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.

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

For the eighth instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we’re talking B2B bravery with Mark Choueke – journalist, marketing leader, and freshly published author. 

Industry hopping, book writing, setting monsters loose on a customer experience summit in Utah: if there’s one thing we can say for Mark Choueke, it’s that he puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to bold B2B marketing. Hot on the heels of the publication of his new book, we sat down with Mark to chart his career and unpack what bravery in B2B really means. 

Mark, tell us – what did you really want to be when you grew up? Because as we all know, nobody grows up dreaming of B2B marketing… 

Honestly? Everything. It sounds barmy now, but when I was a kid, I really didn’t see any tension between being a politician and a pop star and a journalist and playing football for Liverpool. 

I just knew I didn’t want a ‘grey’ job. I remember walking into a branch of the Natwest bank with my dad when I was small, looking around at a grey room full of grey suits with grey faces. Everyone just looked so bored.

I knew I wanted variety and excitement as a ‘minimum requirement’ of working for a living. So after graduating, I went into journalism. I liked the idea of being investigative, running around and chasing the story. That was good fun, for a long time. But I had plenty of colleagues who were two, maybe three times my age – people who’d been in journalism for thirty years or more. That was never my ambition.

I moved around from one industry to another, trying new things. It became a bit of a problem when I was going for jobs – recruiters would tell me: you seem to have jumped around a lot. But I found a response that worked in interview situations: ‘you see it as jumping, I see it as collecting experiences’. 

How did you make the leap from journalism to B2B marketer? 

From journalism, I moved into PR at one of the big agencies. I’ll be honest: that was a wholly unsatisfactory experience, but an important learning curve nonetheless. From there, I ended up working with some ex-Googlers in tech and digital and data. All this interesting stuff I’d been writing about for so long.

I’ve been at the heart of B2B ever since and I’ve absolutely loved it. I’ve consulted, I’ve run an agency, I’ve done all sorts. I work now at Mention Me, the leading referral marketing platform – which has been one of my favourite places to work to date. It’s a product I can get behind, it’s got smart people, and a brilliant growth story ahead.

And I get to be a full-spectrum, full-stack marketer. I’m involved in conversations about pricing, positioning, product, place and distribution. It’s a really exciting place to be. It’s rare to find a B2B marketing experience that’s as satisfying as the one I’m having right now, so I feel very lucky. 

You’ve certainly had a varied career. What’s the best B2B work you’ve ever had a hand in? (Apart from your book – which we’ll come on to!) 

There’s actually a chapter about this in my book: it was Qubit, 2015. I was sitting at my desk one day and I got a call to come up and join the CEO, the CMO, and a few other important people – I was racking my brains trying to figure out what I was in trouble for. 

They said: Mark, sit down and listen to what we’re about to tell you. You can’t repeat this to anybody. Have you got a valid passport? Can you leave your family for 10 days? We need you in Salt Lake City, but before that, you need to stopover in New York and build a team for a secret project

Well, if there’s one way to get me excited, it’s to treat me like 007. So I said yes. They shared the idea. Adobe was Qubit’s biggest competitor (not that they even knew we existed at the time), and the plan was to ‘hijack’ the Adobe Summit in Salt Lake City. We knew there’d be 5,000 delegates in attendance – and those delegates were exactly who we wanted to speak to. 

Our angle was that Adobe’s customer experience cloud was a ‘Frankencloud’, made up of different acquisitions – unlike ours, which was built from the ground up with one purpose. So we hired a bunch of strapping actors, made them all into Frankenstein’s monsters, and put them in shirts that said DUMPFRANK.COM. That link led to a four-swipe microsite that detailed all the issues with dating a ‘Frankencloud’, and encouraged delegates to ‘dump Frank’ and book a demo with Qubit instead. 

It was hilarious. We had the actors doing the Thriller dance in the street, cycling around handing ice creams out, getting selfies with Adobe delegate and getting selfies with the cops who came to move us on. It was risky – it could have made us look small and stupid – but we just embraced it, and it was an absolute hit. It paid off big time. Everybody at the summit was talking about us, we won a few big clients, and even hired some Adobe sales execs. It – and all the collateral that came off the back of it including films on YouTube – gave us a level of fame (or perhaps notoriety) that really put us front of mind for our market. 

It’s a fantastic example of how far B2B bravery can really be pushed. Which leads us to your newly published book, Boring2Brave: The ‘bravery-as-a-strategy’ mindset that’s transforming B2B marketing. What sparked the idea? 

Everywhere I look, I see really shoddy marketing. Stuff that doesn’t even glance in the direction of good design, or where the tone of voice is so staid you may as well be dead. Marketing that just makes you think: why would you put any money or time or heart into producing something that horrific? 

That’s a big problem, for several reasons.

First, it’s bad for your health to just accept: hey, my work doesn’t need to be interesting, I shouldn’t even try to be sparky or imaginative. Second, you’re just not going to get good results, which in turn is bad for your career. 

And so the book is a call to arms: let’s be braver. Let’s make people remember us, let’s trust that creativity can be transformational. Let’s actively pursue bravery as a strategy. I know the approach I’m championing isn’t for everyone – I once had a COO tell me he was so worried about everything I was trying to do, I ‘gave him a tummy ache’ – but I hope the book at least starts a useful discussion for some people. 

As for the timing, Boring2Brave was essentially a lockdown project. Rebeltech, the agency I’d founded with Nicole Lyons, pretty much shut after the unhappy wedding of Brexit and the pandemic. When the world closed shop, I was consulting and fortunate to be at home with my family – but I needed something else to do for my mental health. 

So I started writing; drawing together all these stories and lessons and beliefs I’d formed around B2B marketing over the years. It wasn’t an easy process: 2020 was its own flavour of tough for everyone, and with two kids under 8, Zoom calls all day with clients, things were pretty hectic. Sadly, my father died during that time – the book is actually dedicated to my mum and dad, who taught me an awful lot about what bravery means. 

So it wasn’t easy. I’d be up scribbling at 2am in the morning, way behind on deadlines. At one point my wife, who was fantastic throughout the process, literally said: love, I don’t mean to be unsupportive here, but I think you might be in trouble. Overall, it was a wonderfully cathartic process. And I’m proud of the result. The book was published on the 20th of July and the feedback has been fantastic – so yes, very exciting stuff. 

It’s a fantastic resource for B2B marketers new and old, with plenty of tangible advice and lots of great examples of brave, impactful work. What’s the best B2B campaign of all time, in your eyes – and what can B2B marketers take from it? 

Well, I’ve got to go for a brave one, naturally, but I don’t want to be glib about what that word actually means. Bravery means doing something that makes you uncomfortable – something risky or painful, even – to achieve a positive impact or result. With that in mind, one campaign I loved was ‘Hey World’ by Upwork, the freelancer platform. 

It was essentially a series of ads cheekily targeting well known figures, pointing out their need for a freelancer. Like ‘Hey Mr President (Trump) – need a social media strategist?’ Or ‘Hey Amazon – need any help selling literally everything?’ 

It’s a beautifully simple idea, demonstrating all the ways Upwork’s freelancers can add value. But the execution was great. Really stunning art direction, pointed but not too aggressive, a bit edgy. And it was brave, because it took the mick out of important people. Trump, Amazon, Elon Musk – those are big bears to poke at, but they did it well. They created relevancy, they made people smile. 

Upwork might have been a company you’d never heard of, but you’d certainly remember them after that. 

Final question: what’s one thing you’d like B2B marketers to stop doing? 

I’d like B2B marketers to stop writing in such a strange way – tone of voice is such a powerful weapon, but so few marketers really take the opportunity to use it. Instead, they fall back on language that’s so safe, it literally puts you to sleep. 

Instead: try and create some identity. Talk how you sound. It’s something I’ve tried to do in the book; I want people to read it and think it sounds like me. Of course, that doesn’t happen without putting the work in. 

At Mention Me, Sophia King – our Senior Brand Marketing Manager – designed and devised a tone of voice doc that was beautiful and brilliant and fun. Then, she took it out to the company, presented it, and ran workshops for the team on how to use it. There was something for everyone, whether you’re doing contracts in legal or microcopy in product engineering. Everybody loves it, and now we’ve got everybody writing like Mention Me.

So I’d try and kill that jargon rubbish. My final bit of advice? Write in a way that’s likely to be read. There’s no point having a world-leading product if the way you talk just kills the message; it’s like burying gold. 

Boring2Brave by Mark Choueke is available on Amazon now

There’s no denying the pandemic impacted where many of us work. And that’s certainly been the case for Octopus Group’s account director Jack Ferris, who took remote working a little too literally and moved into a converted van. He recently spoke with Digiday about this emerging trend, and he shares a few more thoughts on his story and the changing role of the office below.

Van to Sales

In September last year, after a few months of working from home, my wife and I decided that we’d had enough of living in London, and wanted to get back out into nature. But we also weren’t ready to settle down into the commuter belt suburbs, ready for the office to reopen.

That’s where we came up with a slightly crazy idea. What if we didn’t need to live in a home made from bricks? What if we didn’t need to stay in one place?

We bought a big white builders van and had it converted into a tiny home on wheels. For just under a year we’ve been working remotely from the likes of Devon and Cornwall. And, well – it’s been pretty awesome.

WFV

Like many people, remote and flexible working has been fantastic for my mental health and given me a hugely improved work life balance. And I’d also argue it’s made me a better, more productive worker.

Working from Van, I come into mornings full of energy and creativity after a run or walk along a beach, rather than emerging into an office from a sweaty, packed tube train. I’m constantly energised by visiting new, beautiful places. And it’s also added an extra, quirky talking point to meetings with our clients (a few of them now even follow me on Instagram..!)

Flexible working is a winner for me, as I’m sure it is for other people for a multitude of reasons.

A hybrid working future

But that’s not to say the office doesn’t have its place – it’s just that its purpose is evolving. The pandemic has shown us that remote working can work, but after over a year, the need for face-to-face connection has never been clearer. 

Collaboration, interaction and learning with colleagues is a lot harder to do on a Zoom or Teams call. And don’t get me started on virtual beer o’clock v. real, in-person beer o’clock at The Octopus Group‘s new office pub, The Pregnant Man.

OG’s new plan for hybrid working – championed by our parent group Publicis – ties into this new model of working pretty handsomely. It’s called Heads Up, Heads Down and Heads Together, and it puts the trust in individuals to work in the most effective way for the task at hand. 

Heads Down time will see me focusing on solo work, when you’ll likely find me and the van parked up next to the ocean or an awesome view. Heads Together will see me heading into London for meetings with clients and team members (as well as a few pints with fellow OGers), and Heads Up will be a mixture of the two – sometimes in the office with colleagues, or sometimes working from a beach, a forest or hillside.

Working from a campervan probably isn’t for everyone. But for me, for now, this new found flexibility is a winner. (And if anyone knows where I can park a sprinter van around Chancery Lane, do let me know in the comments). 

Automation is still one of the most powerful tools in the marketing handbook, with the benefits as easy and apparent as the name suggests.

It can free up your creatives’ time by making a computer do the mundane tasks, which can prove invaluable to your long term strategy. Really nailing marketing automation could be your biggest and best hire of 2021.

Let’s imagine there was a job spec for our dear friend marketing automation. It’d probably look something like this. 

 The opportunity

Octopus Group is in search of a communications whizz who’s able to perform autonomously, while using an analytical approach and build on insight and data. Someone who is a self-starter that thrives in data-driven environments, with experience in engagement and optimisation.

 Key responsibilities

  • Deliver marketing communications such as email and SMS to relevant clients and customers.
  • Conduct A/B testing to help optimise content leading to engagement and conversion.
  • Gather performance data and report the findings to stakeholders.
  • Deliver segmented content depending on the recipient and audience.
  • Generate B-Sends to maximise engagement.
  • Use progressive profiling and dynamic content to gather insights and data.

 Skills and experience required

  • A data-driven mindset.
  • Must deliver communications on time and accurately.
  • Needs to measure success, and report on the results and findings.
  • Act upon results and optimise future content.
  • Must work autonomously.
  • 24/7, round-the-clock dedication.
  • Should reply to thousands of people in seconds.
  • Input hundreds of data entry points every minute.

Automation should effortlessly send targeted content out and follow it up with performance results. Your team and new hires you bring into the fold, shouldn’t be spending any more time on repetitive tasks like this anymore.

That’s why marketing automation exists!

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. You still need someone to spearhead the process, design and build your comms and content strategy, and translate results into digestible, actionable conclusions. Marketing automation can’t replace a team member, but it can make their tasks a whole lot easier.

Sign up for our mini-workflow to receive ‘5 Quick Fixes of Marketing Automation’ to learn more.

For the seventh instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet Scott Brinker – the godfather of martech (and the brain behind that martech infographic!)

Who?

If you’ve been in the marketing game for more than five minutes, chances are you’ve come across the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (the 2020 version including a dazzling 8,000 solutions). And you’ve almost certainly used some of the platforms or tools discussed within it.

Scott Brinker is the brain behind that infographic – not to mention VP of Platform Ecosystems at Hubspot, and founder of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, where he writes about marketing’s transformation into the tech-powered discipline we all know and love today.

But nobody grows up dreaming of becoming a martech expert – so how did he get here? Let’s find out.

Scott, tell us – how did you get to where you are today?

As a kid, I was really interested in games – pretty early on I started working in the fun world of multiplayer games! Right before the internet took off, with people running bulletin board systems, dialling in with their modems. I enjoyed that a lot, but not just the game side of it. I loved the dynamic of people connecting together online, unleashing new kinds of creativity and engagements. It seems so normal now, but this was the really early seeds of the world we all live in.

So I was a software developer making games, and I soon learned that if you build it, they don’t necessarily come – you have to promote it, too. So early on I was like: what’s this marketing thing all about?

As an early entrepreneur, I had actually dropped out of college. I spent ten years building up the businesses from that games company, then I ended up going into web development for companies like Citrix and Siemens. I decided to go back to college to finish my degree in computer science. And – I guess because I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder from having dropped out – I went on and got a master’s degree, too.

All of which has served you well. What happened next – how did you get into martech?

After that, I launched a SaaS company, where I built an interactive platform for marketers. Then, I joined HubSpot as their VP of Platform Ecosystems, helping to grow relationships with all the great companies whose apps get connected into the HubSpot platform.

In parallel, I was doing web development stuff, running the tech team at this web agency. Our firm would be hired by the marketing team of these Fortune 500 companies, and it would be my job to talk to IT and say: okay, how are we going to implement this new tech? Because mostly, IT and marketing didn’t talk to each other. It wasn’t hostility, or anything – they just lived in different universes.

So I did shuttle diplomacy between the two teams, and that got me really excited about this emerging set of professionals who were comfortable working in both worlds. They could talk marketing, they could talk tech – and that inspired me to launch the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, where I wrote what was (at the time) very niche content.

But it didn’t stay niche for long. Around 2013, 2014, a huge switch happened. Companies hit a tipping point where they were leveraging so much technology within the marketing department that it suddenly became this big topic – and that’s how I fell into this crazy godfather of martech role.

Speaking of ‘so much technology’, you’re famed for your annual martech supergraphic. What inspired that? And how on earth do you keep up – last year’s graphic had 8,000 solutions on it?

I was giving a presentation to senior marketers, trying to persuade them to hire more technical people in their team. I put together this graphic to show: look how many different tools you’re now dependent on to deliver the outcomes you’re responsible for. Look at all this tech under your domain. You know, it probably makes sense to have some staff that really understand all of this stuff…

That first graphic had like, 150 companies on it. At the time, everyone said: oh my god, how will we ever keep track of them all, which is pretty funny now. Compiling it is certainly a big task: we actually visit the website of every single martech company we’re including. It takes months. It’s a labour of love, but it’s worthwhile.

We’re big fans at Octopus. And as the most recent edition shows, us marketers have never had more tools to play with. How do you see B2C and B2B marketers using those tools in different ways?

Historically, the distinction was that B2B had this very direct sales force with a lot of common motions between marketing and sales teams. Versus B2C that had channels and retailers, but maybe not a direct relationship with the consumer, because they were using a distribution channel.

But over the years, there’s been a blending. A lot of direct to consumer companies are now structured to sell people subscriptions, rather than one-off products – it starts to look a lot like the SaaS world, like how B2B sells things. So the new generation of B2C companies can take a lot of learnings from the B2B world.

On the other side, for B2B, I think this whole movement around ABM speaks to the fact that B2B has realised it’s really marketing to networks of individuals, and these individuals are humans, that you can speak to in a human kind of way. So it can learn from B2C in that sense.

Do you have any examples of really great B2B marketing work you’ve seen – perhaps any martech brands who are doing a great job with their marketing?

I’m always impressed when, in a crowded market, a company breaks through on the strength of their content. A lot of content isn’t very remarkable. I’m often shocked, on my annual pilgrimage around the martech landscape, by the volume of websites where I can’t actually work out what they’re selling.

But then I come across brands that just have such a compelling, clear presentation – they’ve really nailed it. Terminus, this tiny little company out of Atlanta, just crushed their category – largely because they became such powerful advocates of ABM and did such great marketing around it. In the CDP space, Segment – in a relatively short space of time – ended up being the most popular product in that market. Because they just found the right way to present their company, and make it clear.

Great content has never been more important than it is right now. But of course, it’s far from the only skill marketers need. With the marketing landscape changing so fast, where should we focus our efforts?

I think it’s important not to try and keep up with everything. Not a week goes by when I don’t hear about some new company doing some cool thing. The pace of change – the wide distribution of change – is so big, that I don’t think we can go back to one person understanding how the whole universe fits together.

Of course I love to learn, love to experiment – but you have to make your peace with the fact you can’t know everything.

But in terms of what marketers should be doing: my best advice is to take advantage of the whole generation of what they call ‘no code tools’. Things like Canva, where you can create beautiful designs without being a designer. You still need the experts for plenty of stuff, but now you can just try these tools that let you say: hey, that’s an idea. Let me try this out.

That’s a game changer. Because at the end of the day, what makes marketers great? Their creativity and imagination.

Final question – what’s one martech mistake people should stop making?

Taking one extreme or another. Either trying everything, because there’s so much cool stuff. Or they’re saying: no, that’s shiny object syndrome, just give me one product.

Either stance is the wrong way to look at it; companies should be taking an 80/20 split, with 80% of your time on a small set of tools that you’re really good at. And 20% of the time, looking ahead, exploring, experimenting. If you can find that balance, you’re on the way to paradise.

Interested in how the CEO of Publicis Groupe UK made her way from Beefeater waitress to boardroom heavyweight? Read Annette King’s Behind B2B interview here.

For the sixth instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet Annette King – CEO of Publicis Groupe UK.

Ask a hundred CEOs where their careers began, and we’re betting ‘a pub in Swindon’ doesn’t crop up as the answer too often. But for Annette King, a meeting in a bar sparked a career spanning agencies, clients and continents – as we discovered in our latest Behind B2B interview.

Who?

When Octopus was acquired by Publicis Groupe in early 2021, we got confirmation of something we’ve long felt to be true: B2B marketing is supercharged right now. And there’s plenty of exciting work coming down the track – driven in no small part by the energy and vision of leaders like Annette King, the CEO of Publicis Groupe UK.

So, we sat down with Annette to hear about her journey from Beefeater waitress in Swindon to boardroom – covering New York chutzpah, the ecosystems of B2B, and IBM’s brand glow along the way.

Annette, tell us. How did you get here? And what did you really want to be when you grew up?

Honestly? I didn’t know. I only knew that I wanted to be successful. I come from a working class background, so to be blunt, I wanted the freedom of having some money and being able to afford a good life.

To that end, I kept my education broad. I did A Levels in Maths, English Lit, Economics – and then went to the Oxford poly to study Business Studies. I specialised in marketing and advertising, and started to get a sense that I could succeed in that world.

Unfortunately, I graduated into a bad economic climate. There really weren’t many jobs out there. I’d been writing so many letters, sending so many CVs, sifting through the Guardian and the Evening Standard constantly but just finding nothing. So I headed back to Swindon.

I was a waitress in a Beefeater restaurant and temped in all sorts of jobs. A friend employed me as a typist, and her boss asked her to take these two Swedish chaps she was looking to hire out for a drink.

So I went with her – to the bar in Swindon where everyone knew our names – to meet these Swedish guys. And when one asked me, what do you do? I said: well, I’m temping and waitressing, but I’d like to work in marketing or advertising.

And it turned out this chap had a friend at an agency, who he said he’d put me in touch with – bear in mind none of us had email at this point. I literally gave him my home address! And incredibly enough, he wrote me a letter, saying he’d spoken to his contact in London, Philip  Beeching, and that I should give him a call.

I called Philip immediately, of course. It was a small agency, only 12 people or so. Next thing I know, I’m bundled up in my car driving to Hammersmith to crash on a mate’s sofa for the interview. We got on brilliantly, he offered me a job more or less on the spot, and that was that: I started on the following Monday.

How did you get on there? We know you didn’t stay in the land of small agencies for long, so what happened next?

Working at a small agency is a wonderful experience because you do a bit of everything it takes to make an agency work: Coming up with ideas yourself, meeting senior clients, writing the briefs, as well as doing the invoicing and pouring the coffee. It was a great way to start in this business.  

But I soon realised that I craved a large agency environment and the opportunities that would bring. So after a few interviews, I got a role at Wunderman working on BT and BA. A few years later I moved with them to New York, where I learnt a great deal: how to be more confident, how to get further up the client hierarchy, how to give and take feedback. Everything in New York is also five times bigger and bolder, so you really have to embrace the New York ‘chutzpah’ to succeed.

But I always wanted to come back to London; the city means a great deal to me. So I came back to a big job at Ogilvy – to the UK to run the American Express account across EMEA, which was quite a big step up for me at the time. But I survived, thoroughly enjoyed it and managed to do a decent job. I worked my way up, and ended up responsible for the whole group in the UK.

And then Arthur Sadoun [now Chairman and CEO of Publicis] came knocking. In truth, I wasn’t looking to move. I was really happy where I was. I met with Arthur out of curiosity…

And the rest is history?

Indeed. When Arthur succeeded Maurice Lévy as Chairman, he invited me for breakfast to tell me about the opportunity on offer. And it was exactly that – a huge opportunity. I couldn’t refuse.

It’s been a fantastic evolution from running what was essentially a very large ‘creative shop’ to something with broad capabilities across media, creative, technology, commerce, PR, data, production and more. It’s been three years, and I’ve continued to learn a huge amount.

It sounds like you’ve never been afraid to take big leaps – and you’ve seen big payoffs as a result. Is that a character trait of yours, the willingness to ‘jump in’?

I think so. I’m a big believer that you create your own luck. You have to be brave enough to put yourself in the right places; you can’t just hope for things to come to you.

I’m also quite instinctive. When opportunities have come along, I’ve always had a good sense of what will work for me. I’ve said yes – but also no, when needed. And that balance has paid off; I’ve had a career I’m proud of.

You’ve worked on many major clients over the years, across B2C and B2B. What have you been most proud of in terms of actual advertising or marketing work? And in a broader operational sense?

Probably British Airways: ‘The Magic of Flying’. We created digital billboards that displayed different creative executions, depending on which BA plane was flying overhead – you know, ‘Look, it’s flight BA475 from Barcelona.’ It was really engaging, magical work.

As for the second point, I’m hugely proud of the people I’ve helped to develop. The teams I’ve created and led. Our ComEx team  – which includes 14 of us across the different Publicis Groupe practices – is a high performing, high trust, laughter filled team. I’ve achieved that a few times in a few places, so I’ll always be most proud of the team dynamic and performance I can nurture.

Speaking of high performance: the team at Octopus are looking forward to working with you and others across Publicis to drive B2B forward. As we’ve discussed before, B2B feels ‘supercharged’ at the moment, so the opportunity is huge. Why do you think B2B has gained such prominence over the last 18 months? How are you planning to continue driving B2B growth?

I’ve always loved B2B; it was a huge part of my focus at Ogilvy. And it’s true – the B2B sector does feel supercharged right now, which is very exciting. The growth Octopus Group has seen attests to that.

But it’s not surprising, when you consider the disruption and change of the last year. The way businesses buy has changed. There’s been huge technological transformation across B2B industries – like financial services, energy, telecoms and aviation – and a rise in B2B ecommerce. And with events out of the question, B2B marketers and sales teams have been able to reach prospects a lot more directly. All of which has proven fertile ground for growth and new opportunities.

As for the future, there really are no limits. The avalanche of opportunities that have already come our way in 2021 proves that. Really creatively ambitious. And really grounded in wide-ranging technical expertise, from martech knowledge to tech capabilities and comms knowledge.

But of course, for that to be successful, you need the right people and talent – which is why I was so delighted when we made the Octopus Group acquisition. While we certainly have pockets of B2B expertise across Publicis Groupe, Octopus is a body of B2B experts with significant B2B heritage, plus industry leading data, media and technology resources. With Octopus on board, we’ve got a huge chance to scale B2B communications in a really strategic way.

Final question – let’s end on a B2B celebratory note. What’s the best B2B marketing campaign or brand of all time, in your eyes?

It’s got to be IBM, for me. The full breadth of it. From Bob Dylan to sponsoring Wimbledon and the ‘IBM Seer’ augmented reality app, where you could hold the phone up and see the game through walls – there’s always such a blend of bold creative, clever uses of data, an appetite to try new things and the important, really nitty gritty lead gen work.

And that’s a key thing for B2B marketers to remember; to combine those two strengths. Of course, you have to be realistic; for every IBM, there’s 100 accounts that need very serious, targeted work. But the best results come when you can combine the two; the serious and technical, with the emotional and impactful.

Again, just look at IBM. The Bob Dylan IBM Watson stuff is cool, but there was a huge amount of other work done that drove lead generation, drove sales, got the funnel going – helped by the uplift of the ‘glow’ from that public creative. And now, it’s a brand every consumer knows – despite never having been a B2C brand.

Ready for more origin stories from the big names of B2B? Catch up on the series so far – starting with Tyrona Heath from the The B2B Institute @ LinkedIn.

OG’s company culture has always been something we pride ourselves on. So, we’re delighted to announce that we’ve been ranked 7th overall in the 2021 Campaign’s Best Places to Work.

And (as if that wasn’t enough reason to celebrate) we’ve also placed 2nd in the medium companies list.

The Best Places to Work programme recognises and honours the best workplaces in the marketing, advertising and media professions.

All entrants to Campaign’s Best Places to Work had to complete a two-part application process.

  • The first consisted of submitting a written entry, helping the judges evaluate each nominated company’s workplace policies, practices, philosophy, systems and demographics.
  • The second part consisted of an employee survey to measure the employee experience.

The combined scores determined the final ranking – and we’re so pleased to have performed so highly, especially after the events of 2020.

Kavita Shergill, Head of Talent & Culture at Octopus Group, commented on the results:

“We’ve had a whirlwind 14 months, with lots of difficult and challenging times. But we’ve stuck at it, worked our socks off, joined an international agency and more.

Through it all, keeping OG a Great Place to Work has remained a priority. Aided by staff ideas and suggestions, we’ve kept things fresh, changed the things that aren’t working and made sure we’re still a family, even over a screen.

Honestly, the best bit about this is that the feedback provided in the survey has contributed towards this outcome, alongside our written entry. So, it’s a very genuine result, which stands a lot more ground and feels like a real win”

For the fifth instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet Karrie Sanderson – branding expert, Smartsheet marketing leader and experienced sailor. 

Who? 

How many marketers have degrees in industrial engineering? Our guess: not many. But as Karrie Sanderson proves, it’s a background that offers a unique and powerful approach to brand building and insight. Now working as Vice President, Marketing Insights and Brand for Smartsheet, we sat down with Karrie to hear about her unconventional journey into the world of B2B marketing.  

Karrie, 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… 

In high school, I was a keen writer – my dream was actually to be an investigative journalist. I also had a strong aptitude for math and science, so my high school guidance counsellor challenged me to pursue a STEM career. But almost in a way that felt like, oh, you’ll never really do it.  

If somebody suggests I can’t do something, I always want to prove them wrong. I ended up getting a degree in Industrial Engineering, which I really enjoyed. But even while I was studying, I used my writing skills to make some spending cash – helping engineers who weren’t so strong at writing or editing their work. 

Plenty of marketers studied something other than marketing at university – but we don’t know too many with engineering degrees! How did you make the transition? 

My first job out of grad school was for a company that made different products for restaurants. I’d studied engineering, obviously, but I was curious about all of the different business areas. I asked: is there some kind of department rotation where I can understand more of what’s going on across the organisation? And so I ended up in the marketing department.

Any newbie marketer was immediately put to work on these fairly unglamorous B2B products. But I’m grateful – it gave me a really strong discipline of thinking about multi-layered audiences. 

In B2C, it feels like you’re mostly thinking about one audience. With B2B, you have to think about all the stakeholders along the way, what their needs are, how to position products to them. How to market to multi-layered audiences in a way that’s connected and cohesive, but also speaks to them on a targeted level. In many ways, I was using the analytical and research skills so central to engineering. 

So your engineering skillset helped you thrive in marketing? 

Yes – once I hit the marketing department, I figured out: here’s where my right brain and left brain can come together. And of course, having a technical background has allowed me to work confidently in some fairly technical fields. Like paper, healthcare, beverages, pharmaceuticals – and now SaaS. When you market those products, you have to really be able to grasp the complexities and learn about what you’re marketing. 

As an engineer-turned-marketer, my power is really on the strategic side. Everything I do has a strong foundation of research and insight. I see patterns and frameworks everywhere. That’s helped me immensely with my focus areas of brand building and brand activation. Figuring out brand architecture, where we fit in the market, how we stack against competitors – I naturally just see those things. 

Which is helpful. I see the benefits all the time at Smartsheet. I think frameworks actually allow creativity to thrive, if you give people the rules of the world to play and build in. If you give people the guardrails, creativity can grow from that. 

You’ve marketed a huge array of products and services throughout your career. What work are you most proud of?

One thing I’m hugely proud of at Smartsheet is our sponsorship of Pip Hare. Pip is this incredible sailor who was looking to compete in the Vendée Globe race – a solo, non-stop round-the-world yacht race. 

Brand sponsorship is tricky, in B2B especially. You really have to make sure you’re bringing that sponsorship to life. It needs to align with the brand, it needs to make logical sense, and you have to activate it in a way that makes people feel an emotional connection.

When the Pip opportunity came on the radar, the first thing I did was go back to the new brand architecture we’d been developing – and specifically, the emotional part of our architecture. Our customers tell us that when you understand the power of Smartsheet, you’re unlocking this hero moment of saying: right, I can do this. I can tackle the impossible. And that’s exactly what the spirit of Pip’s story is. 

So the stars just aligned – I couldn’t have made up a better story to sponsor. It was a beautiful brand fit, and she’s an amazing person. Brand sponsorship was a new thing for Smartsheet, but we activated all along the way, from having her speak at our annual ENGAGE customer event, to promotion along our PR, social, and other customer channels. And of course, Pip and her team tapped into Smartsheet solutions to streamline their work and share progress.

And we hear you’re a keen sailor yourself? 

Yes – my husband and I race, and we’re also cruiser sailors. Along with our two kids, we actually took a two year ‘sailing sabbatical’ a few years ago.  

That was an incredible experience. We got to know each other so well. And it taught us the importance of being resourceful – when you’re sailing in the middle of nowhere, you can’t just get online and order a part, you have to figure it out. You eat what you catch, or what’s available at the little market when you head to shore. You learn to do more with less, to be comfortable in silence. 

What an amazing career break. Now, to head back to the shores of B2B – what does great B2B marketing look like to you? 

I’m impressed by really solid brand work. It’s from a while back but one example that still sticks with me is BASF, the chemical company. Namely: We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better. 

Marketing chemicals is hard; nobody wants to think about the chemicals in their products! But they flipped the script and made these really captivating ads that raised brand awareness in this clever B2B2C way. All these years later, it’s still in my head.

Intel Inside is another example of a brand that does that well. They’re B2B – they’re not selling chips directly to the consumer. But the consumer is still looking for the Intel logo. The Intel sticker makes you feel confident in a product and gives a brand boost to whichever computer they are inside. 

More and more, we’re seeing the worlds of B2C and B2B melding. What do you think one can learn from the other? 

There’s a lot B2B can learn from B2C and vice versa, particularly since, as you say, it feels like so much now is in this ‘B2B2C’ mode. Even if you have a pure B2C brand, there’s a chance you’re also selling it through some other distributor. Everybody’s got a B2B2C component. 

And so it goes back to my earlier comment about the layers of the audience. With Smartsheet, we’re selling to the business – but ultimately it’s people who use the platform, so you have to figure out how to tap into that individual who would ask for Smartsheet to be implemented. If they’re moving to a new job, how do you get them to feel so connected to Smartsheet that they take it with them? How do you make that connection on a human level, but also at a business level? 

That’s something for B2B to learn from B2C: make sure you’re focused on the needs of the person using what you’re selling. Conversely, B2C needs to be more like B2B in thinking about multi layered audience needs. Considering what everyone on the value chain needs, and how you can align messages so that they feel seamless and connected.

Final question – what would you say is one trope or cliché B2B marketers should avoid? 

Specifically in SaaS marketing, I’d get rid of the idea of the elusive ‘enterprise’ customer – you know, some monolithic impersonal enterprise buyer who somehow personifies who you’re trying to speak to. It can feel like B2B is building-to-building marketing! When you fall into that thinking, you stop speaking to people like humans. They just end up being the conduit to a business goal. 

Always speak to people on human terms – it’s the best way to connect emotionally. So I guess that’s not really a ‘trope’, more of a ‘trap’ to avoid falling into. But it’s important, either way. 

Eager for more Behind B2B stories? Check out our interview with Joel Harrison, where we discussed everything from the three seismic marketing evolutions of recent decades, to Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits.