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News Plus 27 Apr 2022 - 5 min read

Funnel vision: HP marketing boss backs Ehrenberg-Bass on B2B-B2C convergence, though fundamental differences remain; says profit metrics make brand building converts of sales, finance

By Paul McIntyre and Sam Buckingham-Jones
Ruben Ahmed HP Australia

“Who wouldn't love a brief to go and make B2B marketing sexy for a brand like HP? That's a strong challenge for a marketer to think through as well," Ruben Ahmed says.

HP’s new ANZ marketing chief, Ruben Ahmed, is two months into his new role overseeing both B2C and B2B portfolios. So recent research from Byron Sharp's Ehrenberg-Bass Institute suggesting B2B brands lift B2C marketing playbooks, mental availability laws and much higher brand to performance ratios struck a chord. But Ahmed says there are fundamental differences, though he thinks all marketers can easily get sales and finance onboard with brand building and away from 90-day lead targets by simply articulating profit over clicks and "putting people to sleep" with brand reports.

What you need to know:

  • HP’s new ANZ Director of Marketing, Ruben Ahmed, says B2B marketing should take a leaf from the consumer marketer playbook – going bigger on brand primes the market for the future.
  • But it’s a balancing act, and his remit covers HP’s Print and Personal Systems divisions, both of which house consumer and commercial clients.
  • Salesforce and Atlassian are doing B2B marketing well, and have transcended the B2B space – even if most people don’t know what they do.
  • Ahmed agrees with many of the findings of the Ehrenberg-Bass / B2B Institute paper last month that said mental and physical availability are critical to B2B brand growth.

Sometimes we operate in a void as marketers thinking that [the customer is] going to see this asset and then they're going to go here and then they click this and we might get a lead at the bottom – but that's not the reality.

Ruben Ahmed, HP, ANZ Director of Marketing

Bringing sexy back

B2B marketing needs to move beyond white papers and surveys and take creative inspiration from B2C campaigns, the new ANZ director of marketing for HP, Ruben Ahmed, says – but those lessons go both ways. Ahmed should know: His role covers both.

Two months ago, he was promoted from leading HP’s Print marketing to overseeing both Print and Personal Systems divisions. He had driven an increase in market share, lifted brand perception, introduced a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy and brought in celebrity chef Manu Feildel to spearhead a subscription ink service, HP Instant Ink. His new role is a complex one. Both sides of the business each have different buying cycles, products, and cover consumer and commercial customers.  In other words, while there is much talk of B2B marketers lifting B2C playbooks – much of which Ahmed agrees with – there are also fundamental differences.

“I think marketing has this stereotype of what consumer marketing should be, what consumer marketing talent might look like and what B2B marketing is. Some of that is true, some of that is not,” Ahmed, a former Telstra, IBM and Sony marketer, says.

“Who wouldn't love a brief to go and make B2B marketing sexy for a brand like HP? That's a strong challenge for a marketer to think through as well.”

Since 2017, HP has looked to make B2B marketing sexy – or at least, sexier. The Wolf, a fictional miniseries about cyber security, has since been through multiple instalments and features Mr Robot actor Christian Slater. As a result, the company even rebranded its security solutions as Wolf Security. This premium content campaign drove big results for HP during Covid as people were stuck at home, glued to screens.

“A big Hollywood production, long form content, a lot of consumer hallmarks - versus download this white paper, give us your email address, and we'll retarget you for forever and a day. That story is still there. I think that's what attracts people to the B2B side,” Ahmed says.

“The benefit of my role is being able to not just think in those two planes, but also take the talent from one side and plug it into the other.”

For Ahmed, companies like Salesforce and Atlassian are driving the change in how the market views B2B marketing. Rather than majority performance, they’ve “transcended” the sector to achieve broad awareness. “Salesforce is a brand many people know, but they don’t actually know what they do,” he says.

“Atlassian is a good example purely on a lot of word of mouth. They don’t spend a lot on media, but they’ve managed to make their own space, make that tech sexy in a way.”

The Wolf HP

A promo for The Wolf, HP's own video series featuring Christian Slater.

Funnel must be questioned

Last month, the B2B Institute published an Ehrenberg-Bass paper, How B2B Brands Grow, that replicated the Institute's seminal work on the fundamentals of consumer brand growth for the business-to-business sector, work which put Byron Sharp and colleagues on the map. (Listen to Mi3's podcast on the paper with The B2B Institute’s Jon Lombardo, Ehrenberg-Bass’s Jenni Romaniuk and LinkedIn’s Prue Cox here.)

Ehrenberg-Bass's work around the criticality of mental and physical availability – i.e. that brands have to be in mind and readily available to stand a chance of being bought over competitors – apply equally to B2B, the research concluded. That means brand building is equally crucial in B2B to earn share of mind over time, particularly given that B2B buyers are typically only in market 5 per cent of the time. In turn, a 60:40 brand spend to performance advertising rule becomes redundant, because you can only every convert the five per cent that are in market. Ehrenberg Bass suggested a 95:5 brand to performance spend ratio is therefore more apt in B2B markets. Meanwhile, the research also questions the assumption that people are constantly thinking about brands, with the upshot that the typical sales and/or marketing funnel should now be tipped on its side. Ahmed agrees.

“I think the funnel, the linear journey, in my view, needs to be questioned. Sometimes we operate in a void as marketers thinking that [the customer is] going to see this [brand] asset and then they're going to go here and then they click this and we might get a lead at the bottom – but that's not the reality,” said Ahmed.

“Hybrid working has shown us that people are juggling different things at home, they're working and they're not, they've got a personal appointment. So how does the campaign fit into that structure? You've got to stay consistent when that person is in market and that depends on different products.

“For example, our printing products – the lifecycle, they might upgrade every three years, five years, whatever it might be. A laptop or smartphone, that tends to be a bit quicker. So that in market/out of market focus, that needs to change our pricing plans, our message, our strategies.”

If the sales team holds marketing accountable for lead generation, it forms a “myopic” view of value that sits on a KPI. Rather, the shift towards a more 95:5 rule means “priming that market for the future”, said Ahmed, as consistently making a point works better over the long term.

The challenge for a marketer, he added, is to be relevant to B2B customers who are also consumers. Which is where the B2C playbook comes in. Rather than just focusing on generating leads, storytelling in B2B should play a role, as well as contextual relevance, and creating memory structures and recognition. The meticulous targeting of messages to individuals can miss the bigger picture.

“The message you're delivering to a mum at home with three kids as an example is very different to the message you might want to deliver from the same brand to a C-level in a large organisation,” he says. “Even though they might be the same person.”

Talk profit, everyone's a brand builder

Brand marketing has a halo effect that can override the uber-targeted B2B campaigns, Ahmed said, and it also delivers the reach that account-based marketing misses.

But this is all moot if the marketing department is in its own language bubble. Marketing is about speaking the right language to the right person, whether they’re a C-suite executive, a mum, or a procurement officer. Language inside the business itself is vital.

“If we walk in and we're like, ‘hey, we delivered 60 million impressions’, eyes gloss over pretty quick. You can't do that. And then if you pull out your brand reports, ‘we saw this pre and post and continuing’, they're asleep on the table by that point,” Ahmed said.

“I actually think profit is also a key one for us to look at. We sit down with the business and we go, ‘where is our profit coming from? What is the margin driver? What is the growth driver, percentage wise?’ Because there might be an over-investment to get there. Back to the long-term view, you may need to over-invest to get that reach initially over a long period of time. But if it's going to deliver that margin, let's say it's a five-year plan, then those numbers will work and it's not going to be a quarterly payback."

He said articulating marketing strategy in hard business metrics brings both finance and the sales department on-side, and underlines the value of marketing as growth driver. In other words, no more sales execs sleeping on the table because the horizons are longer than 90 days and the KPIs and desired outcomes are concrete.

"Where the sales tension comes in is, we still have this quarterly number to hit and we need to make sure that when we're doing the brand advertising, whether it's a digital or an offline campaign – whatever it is, a hybrid event – there's that connection back to, what is the KPI? Are we going to land a deal? Are we going to sell the product? How are we going to get to that margin number?" said Ahmed.

"That might be a retargeting campaign as a very small example. But it might also be figuring out how do we get to a roundtable, how do we get the right people in the room six months down the track? How do we define and qualify that they are in market more than just [assuming that they are because] they watch the video and they engage with your content?"

The answer, he admits, is not straightforward. But he thinks that by planning more strategically with sales and finance over the short, medium and long term helps align departments around marketing goals, without making one subservient to the other.

"This term 'sales enablement' gets thrown around a lot and I think it does a bit of a disservice to what is actually happening there, because it is marketing often reaching out and saying, 'Hey, we'd love you to be part of this work. We'd love to build your profile on LinkedIn and we're going to give you a kit so you can talk about the solution and the campaign and you can be inside with the brand'. Sales love that stuff. They find that very powerful and ultimately they are the ones that hold the relationship in the B2B space."


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