Think long, learn fast for effective B2B marketing

Some of today’s most successful B2B marketers have revealed their winning strategies – with honest insights about the speed, agility and timing of campaigns and warnings about the dangers of siloed environments.

Marketing Week and The Marketing Practice recently conducted research with 600 B2B marketers that showed a link between long-termism and effectiveness in B2B marketing. We found that those who have outperformed their competition over the past two years are twice as likely to think long-term.

But why is this? What is cause and what is correlation? And how can we structure our teams and behaviours to adapt?

We spoke to a few of the most successful B2B marketers we know and dug a little deeper into the research to try and find some answers.

Brand and direct response, or ‘brand response’?

Most of the debate about the link between effectiveness and long-termism has been about the importance of brand-building, thanks to the great work at the IPA by Les Binet and Peter Field. A lot of the focus has been on the power of emotive messaging to build memory structures and salience.

But this focus is creating a false dichotomy, between brand and sales activation, separating two things that are part of the same spectrum.

Field himself is keen to point out the importance of integration. In the book The Case for Creativity, he argues for “multichannel creativity” that delivers “the same long-term benefits” but also replicating that creativity “across multiple channels [to] capture…the short-term urgency”.

Rachel Lockwood, marketing director for SAS UK and Ireland, takes this idea to its logical conclusion. At SAS, the whole front office – marketing, sales and service – works to a ‘One Plan’ approach.

By truly understanding what’s driving an organisation we can build relevance and, by building that relevance, we stand out.

Gemma Davies, ServiceNow

“We set goals that everybody shares. Through continuous review, education and goal alignment you begin to get a whole team behind a long-term plan. And a long-term plan allows the business to keep moving; it means we don’t pause every January and have to reboot again,” she says.

Zoe Hominick, head of business marketing at O2, agrees: “The key is to balance long and short term,” she says. “It’s about having an agile approach, which you continue to iterate throughout the year.”

Think long, learn fast

Here we see surfacing the magic formula that many agree drives effectiveness: long-term goal-setting and alignment, paired with agile approaches to test, learn and adapt.

Our research points to the effectiveness of this combination of long-term thinking and fast learning. Outstanding marketers – those who outperformed their competition over the past two years – are more likely to let a campaign run for longer before deciding if it’s effective.




This suggests patience perhaps, but also points to a willingness to learn; to continuously evolve a programme rather than seeing it as something set in stone.

As Gemma Davies, director of global account-based marketing strategy at ServiceNow, points out, this adaptive approach allows marketers to build relevance: “This takes time. Nobody makes these decisions overnight, so by truly understanding what’s driving an organisation we can build relevance and, by building that relevance, we stand out.”

Michael Cunningham, marketing director for Surface for Business at Microsoft, argues we need to balance being “super-surgical on the businesses and individuals you want to target” with the need to “come back a bit to ensure that awareness and purchase intent are built at the top of the funnel”.

It’s all in the timing

One often underestimated factor that may explain why longevity works is serendipity; the fortuitous – or perhaps deserved – upside of marketing activity that is ‘always-on’.

As Neil Dowling, VP of global integrated marketing at Genpact, puts it: “Your audience will tell you that they don’t care for your campaign timeframes. You have to think on a long-term basis and meet them where they are in the market.”

In recent times this idea has been framed as a buyer journey, and we’ve been encouraged by the likes of Sirius Decisions to map content to a series of stages on that journey. The journey metaphor lends itself to the idea that the buying process is linear, that one thing follows another from awareness to consideration to purchase. The reality is of course a lot more messy, random and, to be frank, interesting.

The production line problem

The wicked stepsister to the belief in a linear buyer journey is the way we have chunked up the funnel into functional teams to create a production line approach to marketing. Hence the need to navigate a creative agency in Soho, a social content agency in Shoreditch, a team doing performance marketing in Hyderabad, marketing operations in Texas, and so on.

This chunking up of the funnel by function not only makes things more complex, the more insidious consequence comes from perverse incentives. Each functional team has its own measures and priorities. Digital marketers create conversions, field marketers generate leads, content marketers get off on engagement. They all squirrel away, determinedly optimising their own specific KPIs.

The assumption is that if you optimise every part, you will make the whole machine more effective. But what happens is efficiency in each silo but not effectiveness overall.

Conversions, leads and engagement improve, yes. But the results that really matter, like growing market share or profitability, remain not so much out of reach as not even on the radar.

In a siloed environment, it becomes very hard to accommodate the messy, human behaviour of the audience. We cannot easily respond to feedback, learn from what works outside discrete disciplines or take an audience-led approach to market.

Strategic thinking, agile working

The combination of long-term goal-setting and agile working suggested by Lockwood and Hominick gives us a direction of travel to overcome the problem of silos and improve effectiveness.

We need to unite skills and diverse opinions from across the front office. We need to break the tyranny of upward reporting on effectively meaningless KPIs and be brave enough to be measured on something that is not in our direct control.

If we give people the remit to think ‘gestalt’ and solve problems that lie in the way of selling more stuff, to look at the problem holistically, we will get better results.

David van Schaick is CMO and CDO at The Marketing Practice. To find out more go to