-label biscuit business, which gave me a strong commercial grounding because I was having all these conversations with big supermarkets about margins, cost of goods, and P&L accounts.

Then I got approached about a job at Coca-Cola. With those commercial skills in my pocket, I thought it’d be a great next step. I spent nine years there; I helped introduce Powerade into the UK, I was part of the team that modernised Schweppes’ brand image – and eventually, I got to work on Coke itself, which was a great chance to learn about pan-European campaigns and all the cultural differences that come into play. 

But I got to a point where I wasn’t going to learn much more. I very much felt if I was going to move, it needed to be something really different – not a Cadbury or a Pepsi.  

And so I ended up with Hiscox – in the insurance business, which basically couldn’t be more different. But I was drawn to the opportunity because Hiscox is a very strong values-driven business, very customer focused. They have a great entrepreneurial spirit and the bravery to take big bets. It was initially a B2C role, but we soon flipped our focus onto B2B. I ended up overseeing the launch of the Direct B2B business in Europe, in the US, and then spent time in Asia, too. 

I think I grew more as a marketer during my time at Hiscox than at any other point. We were selling direct, as well as through broker intermediaries, so we often had that full ownership of the customer journey. And that meant you had to be very aware of nurturing them through the sales pipeline, understanding that whole journey, figuring out how they might go from your ad to your website to then building a relationship and taking out a policy to eventually renewing. It was an intense process, but a rewarding one. 

What’s the B2B work you’re proudest of from your time at Hiscox? 

Hiscox was a wonderful place to drive forward some truly exciting work because we had a huge amount of trust from the senior management team, along with this core company value of being courageous. We took the philosophy that just because we were in insurance, we didn’t need to do advertising like every other insurer.

One campaign, developed by VCCP, was called ‘Small and Brave’ – we wanted to communicate to our target customers in a very emotional and often humorous way, effectively saying that we’re there for you and we support you, acknowledging what a big step it is to set up and run your own business. It was such a successful campaign in terms of driving brand equity and sales, and our customers just went: crikey, Hiscox really understand us

The other stand out for me – which was great fun to do – was at the annual British Insurance Brokers’ Associates (BIBA) event. We wanted to try and get brokers talking a different way – so we stripped out a grand piano, painted it scarlet, and hung it above our booth, against a backdrop that said: IF ONLY ALL RISKS WERE THIS OBVIOUS. 

Nobody had ever done anything like that before. It attracted attention, because nobody could believe we had done it. And that’s that sort of brave and courageous work that every marketer at Hiscox was encouraged to do. 

You’ve been a judge at numerous B2B marketing awards – can you give us an example of great work from across the broader industry?  

Tough one – being a judge has always made me very aware that there’s so much great work out there, but in the B2B world, you just don’t get to see it unless you’re the target audience. 

A fantastic example – in fact, it won the Grand Prix at The Drum’s B2B Awards – was from a company called The Trade Desk. They’re an independent online media platform that helps companies buy digital media outside the walled gardens of Facebook, and they wanted to drive awareness of who they are, both to their marketers and to advertisers. 

They acknowledged that programmatic advertising is a complicated subject – so they did this brilliant campaign called ‘As Explained By’ which was a series of short films featuring unexpected guests that explained what they did, and the benefits of data-driven advertising. 

They were witty, unexpected, charming, and they drove strong results – but it’s just not something most people would ever have seen. 

Final question. Having worked across such big B2C and B2B brands, what’s something both disciplines can learn from the other? 

If the work coming out in the last few years is anything to go by, B2B marketers are already well aware of this – but B2B should always strive to tap into the emotional side, acknowledging that B2B purchases aren’t just about working at the rational level. B2C does that so well, so that’s definitely a lesson to take. 

As for the other way round – B2C can learn from B2B in terms of ownership of the customer journey, tailoring messages to different stages, working at that very sophisticated level. I honestly find B2B so fascinating for that reason: there’s so much complexity, so much involvement in data and analytics along with creative bravery. I hope we’ll see more and more B2C marketers moving into the B2B world – there’s never been a more exciting time to work in this field. 

If you’re after ROI, email marketing is difficult to compete with. Once you’ve subscribed to your MA platform of choice, you have a data-driven tool that can work around the clock and reach users on a 1:1 level. But like all powerful tools, you’ve got to ensure you’re using it properly.

To give you a helping hand, we’ve rounded up three of our favourite tips for building more effective B2B marketing emails.

TIP #1: Copy comes first

There’s a fine line between a click and a delete. High quality creative can often tip the balance, and certainly a lot of the best-practice email examples you’ll see feature stunning visuals.

However, in a B2B context, many recipients won’t see the design you worked so hard to produce. A lot of the top business email providers, including Outlook, block images from downloading by default to protect employees against cyber threats and cater to lower bandwidth users.

In a best-case scenario, you may lose a banner image or the CTA button – but in design-heavy examples, image blocking can render your email meaningless unless the recipient specifically opts to download images.

The takeaway here: if you’re including imagery within your email then assume a portion of your audience won’t see it. If a message is important enough for inclusion in your banner image or wider design, make sure it’s front and centre in your copy too. Similarly, if you’re relying on a CTA button to drive clicks, make sure the place you’re driving to is also hyperlinked within the copy.

TIP #2: The 30-word principle

It’s said the average human now has an attention span of around 8 seconds, which allegedly falls below the level of a goldfish. You can see how this might hinder the effectiveness of your marketing emails, especially considering employees receive an average of 121 emails per day.

If you’re going to cut through the competition and reel in your goldfish, you’ll need to make this shortened attention span work in your favour. The rule to remember here is concise copy gets clicks.

Concise copy gets clicks

The average adult reads an average of 225 words per minute. Remembering our 8-second window of opportunity, this gives you around 30 words at the start of your email to make an impression. Forget the flowery introduction, make sure the first 30 words reiterate your key message and call to action. If you can’t condense your message into the first 30 words, you’re trying to say too much.

We’d also recommend setting a 100-word limit on your marketing emails for those contacts who do make it past the 30-word opener. An email should offer a taste of what the recipient can expect if they click through, so it’s important to ensure they still have reason to proceed once they’ve finished reading.

TIP #3: Testing, testing

Email marketing isn’t an exact science – as much as we’d like it to be. Tactics like the above can improve your formula for developing effective marketing emails, but ultimately different audiences respond differently to different variables. What works for a software provider may not translate for a pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Every email is an opportunity to understand your audience better, and in this respect A/B testing is the best tool at your disposal. A/B testing compares the performance of email variation A against email variation B. It’s a tool offered by all the main MA providers that can be implemented to huge reward relative to setup effort. Easy variables to test include subject line, CTA colour, HTML vs plain text, and copy length.

In the short-term, testing can help boost your opens or clicks, but in the long term, it’s helping you to build a picture of your audience and what appeals to them, especially if you’re keeping track of results over time. Want an easy way to keep track of A/B tests over time? Get in touch and we can share our handy template to track and compare results.

Like our three tips for better B2B emails? We’ve got plenty more insight to share. Download our eGuide – The 5 quick wins of marketing automationfor free.

For many years, we at Octopus Group have been banging the drum about the growing importance of B2B in the UK marketing landscape – and about the benefits of fusing PR, Creative and Media disciplines together to get the best outcome for B2B brands.  

So when we saw that PR Week and Campaign were joining forces to host the first B2B Summit on September 23rd, we felt we had to get involved!

We’re really excited to be the main B2B Summit headline sponsor, and to participate in some of the great sessions and presentations that are planned on the day.

Our Chief Strategy Officer, Billy Hamilton-Stent, will be presenting our thesis on “Supercharged B2B”, exploring why macro-economic trends are driving a greater appreciation of B2B communications in the marketing stack.

Our Performance Marketing Director, Nicola Pestell, will be joining “Talent Tinder: Do you need to break up with your tech?” alongside Saatchi & Saatchi’s MD, Sarah Jenkinson, and Microsoft’s very own Scott Allen, debating tech versus talent in marketing services.  

There’ll be great sessions covering diverse topics such as replacing B2B events, Purpose in B2B, Creativity in B2B, Diversity & Inclusion and Account Based Marketing from a brilliant set of speakers from some of the UK’s leading brands – including PWC, Dropbox, Allen & Overy, O2, Starling Bank and Microsoft. 

We look forward to seeing as many of you there on September 23rd as possible, for what promises to be a really interesting day and an important new point in the annual B2B calendar. It’s a great time to be in B2B and there is much to discuss.

You can sign up to attend here.

Jon Lonsdale